Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA): Special profile

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ONPHA trade show
Members network at the 2016 ONPHA conference and trade show -- the largest conference of its kind in Canada

Ontario Construction Report special feature

The Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA) raises awareness, advocates and builds capacity among its more than 700 non-profit housing providers through training and resources. Established in 1988, ONPHA’s members house more than 400,000 people in 163,000 units across the province.

Deputy executive director Margie Carlson says the association started in 1988 when both federal and provincial governments were active in funding and building non-profit housing. Together with community based housing providers, the four largest municipal housing corporations joined to develop a common voice and support standards and best practices across the province.

Today ONPHA hosts one of the largest professional development conferences in the country aimed at housing practitioners, drawing more than 1,100 non-profit housing staff, board members and tenants, service managers and government officials annually.

Carlson says in recent years, government has provided limited funding for housing projects, resulting in a backlog of repairs. This has become a key focus of ONPHA as an advocate for funding. As a sector that has always operated under financial constraints, funding from government is vital, she says.  

“The federal government is working on a new national housing strategy but we have no idea what that will look like and really, the only thing that matters, the only action that will change anything is when government provides funding. Legislative tinkering provides some relief but doesn’t help as much as is needed.”

Carlson says there was good news earlier this year when the province’s Climate Change Strategy came forward with a $92 million investment to help with energy upgrades and retrofits for non-profit housing projects. 

Redevelopment projects are improving aging buildings across Ontario. In Toronto, the city’s community housing corporation is currently working on seven redevelopment projects alone. One of these is the highly publicized Regent Park redevelopment which, over a 15-year period, will involve demolishing and fully rebuilding what is Canada’s oldest and largest concentrated public housing community.

To be completed over six phases, work will grow the project to “5,000 units of mixed income housing, including rent-geared-to-income social housing units, market rentals, and privately owned condominiums” with improved services, better designed public spaces and community governance participation.

Carlson says these projects are Canada’s first wave of social housing redevelopment. Besides removing older, inefficient buildings in favour of more efficient and healthier models, these projects also look at the bigger picture of what makes a healthy neighbourhood.

“Our housing providers house some of the most vulnerable members of our society including the elderly, those living with mental health issues, and the province’s working poor,” she said. “They are a critical part of the fabric of every community and provide decent, affordable homes to low and moderate income households, in some cases offering specialized housing and support services for Ontarians who need help to enjoy a successful tenancy.”

She says the non-profit housing sector is transforming by modernizing and becoming more entrepreneurial.  Some agencies are accessing private sector funding and leveraging their assets to build new housing. The reality is that non-profit housing should not mean lesser quality, but rather affordable, safe, decent and healthy housing for tenants. To ONPHA’s members, it’s the mission that matters.

Besides advocating for increases in government funding, ONPHA is also looking at new funding options to support members moving forward. The association also produces regular research on wait times for affordable housing to support opening additional properties, and it maintains close ties to its 200 associate members.

For more information, visit http://www.onpha.on.ca.

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