Tenant Services Program at 40 Oaks – optimism and hope amidst deficiencies and challenges

Tenant Services Program at 40 Oaks – optimism and hope amidst deficiencies and challenges
November 2012
By Mary Middleton, Tenant Services Coordinator

When I started my job at 40 Oaks about a year ago, I had a goal to build community through successful tenancies. My success depended on their success. But as the saying goes you can’t please all the people all of the time and I quickly realized that success was not perhaps about happy tenants.

If it was, then our cranky elevator, hair trigger fire alarms and a heating system that insisted on running during those hot summer months, would certainly have made us a failure in terms of happy tenants. I think that sometimes we can count it a success if people are dissatisfied; the question is where’s that line – how can we tell?

I came to realize that tenants complaining about deficiencies, though not easy to listen to, was actually an indication of one type of success. Tenants were taking ownership of 40 Oaks, helping us get the kinks out of a new building. Complaints came with suggestions and solutions. Not once was there a pronouncement that “nothing was going to get better, so why bother”. Instead I was confronted by tenants telling me about how they used to live, and now they live here and it’s beautiful and, “it will not slide into disrepair, even if I have to fix the thing myself!”

I don’t mean to suggest, for example, that our Tenant Executive is a direct result of an over-achieving heating system; but the heat was a major motivator to start having formal tenant meetings where people could have their say and hear updates on deficiencies. Once people got talking and sharing ideas it was an easy next step to form the executive. Now working with the Housing Committee this self-selected committee of tenants is developing a survey designed for all tenants to fill out, that will give a clear indication where the tenants think our future successes lie.

It would seem success can come disguised like the monsters and goblins that knock on our doors during this season, threatening tricks if not treated. And if the tenant doesn’t recognize they’ve had a success, even though I do, how do I count that?

Many of our guys have come to realize that to stay successfully housed they must change the way they live. They must choose between the community at 40 Oak or continuing to live as they did on the street. When they break those ties with the street, one is tempted to consider it a success – they’ve made the right decision. But for our guys it’s a painful choice that leaves them not only alone but ashamed of abandoning friends who have been loyal to them, shared with them, and kept them safe. It’s a big break with no immediate rewards and some have not been able to do it and have had to leave.

Where is the success in this? It’s not that some have had to leave. It’s that those who have left have been given every bit of support to try and make the change; because process is personal and the individual ultimately must choose for themselves. If the support worker, the property manager, the Community Meal Program volunteers, and all of us never missed an opportunity to try and support, well then I think there is some success in that.

Community is not about one person, but it can be about giving your best to each and every one. And when how we care is witnessed by other tenants; then a sense of optimism spreads and that becomes the culture at 40 Oaks.

So sure we’ve had some sad good byes and some agreeable partings that have brought relief to the neighborhood. But I’ve also seen some troubled souls turn it around to keep their housing. One told me they realized, after watching a buddy up and go, that maybe it was time to grow up. And another said they wouldn’t have changed except their neighbour just wouldn’t stop being nice to them. I like these people and I like being in their company because I get to hear stuff like that. It gives me hope for the rest of us who have such little challenges to face and so much more to work with.

So the 40 Oaks tenants have had some challenges and the elevator is still cranky. But we’re also getting to be a pretty good community; so I guess, we’re doing okay. And this is, in part, because of The Equitable Trust Company’s and Rosedale United Church’s support for the tenant service program at the Christian Resource Centre. It has allowed for hope and optimism, amidst deficiencies and challenges, to begin to flourish amongst the tenants of 40 Oaks.

Related articles:
Tenant Services Program at 40 Oaks – the affordable housing project of the Toronto Christian Resource Centre (CRC)
Let’s mention tenant retention at 40 Oaks – the affordable housing project of the CRC

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