Editorial: Double your investment in the community housing sector: become a project reviewer!

If you are familiar with the housing sector, your region and/or our priority areas—especially sustainability and tenant involvement—why not become a reviewer for the Centre? You can contribute to and even help transform the community-housing sector. Isabelle Richard shares her thoughts on her role as a project reviewer for the Centre.

Do you want to share the experience you’ve gained within the community-housing sector? The Centre is always looking to recruit volunteers to help it assess the hundreds of grant applications we receive each year. Reviewers look over application files and comment on submitted projects to help the Centre make decisions on whether to approve the grant.

In other words, reviewers play a key role in our activities and those of grantees, using their experience to contribute to the development of emerging projects.

So just who are these reviewers? We wanted to introduce you to one of them this month, to put a face on this important community asset.

Isabelle Richard has 20 years of experience in the community-housing sector in Québec, both as a development manager and as a founding member of a housing co-op (in addition to being a longstanding co-op resident!). She has also worked in public education for projects affecting families and for the Commission scolaire de Montréal school board.

“Community action and involvement in the neighbourhood is in my DNA,” she told us on a video call, pointing at her arm to emphasize the importance.

Isabelle has twice assisted the Centre as a reviewer in the evaluation of grant applications for its Community-Based Tenant Initiative Fund. She estimates she spent about three hours assessing and commenting on each project.

Throughout her life, Isabelle has believed that housing was everyone’s concern. “What people talk to you about is, first, their love story [and then] their housing concerns. Whether they are well off or vulnerable, people will talk to you about their mortgage, their home, their slum, their landlord…”

This is something she has also lived in her personal life. In the 1990s, Isabelle herself experienced housing insecurity. “I was also living it, this reality of the Mile End [a Montréal district known for its artistic side and its diversity, where gentrification has been rampant for years] where we were forced out of our homes because of renovations and repossesion […] When you yourself have experienced the need to provide a safe home for your children… I believe it gives us power over our lives and over our city [to get involved in housing]. [Even] my father, who had a good standard of living because he had a pretty important job as a planner, engineer and architect, lost everything and ended up living in my co-op. And he was very happy there.”

Isabelle is curious, thoughtful and loves sharing her knowledge with others. Her enthusiasm is contagious and her extensive experience in the field means that she can see the different sides of a project proposal.

 “I have a critical side, because I live in a co-op. I know what the irritants are. I know the weaknesses of the people,” she says. But she is also well aware of the challenges faced by community organizations, and their constant struggle for funding and financial sustainability.

This insight into the co-op environment and her satisfaction with contributing to housing development led her to adopt a “caring advice” approach; she values knowledge-sharing to support community-housing projects.

Working now in the sustainable development field, which is obviously related to housing, she didn’t want to end her “love affair” with community housing. Isabelle wanted to continue to have an impact. Which is why she decided to volunteer with the Centre.

“I know social housing at every level after defending it, wanting it, living in it. And now [being a reviewer] is like the next step.”

She talks about her experience as a reviser as a “pleasant freedom.”

“You don’t get paid. You have no targets. Don’t think of it as work. Being a volunteer reviewer means you can give back. It’s really a gift … It’s like a natural evolution of your involvement in social housing.”

And it’s also a form of interaction, since reviewers communicate and discuss files with the Centre’s program managers. “I think we need to nurture this really important human contact.”

Getting involved at the Centre also highlights the variety of housing experiences across Canada, says Isabelle. “It’s about recognizing your expertise, your knowledge and your uniqueness.”

Isabelle hopes to be a reviewer for a long time to come (so do we!). “I believe that we need these knowledge transfers, we need to see other perspectives.”

We couldn’t put it better ourselves.

***

September already! For many, this is the time to return to a more demanding routine. It is also a good time to start a new activity or project. Why not become a reviewer for the Centre? If you are familiar with the housing sector, your region and/or our priority areas—especially sustainability and tenant involvement—why not be like Isabelle? You can contribute to and even help transform the community-housing sector. Contact us to learn more! You’ve got lots of wisdom left to share!

Have a fruitful September!

***

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