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.
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.
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.
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.