‘Renters Roundtable’ puts PR before policy

It wasn’t til the next day that I realized what had happened the day before.  I went to the City’s Renter’s Roundtable at the Downtown Library [May 26 2011].  I thought it was supposed to be a place to comment on the city’s draft housing strategy, which I’d read.  I thought there were some problems with the strategy.  For one, it seemed to have backed down from the Homeless Action Plan’s goal of getting 800 units of social housing a year between 2005 and 2015.  The new strategy was only talking about a goal of 1200 units between now and 2020, less than 200 units a year.  And it was only talking about supportive social housing, not social housing for people who have low incomes but don’t have other issues.

So off we went, me and 4 people from Carnegie.  We signed in.  Then the people at the sign-in table asked us to sign a waiver because the event was to be filmed.  I took a look at it and it said the film might be used for a number of things including advertising.  I didn’t want to be in an advertisement for something I might not agree with so I didn’t sign and walked into the room.

We found a nice table, complete with table cloth and chips and dip in the middle.  Music was playing.  There was another food table, complete with dried apricots and cranberries, cheese, fresh watermelon and pineapple, veggies and  chips and three kinds of dips.  We dug in, relishing the healthy food.

When I sat back down at the table, a nice young woman came up to me and said that I hadn’t signed the waiver.  I said that was right.  I didn’t want to be used in an advertisement.  She said I’d have to leave if I didn’t sign.  I thought about it too briefly, asked if I would be used in a commercial for Vision, the City’s governing party, and was assured I wouldn’t be.  I did want to see how the meeting would go, and I wanted to make some points and see what points others made, so I signed.

The meeting started with Abi Bond of the city’s housing staff giving a brief overview of the strategy – the strategy I thought we would be commenting on.  Then the mayor welcomed us. Then the facilitator pointed to a projection on the screen with some questions on it.  I forget exactly what the questions were except that they were mostly about individual issues like, if you’ve moved in the last while, why?  What is most important in your choice of rental accommodation?  Do you have hope for the rental future?  Sort of like those.  We were supposed to talk at our table about the question for 4-5 minutes and then a mic would be brought to some people in the room who could comment on the discussion or make their own personal point.  As the people spoke, what they said was written up on the projection so everyone could see that what they said was being recorded.

We were asked to change tables and did. The Mayor did too. I participated in the discussion and so did the others with me, as well as people at the other tables. The process went on.  Fifteen minutes before the event was to end I asked the facilitator if there was going to be a place on the agenda where we would get to talk about the city’s housing strategy. He said, basically, no.  One elder negotiated with the facilitator to get 3 minutes to speak.  She spoke eloquently about social justice and housing.  I got up a few times to get some mint tea, and another little plate of fruit that was delicious.  Then it was over and we went home.

It wasn’t til the next day, talking with my comrades at CCAP, that I realized this truth about the meeting:  unless you were willing to be used in an advertisement, the city wasn’t going to let you attend and have a say about rental housing.

This article was first published in the CCAP Newsletter