A Look Back at How CHC has Supported Tenants Throughout 2020
Through a very challenging 2020, Calgary Housing Company has focused on its mission to make life better for Calgarians by working to improve how we provide affordable housing and support tenants. CHC responded to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic and to technological and advocacy opportunities. We worked to help tenants manage through financial difficulty and took steps to improve safety and tenant supports. These efforts were also guided by the responses we received in our 2019 tenant survey (You can read more about that here).
The following are highlights of some of these efforts to provide support and continuously improve the way we serve the people who call CHC home.
Making Life Better for Tenants
CHC has taken a number of steps to improve the application and move-in process. We updated forms on our website and introduced a new electronic lease signing option for applicants and tenants.
To better support tenants, we have been developing a tenant onboarding program to prepare tenants for successful tenancies, which includes the creation of a tenant handbook which is expected to be available for download from our website in December. Our tenant handbook is based on best practices research, an environmental scan of 30 housing providers across Canada, US, UK and Australia, the tenant survey and a CHC staff survey.
CHC has supported housing stabilization through implementation of the CHC Eviction Prevention Policy and rent protocol adjustments. CHC made the decision to not evict tenants and offer payments plans prior to the Ministerial Order under the Residential Tenancies Act to ban evictions by the Province. To date, we have worked with over 600 tenants to create payment plans and connect them to critical financial and other resources such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
We have partnered with Children’s Cottage on their Homelessness Diversion & Prevention program and have referred 10 families to their program to get their arrears paid. Nearly $6000 in tenant arrears were covered through this collaboration.
We’ve also been advocating for funding to increase the supply of affordable housing to meet needs and shorten wait times; a top suggestion from tenants. Our submission to the Government of Alberta expert panel can be found here.
Improving Safety and Maintenance of our Properties
Condition of properties, building and homes is another area that CHC has been working to improve. Throughout 2020, we have improved asset management plans for CHC units and have advocated for maintenance funding from all levels of government. We are also reviewing security protocols and contracts for effectiveness, and refining policies, procedures and partnerships that help ensure safe and healthy homes.
We know that safety is a top priority for tenants and that is why we are proud that our pandemic response included the rapid implementation of a number of Standard Operating Guidelines to ensure staff and tenant safety. Policy changes, posters and signage were rolled out to high traffic buildings and communal areas, and enhanced protocols were put in place to ensure contractors working on site were also working safety. We also introduced more frequent cleaning of high touch surfaces at our buildings.
In order to further improve maintenance and repairs, CHC has been upgrading our software, and refining policies and procedure that ensure fair and equitable procurement of services and supplies. CHC becoming more proactive in planning preventative maintenance activities.
Improved Supports for Tenants
We know that contact and communication is important to tenants, so we have also been providing more relevant and useful information for tenants on the CHC website and through our regular tenant email. This email is sent every two weeks and includes recent news from Calgary Housing Company, as well as information and resources from partner agencies focused on financial, community and health related topics. Our newsletter now reaches over 3,000 tenants! [Click here to Subscribe].
CHC’s Tenant Liaisons support tenants who may be dealing with issues at home, in their building, or in their community, and provide referrals to various resources and supports in the community which provide as access to food, financial resources and support for issues such as arrears.
As part of our pandemic response, we implemented wellness checks with tenants and referred over 2500 tenants to programs and services throughout the year. These calls have been related primarily to food scarcity and rent. We continue to engage in initiatives that support tenant well-being.
Partnerships in the Community
To build food security, we’ve partnered with ICanForKids to distribute over $200,000 in grocery gift cards for families, coordinated mobile food market delivery in partnership with Calgary Neighborhoods at 11 properties, and collaborated with Experience Church to utilize volunteers to support food hamper delivery for families in need.
We’ve also provided up to date information on CHC website and in our tenant newsletter to support families and individuals facing food insecurity. In order to support kids, we collaborated with Calgary Neighborhoods (CN) to distribute nearly 3,000 activity kits to children to help keep them engaged and occupied at home throughout the spring, summer and fall. PDF versions of the activity kits are available for download on CHC’s website, along with additional activities such as links to Live Panda Cams and educational resources.
We also collaborated with Calgary Recreation to promote and connect CHC tenants to their Community Nature Adventure Playground series. We have also leveraged the work launched with United Way and the Calgary Library for access to laptops for kids to do their school work.
A new partnership has also been developed with the Youth Employment Centre to offer resume writing, interview skills and job training programs on-site, which will be launching in the coming weeks. To help addressing Calgary’s rising unemployment numbers. During the pandemic, we have worked closely with all of our Partners to ensure safe re-opening and operations of programs and services on our sites. Together we have been able to safely offer programs and support for tenant well-being at 25 properties.
Programs that enable successful tenancies
The RentSmart course is currently being offered to applicants and tenants online, free of charge thanks to funding from the Home Program. It is designed to help renters know and understand their rights and responsibilities when renting a home. It is a housing readiness model that gives participants the skills and knowledge to be great tenants and positively impact housing stability and supports housing stability and positive outcomes for people in our communities.
RentSmart Participants from early 2020
The Home Program funded $20,000 for the Calgary Dollars pilot program in 2019. The Calgary Dollars program is used to incentivize resident engagement and pride of place within the CHC resident community. This program has already contributed to increased resident participation in activities that support. Calgary Dollars may be used to pay a portion of Calgary Housing Company tenant’s rent. The program is also supported by Norfolk Housing, CUPS, and Inn From The Cold. Alberta Human Services and Finance Ministers have endorsed the benefits of Calgary Dollars. CHC’s Calgary Dollars pilot began in December 2018 and included 342 transactions. The total value of the transactions to date is $24,574. The Calgary Dollars initiative illustrates diverse ways tenants can earn income by accessing self-identified, flexible income opportunities. All the dollars in this program were used for basic needs or community building exchanges. CHC’s Opportunity for Homeownership (“OHO”) Program helps connect tenants with agencies that can support their move into affordable homeownership. On February 21, Rundle Manor tenant Sintayehu Assefa got the keys to her brand new home. Assefa’s move into home ownership comes about after she connected with resources presented to Calgary Housing Company (CHC) tenants following the announcement of the 2021 closure of CHC’s Rundle Manor. “I would like to take this opportunity to thank Calgary Housing Company for giving me a chance to raise my children in stable home,” she says. “I can’t thank you enough for supporting me through my hardships. My children and I will be forever grateful.” – Sintayehu
Opportunities for Home Ownership (OHO) is an ongoing series of seminars for CHC tenants where local agencies and organizations provide information to tenants exploring new housing options. Partners have included organizations like The City’s Attainable Homes program, Habitat for Humanity, Momentum, Money Mentors and others.
Sintayehu posing with her children and CHC staff.
Plans are underway for the 14th Floor Hub Space at Manchester. We are working on a Shared Use Agreement with L’Arche who will be delivering programs in the space including computer classes, financial literacy and yoga classes. This community space will also be used to deliver support programs by other community partners such as the Mustard Seed and Calgary Neighbourhoods.
CARYA moves in to the new space at East Village on December 1, and they will be opening their doors in the New Year. CARYA is a social profit agency dedicated to creating strong families and communities for generations.
Open space at Manchester