Social inclusion is community housing DNA

Social inclusion is what most fundamentally distinguishes community housing from other types of housing.

Community housing as an incubator of emancipation

In our society, housing is both one of the primary means of enrichment and one of social exclusion. In recent decades, we have seen the emergence of mass homelessness in Canada. A minimum of 235,000 people spends at least one night a year without shelter. According to the last census, 1.7 million households spend more than 30% of their income on housing, and, if we dig a little deeper, we quickly see that money is not the only element that causes exclusion relating to housing.

Single-parent families, people from racialized communities, households headed by women, people with physical and mental disabilities, large families, people from LGBTQ+ communities, and indigenous people (whether they live in urban areas or on-reserve) are all groups whose social and economic vulnerabilities translate into over-representation among the poorly housed.

On the other hand, real estate speculation, the financialization of residential real estate, and the gentrification of traditional working-class neighbourhoods contribute to the increasing appropriation of wealth by a small number of individuals.

Through real estate, these people and institutions have significant financial means and even more traction to influence housing managerial practices and modalities that constantly disadvantage the same marginalized groups, whether they be tenants or small owners.

Numerous studies confirm that although illegal, discrimination is a daily reality that strikes households that do not meet the “socially desirable” benchmarks (a couple of professionals in their thirties, Caucasians, heterosexuals, childless, without apparent disability and with a steady job). Willingly or not, tenant selection measures, such as credit inquiries, ensure that the best accommodations are reserved for applicants closest to the benchmark profile, leaving the lower quality housing to other segments of the population.

This not only applies to tenants, but also to households trying to own their own home. Households with these same reference profiles systematically inhabit the districts with the best services. Resistance against the installation of services, housing, or resources for other populations in these spaces is a well-documented phenomenon known as NIMBYism (not in my backyard!).

The Centre is convinced that community housing is an excellent way to break these insidious mechanisms of exclusion. This action takes several forms.

Community housing welcomes those excluded from places affected by financialization and gentrification. As a matter of fact, it is often the sector’s first reason for being. Through their anti-discrimination policy, motivated by the generosity and social intelligence of those who run the community housing sector, it is not uncommon that the primary way for vulnerable populations to continue living in a gentrifying neighbourhood is through community housing. Unresponsive to the sirens of real estate speculation, housing NPOs, co-ops, and land trusts protect the populations in place and ensure that people who leave their homes are replaced by others with a similar socio-demographic profile.

Accordingly, we find that community housing creates a context and a support structure that allows its inhabitants, who are often targeted by exclusion and discrimination, to get back on their feet. The simple fact of not being subjected to arbitrariness, undue financial pressures, and the multiple daily frustrations that generate social disaffiliation, often acts as a springboard that allows individuals living in community housing to improve their health, social, and professional situation well beyond the simple issues of housing in the strict sense.

It is also well known that community housing, owing to the diversity it brings to the local environment, facilitates the emergence of positive social dynamics that go far beyond the framework of community buildings themselves, towards the benefit of entire neighbourhoods, towns, or cities

Social inclusion within community housing also means that the management structure of these buildings is a place of learning and self-education for the people who live there and are close to them.

By acting as an incubator of emancipation for its tenants, the practice of social inclusion offers community housing managers a fantastic and distinctive tool for accomplishing their mission.

Indeed, social inclusion makes it possible, through the participation of tenants, to guarantee better management. It establishes an internal control mechanism that creates a match between the offer and the needs of tenants.

When properly understood and put into action, social inclusion in community housing buildings is not a service provided by enlightened managers to tenants, but rather, quite the opposite. Social inclusion is a torch offered to managers by those who live in the buildings in their care to guide and inspire them.

For the Centre, it is this inspiration that makes it possible to determine whether or not an apartment building is community-based, much more than the legal framework; that it belongs and serves the community and not funders.

However, we must recognize that community housing managers face intense pressure to adopt practices that correspond more to that of the private market. The decrease in government financial support, the timidity of legislative and regulatory measures that respond to equity in access to housing, and the refusal of the banks to consider community housing projects with criteria adapted to their type of non-speculative management practices leave community housing actors more and more often alone to resist the social and financial pressures engendered by their distinctive operations.

In this context, the Centre affirms the importance of providing the best possible support to organizations that seek to pursue and improve social inclusion in the area of housing.

This support can take the form of financial recognition or showcasing the benefits associated with this practice. By facilitating the exploration and experimentation of new ways to stimulate tenant participation, and sharing these acquired learnings, the Centre can contribute to the evolution of the community housing movement and make it a reference model that supports the evolution of our communities.

Consequently, the Centre sets the following objectives for itself to:

  • Promote meaningful and strong tenant and community engagement
  • Provide resources and tools and showcase best practices
  • Improve community housing organization services for tenant and community engagement
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