Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation — Ottawa, Ontario
Provide affordable rental housing using a tenant-driven approach.
Low- and moderate-income households in downtown Ottawa.
Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC) is a non-profit housing corporation with a portfolio of over 50 properties comprising almost 1,600 units. Its management structure and operations involve tenants, members and staff working together to ensure housing communities that are affordable, livable, diverse in type, healthy, energy-efficient and environmentally responsible. CCOC has established mechanisms to recruit, motivate, train and recognize volunteers in line with its philosophy that all people should have control over their housing.
Background and Context
CCOC is a community-based, tenant- and member-directed, non-profit housing organization whose mission is to create, maintain and promote housing for low- and moderate-income people. CCOC was created in 1974 with three major goals:
- provide affordable family housing in Ottawa’s Centretown;
- make sure that Centretown would stay residential; and
- give tenants control of their housing.
Older stock of CCOC housing, built in the 1970s
By 2014, CCOC had over 50 properties in urban Ottawa with almost 1,600 units of affordable rental housing. In most CCOC buildings, between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of tenants pay rents geared to their incomes.
From the beginning, CCOC was committed to involving tenants and community members in decision making. During the early days, many volunteer hours were put in by board members and staff, since the organization’s size did not support the resources needed to get the job done. Many of these founding members remained involved over several decades.
CCOC signs agreements under which they build or provide units, while service agencies provide the support needed by their tenants. As of 2014, CCOC has partnerships with nine support agencies helping over 160 residents. CCOC initiated a monthly newsletter and holds special events regularly to foster community 1 bowling nights, barbecues, garage sales and family parties. Landscaping and gardening are also encouraged.
CCOC established a comprehensive volunteer system, fully integrated into the management and operations structure, with mechanisms for recruitment, retention, motivation, training and recognition of volunteers. They work collaboratively to support tenants in developing the independent living skills required to manage and maintain their housing and to achieve successful tenancies and better life outcomes.
How it Works
Recruitment of tenant volunteers begins the moment the new tenant is about to sign a rental agreement with the housing provider. There are about 10 to 15 new tenants every month, and new tenants sign their lease as a group. During the lease signing session, the volunteer aspect and the importance of getting involved is explained.
For example, CCOC is directed and controlled by tenants and volunteers. The board of directors consists of 14 members, and they are elected by the membership. The board comprises a mixture of tenants and non-tenants. There must be a minimum of one third tenant members and one third non-tenant members. The members each serve two-year terms, which are staggered. Any person who supports the CCOC goals and values can become a member after paying a small annual fee ($3 in 2014). To stand for election to the board of directors, an individual must have been a member for one month prior to the annual general meeting.
Other than volunteering on the board of directors, tenants can also get involved in one of CCOC’s standing committees, which, similar to the board of directors, are composed of a mixture of tenants and non-tenants. The committees direct the corresponding administrative department of paid staff. These committees are:
- Rental Committee;
- Finance Committee;
- Property Management Committee;
- Development Committee; and
- Membership and Communication Committee.
There are no hard distinctions drawn between tenants, volunteers and staff, with many people being more than one — or even all three — at different points of their involvement with CCOC. Moreover, the executive director and managers do not draw salaries equivalent to the levels in the public or private sector.
The board and committees meet monthly. Dates, times and locations are publicized in the monthly newsletter that is distributed to all tenants. Taxi, or bus fare, and family care are paid for people attending the meetings.
Tenant-driven and Tenant-controlled Approach
Tenants achieve their greatest impact through standing committees, but tenants can also have a say in how their housing environment works by submitting a resolution. The resolution must be applicable to all CCOC properties and tenants. Resolutions are reviewed by the applicable committee, then forwarded to the membership to be voted on at the annual general meeting. Previous resolutions have included promoting organic gardening, making recycling easier and creating non-smoking buildings.
Beaver Barracks, CCOC non-smoking site
The resolution on non-smoking buildings was initially met with skepticism by CCOC staff, who thought there would be difficulty in enforcing the resolution or in renting the units, but it was pressed by tenants. One site is currently non-smoking, and the others will be converted slowly with the tenants involved in every step of the way. Although there have been some issues, smoke-free buildings continue to be supported by the tenants.
Non-smoking designations can result in savings on fire insurance and costs related to items such as ventilation services and property repair and upkeep.
CCOC has 25 tenant custodians, who are located in their larger buildings. They are responsible for showing units to potential tenants, making the elevator available for moves, and monitoring visitor parking. Their responsibilities may take 2 or 3 hours per week, and they are remunerated. When resident custodians resign for whatever reason, they do not cease to be tenants. This approach is actually more cost-effective than having someone from a management company doing the showings.
Landscaping, Gardening and Planter Boxes
Come spring, CCOC tenants enjoy the outdoors, the warmer weather and the joys of gardening. Some 10,000 flowers, herbs and vegetables are given away, and tenants plant them in the front and back yards of their property, in plant containers where it is not possible to dig, in flower boxes on their balconies, or on the rooftop kitchen gardens.
Tenants have varying levels of gardening knowledge, from elementary (being able to distinguish between a weed and a non-weed) to advanced (being a master gardener). Tenants share what knowledge they have as gardening continues to grow in popularity.
For the 2014 growing season, CCOC hired a trained horticulturalist for an eight-month term. The concept behind this pilot project is that the facilitator will empower and equip tenants to take on independent landscaping and gardening activities.
CCOC has an agreement with the City of Ottawa to collect its compost. CCOC had been composting long before the City instituted the composting program.
CCOC purchases the plants, obtaining bulk rates because of the large volumes involved. It is therefore less expensive to give away free plants to the tenants than to hire professional landscapers.
Environmental sustainability is heavily promoted. During the group lease signing session (described above), CCOC’s commitment to working toward environmental sustainability is described, and new tenants are invited to (voluntarily) sign a green commitment pledge form and commit to as many green initiatives as they choose.
A 16-page Bright Green Tips booklet — CCOC’s guide to going green in your home — is given to tenants. The booklet outlines what CCOC has done to reduce energy and water use in its buildings and units and also provides tips on how tenants can reduce their energy and water consumption. CCOC goes one step further in a number of ways:
- leaky taps are considered a priority call;
- tenants can ask for free winter window kits that come with plastic sheeting to help reduce cold air drafts and instructions on how to install it; and
- tenants can get a kitchen composter, an apartment size recycling bin, and information on how to get started.
Green promotion is repeated in the yearly tenant handbook and calendar. Various aspects of environmental sustainability are often written up in the monthly newsletter. Green practices and tips are posted in the laundry room and bulletin boards of the buildings. The green initiatives practised by CCOC include:
- replacing old windows;
- installing solar photovoltaic panels;
- installing solar thermal water heating; and
- installing low-flow shower heads and faucets.
Aerators and low-flow toilets benefit the tenants directly, since almost all of them pay for their own utilities and heating use.
CCOC has a full-time, permanent sustainability facilitator position, to support most of its programs.
Awards and Recognition
CCOC values the concept of being a good neighbour, and allows tenants to nominate a neighbour every year for an award that recognizes the informal ways that tenants help one another and make their community a better place to live.
Impact on the Provision of Affordable Housing
Included in the many sources of savings from the volunteer involvement are:
- provision of advice on management, operations and decision making through the board and the five specialized committees;
- successful solicitation of tenant resolutions to improve how things are done;
- engagement of tenants in landscaping and gardening;
- reduction in turnover through instilling a sense of ownership and community;
- greater care of buildings and facilities thanks to tenants’ personal involvement and pride in their dwelling place; and
- reduction of costs through the use of tenant custodians.
Suitability for Replication
- Encouraging volunteer involvement at the time of signing (and following up with tenants who expressed volunteering interests) is a worthwhile and feasible objective in any project.
- Achieving this recruitment of volunteers to enable a volunteer-driven affordable housing project requires a volunteer system that is integrated into the management structure. The arrangements and mechanisms must enable volunteers to make a real difference, feel appreciated and in control, and have opportunities for self-improvement and enhanced interaction with others in the rental community.
Source of Further Information
- For additional information regarding the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, see www.ccochousing.org.
- For additional information regarding Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation projects, see CMHC’s Project Profile Beaver Barracks.
- For additional information regarding Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation projects, see CMHC’s Project Profile Richmond Road, Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation.