HOP speaks out on housing

An invitational community forum was held on January 19 on a new Canadian Housing Framework. The intent was to allow participants to “exchange ideas and information with community stakeholders across the country.” 

Canadian government officials were asking local housing stakeholders, such as the Housing Opportunity Partnership (HOP), to speak on lessons learned and what improvements could be made to existing housing programs, as well as proposals for new integrated approaches that may provide practical solutions to issues of homelessness, and accessible and affordable housing.

A representative of HOP, a successful housing rehabilitation initiative that has been actively buying and refurbishing properties in the West End since 1998 for homeownership, was one of the presenters at the forum. Here are its lessons learned and suggestions from HOP to HOPE that may well help the federal government develop a new housing framework for the country. HOPE, in the context of the background on these community forums, stands for Housing Options for People Everywhere. 

HOP’s logo includes the word hope in its tag line, Bringing Hope for Home Ownership! In HOP’s case, homeownership has been its focus from the very beginning.

HOP’s president Tom Yauk was the author and presenter of the report cited below.

The lessons learned:

• Housing rehabilitation for ownership relies on several forms of expertise. The HOP board of directors and staff have acquired an appreciation of the knowledge and skills necessary to relate to this enterprise. We feel that this understanding is strategic to optimizing the use of funding.

• Constant concern over adequacy and timeframes of funding are components of distress. Programs like the Affordable Housing Initiative (AHI) and Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP) must relate to a realistic scale of funding over time. Changes to programs and doubt over program continuance have meant a constant chasing after funds. This diminishes concentration on the task at hand and curbs enthusiasm.

• All programs should respond to program implementation experience. For example, HOP determined the difference between cost to bring a house to market and sale price, by suffering a loss in the sale. Governments wisely responded to this issue by providing “market-gap” funding.

• It is important to concentrate activity within an identified area and to advocate for multi-resource attention towards that area. Other forms of housing and community development should complement HOP’s investment in the neighbourhood.

• While high-needs areas require immediate attention, it is prudent to program in areas showing early evidence of deterioration. The HOP target area is an area that is stabilizing on the basis of modest rather than massive expenditures.

• HOP has considered a variety of housing development options, but through hard and better times has maintained focus on homeownership. This focus has honed our skills in delivering a product of energy efficiency and design that we can all take pride in. 

• Programs must be flexible in reflecting changes to housing acquisition and renovation costs. We are fortunate to have a five-year program where house sale proceeds are captured in a revolving fund and are reused to support further activity. However, the funding components that allow us to break even, must adjust to the economic vagaries of rehabilitation work and the housing market.

Suggestions from HOP to HOPE:

• Preserve program relevancy by accommodating changes to economic conditions over time.

• Define housing continuum as housing initiatives designed to meet varying and across the board housing issues. But, further define continuum to mean continuing over time. We have lost that thread of continuity over time with respect to federal housing, neighbourhood and social allowance initiatives. 

• Provide levels of funding that translate into observable results. In particular, RRAP funding levels should be significantly increased and the program terms of reference should be reviewed. RRAP should only apply to homeowners and landlords as the program was intended. Non-profit support should derive from a specific non-profit source. RRAP budget allocations should require municipalities to activate a housing bylaw enforcement effort. This would add tremendous support to the neighbourhood investment that HOP is making.

• Establish and maintain a federal umbrella mechanism that merges the resources of HRDC and CMHC and can work with other governments and partners. This could complement existing housing efforts and support community development activity at the neighbourhood level.

• Develop a rent-geared-to-income (RGI) program to meet the needs of those in the worst housing situations. This social housing issue is beyond the capability of all but government.

• Provide for greater municipal participation in housing policy and program development. Neighbourhood and housing actions are required that are beyond the financial capacity of the municipality. However, municipalities have an understanding appropriate for defining what needs to be done. 

• Determine the extent to which CMHC surplus funding could apply to program initiatives and not compromise the mortgage insurance program. 

• Maintain a dialogue with users of programs where practitioners have an opportunity to share information about program adequacy. This type of event is extremely helpful. We would suggest that a practitioner group be convened to identify with issues and concerns that emanate from all regions of Canada.

• Support homeownership programming and HOP as an important component to HOPE and the new Canadian Housing Framework.

As a postscript to the presentation, HOP in late January had its offer to purchase rejected by the city of Winnipeg on a tax sale property located right in the heart of its target area (see www.hopwinnipeg.com for grid map of the HOP area). It totally flies in the face of what HOP is trying to do — restore an area that has been in decline. 

The successful purchaser of this derelict property is a property management company that has no vested interest in completely refurbishing this home and stabilizing the block on this street by bringing in new homeowners. 

This is as good an example as any where government at every level needs to be helping non-profit initiatives such as HOP to restore inner-city neighbourhoods. 

The irony of this recent episode is that the city would never have received near the offered amount from this property management company if not for the efforts of neighbourhood renewal housing organizations such as HOP.