Vancouver Study Visit: South Africans and Canadians sharing ideas about strengthening the social and co-op housing sectors

By Brad Lester, Rooftops Canada

It was my pleasure to support the recent study visit of four South Africa representatives of the Rooftops Canada – Equal Spaces Project partners to Vancouver in November. De Walt Koekemoer and Alice Puoane of the Social Housing Regulatory Authority, Rose Chetty, Emalahleni Housing Company, and Caroline Kuppusamy, Madulammoho Housing Association met with numerous social and co-op housing people and organizations to share ideas for growing and building the capacity of the social housing sector in South Africa.

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Rose, De Walt, Alice and Caroline visiting Fraservew Housing Co-op

They met with staff and leaders of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association, BC Housing, CHF BC, COHO Management Services Society, the Community Land Trust and Encasa Financial to discuss their challenges, best practice, lessons learned, innovations and plans. They visited three leading edge projects developed through the Community Land Trust; the “Brice”, a building of the Sanford Housing Society, Tikva Housing Society, and Fraserview Housing Co-op. BC Housing facilitated a visit to the New Chelsea Housing Society, which started in 1955 and is one of the larger social housing providers in BC.

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Visiting Lu’Ma Native Housing Society

The group was thrilled to cross the Lions Gate bridge on a sunny morning to meet Marcel Swain, CEO of the Lu’ma Native Housing Society and tour their headquarters which includes the Aboriginal Children’s Village, the Lu’ma Medical Centre and the Aboriginal Youth Mentorship and Housing program. Marcel outlined their history and diverse programs built on the foundation of their original housing initiative. The example of a housing society operating as a social enterprise serving communities in great need was inspiring to all the participants. The visit ended at the Medical Centre with Marcel presenting the visitors with pouches of tobacco, sweet grass, sage and cedar – the four sacred plants used in “smudging ceremonies”.

Throughout the week, we met non-profit and housing co-op leaders. We discussed housing and member education issues with: Yuri Artibise, president of the Community Land Trust; Jon Breisnes, president of Pacific Heights Housing Co-op; Peter Van of Twin Rainbows Co-op; Dave Smulders of Tidal Flats Co-op and Sue Moorhead of Lakewood Terrace Co-op. We also met Jamie Ritchie of Cana Management, Kaye Melliship, ED of the Greater Victoria Housing Society and Margaret Eberle, housing consultant and former planner with Metro Vancouver. The group attended the 35th CHF BC AGM where Scott Jackson, president of Rooftops Canada and De Walt explained on the Equal Spaces Project.

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With Scott Jackson, CHF Canada and Kishone Roy, BCNPHA at the BC Housing Central Conference

The visitors also attended BC’s Housing Central Conference presented by the British Columbia Non-Profit Housing Association, the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association. It provided numerous learning and networking opportunities. Everyone was deeply moved and motivated by keynote speakers, Shane Koyczan, spoken word poet and author expressing his experiences with homelessness, poverty and art; and, Waneek Horn-Miller, Olympic athlete and aboriginal advocate.

It is not easy to sum up this rich and intense experience, but a comment by Rose Chetty rings very true: “The most valuable aspect of the visit for me was the perseverance and commitment of the people within the sector.  Throughout the visit, there was one common reverberation of the message that ‘We are the people of affordable housing – we are dedicated to addressing the challenges that we are faced with.’ The challenge of homelessness is a concern of everyone and it is not just left up to government to find a solution”. 

Thanks to all the people and organizations that supported the visit – all those named above and many more.

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Great progress for Metro-driven urban intensification and social housing in Cape Town and a Strategic Partner Certificate for Rooftops Canada

By Lizette Zuniga, Technical Advisor

A little more than one year ago, I started working in South Africa with the Rooftops Canada and Equal Spaces Project. It is helping several South African Metros to reverse the legacy of apartheid spatial planning using inner city urban regeneration leveraged with social housing investment. Cape Town is moving very quickly with incentives and support to accelerate the scale and production of social housing and encourage partnerships between the private sector and social housing institutions (SHIs).

We have been working very closely with the National Association of Social Housing Organizations, NASHO, and City officials to develop a “Smart Partnership” framework and templates for formal agreements with social housing partners. Cape Town has fully embraced this approach and recently held an open call for proposals for new social housing partners. Twenty SHIs were confirmed as City partners at a ceremony with the Executive Mayor Patricia de Lille on October 10. This includes 16 new SHIs, almost half from outside Western Cape Province. There is very strong interest in developing social housing in Cape Town while contributing to city-building with a strong urban vision.

The City also recently launched the development of numerous affordable housing opportunities for lower-income residents on prime City-owned land with complementary investment in infrastructure aimed to transform Cape Town’s spatial reality. This will help build a dense urban fabric with transit-oriented growth and development creating more diverse and inclusive communities with access to improved services, job opportunities, affordable housing and public transport.

SHI Partners CofCT Oct 2017

Cape Town ceremony to recognise its social housing partners with Executive Mayor Patricia de Lille and Councillor Brett Herron

A lot of our work has focused on the Salt River/Woodstock precinct which is very close to the city centre and undergoing rapid gentrification. In response, the City is offering 11 municipal sites for 4,000 inclusionary and affordable housing opportunities. This will introduce social housing to preserve housing affordability in the midst of rising property prices and displacement of low-income people.


A public RFP for five sites has been issued to the City social housing partners and private sector developers to help develop integrated neighbourhoods in the precinct. It will close early in 2018, and includes an extensive public communication and participation process. The city is engaging with community residents and ratepayers’ associations as well as private sector developers, SHIs and civil society organisations.

Three other sites have already been allocated to SHIs including the historic Salt River Market. A mixed-use development is proposed with affordable housing, retail and office space. We have been helping with the financial modelling. Two sites are already in progress as Cape Town’s first inner-city transitional housing projects. And, two City-owned sites in the Woodstock area will be available for development at a later stage. This City of Cape Town video puts it all in perspective:

LZ Certificate CofCT Oct 2017

Lizette Zuniga receiving Strategic Partner Certificate from Mayor de Lille and Cllr Herron on behalf of Rooftops Canada

During the event to sign agreements with its SHI partners, the City of Cape Town also awarded Strategic Partner Certificates to Rooftops Canada and NASHO. We highly appreciate this recognition and look forward to helping get those social housing projects on the ground!

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A Gender Equality Strategy for Social Housing in South Africa

By Jo Ferris-Davies

The Equal Spaces Project is committed to helping develop a gender equality strategy for the social housing sector in South Africa. Based on this the project will support some initial interventions.

There is very little information available in South Africa about the situation of women in social housing. Our first step was to hire a local consultant to complete a gender analysis and develop a strategy. After reviewing relevant legislation, sector background information and available data, she conducted key informant interviews with people involved social housing. We also carried out focus groups in three cities with women of different ages living in social housing and administered almost 100 tenant surveys.

We then identified 10 Key Intervention Areas based on this research. These were reviewed during a National Workshop in late July with participants in Johannesburg and Durban using our new “learning hubs”. (See our July 24 blog).

Gender Strategy Workshop

I was particularly struck by three of the issues presented to the workshop participants.

First, members of the National Association of Social Housing Organizations (NASHO) are doing well in some areas compared to local and international corporate standards. Almost 1/3 of social housing CEOs are women, over 1/3 of board members are women including 27% with women as Board chairs. Overall 55% of all employees are women. The go forward issue will be how to support middle and junior management women staff to move into more senior positions in a rapidly growing sector which needs experienced staff. We need to be more methodical in how SHIs train junior and middle management staff – especially women so they take on broader leadership roles in the future.

Second and more alarming is the existence of sexism and hostility to women working in leadership roles in social housing institutions (SHIs).  At a minimum, this will require both strong HR policies which address consequences of sexism and build strong social networks of women employed in the sector.  We can draw from Maytree, a Canadian NGO with a wealth of experience and practice in this area.

Third, the rates of gender based violence (GBV) in South Africa are alarmingly high.  When I first read through the research I had to take breaks every once in a while just to digest how terrible it is for women here. Even though SHIs provide safe and secure housing, women who live there are still vulnerable to GBV. The strategy speaks to developing GBV awareness and policies and practices. Both housing co-ops and non-profits have embraced this over the past 15 years in Canada and have resources we can use. The strategy also calls for partnerships with other community NGOs and tapping into government resources where they exist. Again, we will draw on Canadian experiences to develop partnerships which brought resources into the social housing sector, in many cases with spectacular results.

The workshop gave us a better sense of the areas we need to prioritize. Participants also shared some of their best practices in promoting gender equality. Overall everyone was extremely enthusiastic about the work and grateful for Equal Spaces taking a leadership role in crafting a thoughtful response to a complicated issue. We now need to step back and use their feedback to refine our plan before we meet again with key stakeholders to finalize the overall strategy and the role Equal Spaces can play over the next two years. The workshop also provided greater clarity on areas in which the Social Housing Regulatory Authority can provide leadership – especially ongoing data collection. .

Gender Strategy Workshop 2

We will keep you posted on this important area of work as we refine our overall strategy and solidify Equal Spaces role.

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Housing Supervisors: A programmatic response to capacity development

By Jo Ferris-Davies

Last week, I was involved with NASHO’s Housing Supervisor’s course.  This highly interactive 11 day course is broken down into one, two, and three day modules. It covers the background to social housing, understanding how a social housing institution (SHI) sets rents, role of the Housing Supervisor, customer service, understanding how building and their components work, and effectively working with cleaners and security to ensure the building runs smoothly.  Each Housing Supervisor commits to participate in the entire course. In between modules, participants are required to prepare homework assignments. The approach emphasizes sharing ideas and practices between the SHIs. We hope that relationships will form that will last beyond the final classroom module.

Housing Supervisors are important to SHIs because they are the day-to-day face of the non-profit and they deal with the daily issues tenants have living in their building. They help collect rents, follow up on arrears, and manage cleaners and security staff to ensure buildings remain secure and tidy. They are often also responsible for minor repairs, introducing new tenants to the building, and conducting exit interviews.

Supervisor Workshop compressed

There were almost 30 people attending the course from four SHIs.  Interestingly, when NASHO ran the course a number of years ago there were no women in attendance.  Last week, 20% of the participants were women.

I staffed the breakout sessions – one of which was about an hour and involved role plays.  Our group developed a role play where one of the staff played a Housing Supervisor and another was to play a difficult tenant.  This is not an easy task when fifteen of your colleagues are watching and listening to everything being said.  The assignment was to reinforce professional behaviour – for example, having the lease in front of you when the Housing Supervisor is referring to its content.  When we debriefed, it became apparent that what they really wanted to discuss were strategies to be professional – especially when engaging with difficult tenants. We spent over an hour identifying and sharing ideas and strategies, and practicing effective skills to deal with difficult situations.

Supervisor workshop JFD small group compressed

In South Africa – tone of voice and body language are especially important when talking to people respectfully. Although a number of the participants were new to the sector, many had been working for a number of years and were able to share tips that worked.  Simple things like having a piece of paper and writing down numerically the issues that the tenant raised with you. Then repeating back to him or her what you had heard to get confirmation before working through the issues.

One of the issues raised was how to be consistent and fair with tenants when you were tired.  It isn’t uncommon to be called into to deal with a domestic matter late at night and then have to be up in the morning dealing with more complicated issues in the building.  The Housing Supervisors indicated that they were not trained and had no resources to deal with domestic violence. Another area we talked about was dealing with management.  We emphasized that the same communication skills we were working on would be effective with providing management with feedback.  Too often I have observed that staff work in silos – something that is common everywhere but here even more so. A future challenge will be for management to create opportunities to learn from the front line staff  so they can improve how they do business.

As the Housing Supervisors reminded us all, “It really is all about providing the best service to tenants.”

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“Learning Hubs” launched in three South Africa cities

By Barry Pinsky, Executive Director

The Equal Spaces Project in South Africa recently launched three “Learning Hubs” with over 30 participants in three South African cities. Two of us also connected by skype from Canada. The new video-conference facilities are hosted by the National Association of Social Housing Organizations (NASHO) in Johannesburg, and two social housing institutions – Communicare in Cape Town and SOHCO in eThekwini.

Learning Hub in action at NASHO in Joburg

Speaking from the NASHO offices, Julie Shouldice, Head of Cooperation in South Africa for Global Affairs Canada noted that “While social housing seems to be a bricks and mortar business, it relies very much on exchanges, interactions and collaboration. The learning hubs will allow for many more opportunities to meet. Canada is very proud to be part of this project and appreciates the hard work done by many others to get it going.”

Anthea Houston, CEO of Communicare, pointed out that “This is an important moment for social housing to thrive in South Africa. There has been a shift in awareness about the social injustice of locating people in dormitory suburbs while well-located social housing is combatting the legacy of apartheid planning. The learning hubs should accelerate this work by helping people learn from other experiences in the country.”

Smangele Moloi, Manager of Social Housing from the City of eThekwini reinforced the importance of social housing in the face of rapid urbanization and its link to the New Urban Agenda that emerged from Habitat III. She is “looking forward to using this new technology to work together.”

John Mofokeng from NASHO and Jo Ferris-Davies from the Rooftops Canada Equal Spaces team, also outlined plans for Learning, Innovation and Networking programs using the three hubs. One of the very exciting ideas is to help all categories of social housing employees to meet, share experiences and develop new ways of going about the business of providing decent, affordable housing. Due to the costs of travel, this has often been restricted to senior managers, but can now include other staff such building supervisors, community development workers and credit controllers.

Not unexpectedly, there were a few technical glitches and everyone needs to get used to the technology. An upcoming workshop to share ideas for a gender equality strategy for the social housing sector will be a good test. We’ll let you know how it goes in our next post.

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Barry Pinsky Receives Award from Governor General By Scott Jackson, President, Rooftops Canada


The Board of Rooftops Canada is very proud to announce that our Executive Director, Barry Pinsky, has been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. The Meritorious Service Awards “recognize outstanding accomplishments that set an example for others to follow and bring benefit to our country.”

The award recognizes Barry’s role in Rooftops Canada and international development on behalf of the co-operative and social housing movements in Canada. Under his leadership, Rooftops Canada has mobilized over $40 million to support overseas housing, rights and economic development organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. This has leveraged hundreds of millions of additional dollars in housing and development activity, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, tens of thousands of families in the global South have secure tenure, better homes and stronger communities.

“Barry had a vision that enabled our movement to help more people to achieve decent affordable housing,” says Nicholas Gazzard, CHF Canada’s executive director. “We are all  proud and honoured to see Barry recognized.”

According to Barry, “While it is wonderful to be singled out, none of this would be possible without the engagement of many deeply committed Rooftops Canada staff, board members, advisors, young professionals and volunteers. The support of co-op and social housing organizations across Canada has been critical to our success. We have also enjoyed a long-standing and very productive relationship with the Government of Canada’s international assistance programs. I have also had the opportunity to work with so many amazing overseas partners. ”

“Mazingira Institute in Nairobi congratulates Barry on a well-deserved honour” says its executive director Davinder Lamba. “With Barry’s guidance, Rooftops Canada has always been responsive to issues coming from its African partners. We have appreciated working together for many years to secure housing and land rights in the region.”

Prior to working full-time for Rooftops Canada, Barry helped coordinate the development of many housing co-ops in Montreal, Peel-Halton Region and Toronto. He has received the CHRA International Award, the CMHC Award for Outstanding Contribution to Co-operative Housing, and he was named a “Wisdom Keeper” by the Habitat International Coalition (HIC). He has participated in many official Canadian delegations to UN Habitat events and presented at numerous workshops and conferences.

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Social Housing Portfolio Diversification in South Africa

By Jo Ferris-Davies

On May 24, the Equal Spaces Project and the National Association of Social Housing Organizations held a full day workshop in Johannesburg for social housing institutions (SHIs) interested in developing for profit housing within their overall housing portfolio.  Key financial institutions and representatives of the Social Housing Regulatory Authority also participated.  It was a remarkable meeting – on a number of different levels. The financial concepts being bandied required a very sophisticated knowledge base. The materials were dense and it was a challenge to keep up with the discussion and its implications while also facilitating the discussions.

Jo Ferris Davies with workshop participants

Jo Ferris Davies with workshop participants

The South African SHIs had several reasons for considering portfolio diversification despite some potential risks. First, like social housing providers everywhere, they want to grow their business without government funding. Second, with additional cash flows from for profit housing, they can develop more affordable housing or very importantly re-invest into their own maintenance and capital reserves.  Most SHIs have very inadequate capital reserves for long term maintenance of their housing so this is very compelling notion.  Finally, it provides the sector with greater access to lenders – by extending relationships to the equity investment market.

The local consultant engaged by the Equal Spaces Project focused her presentation on for profit affordable rentals as the best alternative to diversify an SHI’s portfolio.  In South Africa, oWorkshop particpants 2ffice and commercial space are risky investments. Middle and affluent residential are also risky with high vacancy and default rates. Development and sales of housing are particularly difficult due to a down turn in the local economy here in South Africa. Overall reported mortgage numbers declined significantly in 2016 due to affordability and down payment issues. Developers are of the opinion that only one in four potential purchasers can secure a mortgage.

The remaining sweet spot for diversification is affordable rental housing.  Broadly speaking when looking across the country, rents need to be targeted in the $350 to $800/ month range. This in the housing “gap” between government subsidized housing and private market ownership.   Especially attractive are one and two bedroom units as people choose to share the space to make the unit more affordable.  Often, “non-traditional” households lease these units.

Recognizing that housing development is a boom or bust sector, it was advised that SHIs build up their capabilities by developing affordable rental units.  With an appropriate development and marketing infrastructure in place, the SHI could transition into housing sales when the strong.

Social housing providers in South Africa, as is the case elsewhere, have very weak equity positions. This is a huge challenge for providers wanting to develop for profit affordable housing to diversify their portfolio. The workshop considerWorkshop particpants 1ed layering financial instruments with several tranches of equity investments. This model definitely has risks. The SHI has to secure the right investment at the right price in the right neighborhood close to transportation. And, they must have the ability to efficiently manage the housing minimizing any bad debts and vacancies.

When I asked the question “is it worth proceeding based on these very real risks” – the answer provided was it was a greater risk to not proceed.  Heady times indeed.

As a next step we will follow up with SHIs to encourage them over the next six months to prepare a business model to develop affordable for profit housing rentals. We will offer to critique these before organizing a workshop with actual equity investors who will hear each “pitch” and provide feedback to the SHIs. This will help them develop partnership relationships with investors. We intend to support four or five SHIs to take a leadership role for the sector.

Finally, I would like to thank Steve Pomeroy from Focus Consulting in Ottawa who provided support to the project on a volunteer basis working very closely with our South African financial consultant.






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