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News and Resources

Cape Town to Toronto - Strengthening Social Housing

News and Resources


Barry Pinsky, Executive Director

People sometimes wonder why Rooftops Canada supports international exchanges. Aren’t circumstances between countries too different to make exchanges worthwhile? Are we wasting money on junkets? Recently, I confirmed our belief that well-organized exchanges by committed people really do make a difference.
In March, I spent several days in Cape Town with Communicare -- South Africa’s oldest social housing organization – which is celebrating its 80th year! At the time, two Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCH) senior managers, Steve Floros and Alina Chatterjee, were working day and night to help Communicare staff complete a community development and tenant involvement plan. Their visit was part of a learning exchange between the two social housing providers that started in 2007.
To help implement the plan, two Communicare managers, Wasima Fisher and Luvuyo Msizi, then spent two weeks with TCHC in Toronto in September. Numerous TCH people helped with visits to projects and provided job shadowing and overviews of housing management policies and practices. I participated in the de-briefing session at the end of the visit.
Luvuyo was “impressed with the commitment of TCH staff at every level to its community development approach. Everyone has the same information,” he said. He also discovered that “risk is good” and will take this attitude back home to introduce new maintenance practices. “We can reduce our costs by increasing the number of contractors we use, and at the same time, we can insist they hire skilled Communicare tenants that are unemployed.”
Wasima reminded us that “Communicare is facing many challenges as it is moving away from seniors housing to more age and racially integrated housing projects. TCHC’s experiences in engaging tenants in decision making and funding resident led social development projects will help us ease the transition.”
Steve and Alina promised ongoing support by phone or email, or through further exchanges. Steve was very encouraging: “We have already seen many changes in Communicare’s strategic outlook, staff confidence and day-to-day procedures.” Alina also pointed out that “The two exchange visits reinforced Toronto Community Housing’s commitment to improving service delivery by sorting out the relationship between central support services and our decentralized operating units.”
I was impressed with the level of understanding, mutual respect and trust between the two organizations. As a result, Communicare is putting cutting-edge practices into place. And TCHC, a genuine learning organization, is re-examining some of its practices in light of experiences in South Africa.
We are grateful both to TCH for its commitment to our partners in South Africa, and to the Canadian International Development Agency that makes it possible for us to facilitate these exchanges.