TDRC Reports

February 23, 2002

A report on the Home Made Solutions One-Day Workshop on  Creating Housing Quickly

The one-day workshop, ‘Home Made Solutions’, was held on February 23, 2002 at the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre from 9.30 am to 3.30 pm.  The attendance was much larger than expected - about 150 people - pointing to the tremendous interest in the issue.

The morning began with three talks on the details of homelessness: Cathy Crowe, street nurse and co-founder of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee; Stevie Cameron, journalist and coordinator of the Out-of-the Cold Program at St. Andrew's Church; and Kathy Hardill, a street nurse at Regent Park Community Health Centre.  They were followed by John Sewell discussing government programs to maintain homelessness but not to provide housing; Adam Vaughan, City TV reporter discussing various attempts to provide housing including Tent City; and Rainer “DRI” Driemeyer, a resident of Tent City disparaging the government's dishonest advertising that beds are available for the homeless. Sessions were punctuated by comments, questions and discussions.

At the lunch break there was the opportunity to look at and walk into the small house constructed off site and brought on a flatbed truck to the front of the community centre.  The small house was designed by Architects Alliance and was built by Jaan Poldaas, Henry Levy, and Jonathan Borah with Tent City labour.  The house met the Building Code and contained a composting toilet, shower, kitchen and living area. At the end of the day, the house was delivered to Tent City and donated to a homeless couple who are currently living in the house.

After lunch John van Nostrand outlined ways to provide pre-fabricated housing quickly and inexpensively.  The immediate short-term solution is to put temporary small houses on land (in some cases permission to use the land has not been sought).  A structure's cost is $12,500 and the cost of providing water, sanitation and energy another $6,500, for a total of $19,000.

A medium term solution could involve a lease on a piece of land, a permission which permits city services to be somewhat more regularized. The total capital costs would be in the order of $22,400.  Once there is a lease legitimizing the small house, social assistance could be received by the occupant and rent in the amount of $325 per month could be paid to cover ongoing cost servicing.

A long term solution is to get a site where a fully serviced unit can be installed for a capital cost - including land - at about $40,500. The ongoing expenses would be $575 per month, so a rent of $575 would mean the operation of the small house would break even.

John van Nostrand's presentation provoked considerable discussion. The group broke into three smaller discussion groups that generated a number of different ideas about what might happen next.  The ideas were noted and are now under consideration by the organizers of the workshop with a view to creating an action plan. The following are the key proposals:

1.  Create a central agency to harness all those who wish to contribute money or sponsor solutions to homelessness.

2.  Start creative searches for land where small houses can be located for temporary periods of time, such as parking lots, agency and church land, or vacant land.  Be as open as one can about what pieces of land would be available for this kind of housing, perhaps by creating a central registry.

3.  Create a building society for low-income individuals to pool their money and energy to create housing for members of the society.  These kinds of building societies exist in the Caribbean and other places.

4.  Consider ways in which inexpensive ownership housing can be created for households with low income.

5. Whenever a gathering or conference around housing takes place make sure activities such as building a small house occur so that the event starts to physically solve the housing shortage as well talks about it.

Please note: It has since been learned that, contrary to what had been said on February 23, there is no zoning exemption for one or two temporary dwellings on a lot - which unfortunately makes our challenges just a bit larger.

The workshop was sponsored by Christ-Church Deer Park, North Toronto Faith and Justice Group, Project Warmth, POINT (People & Organizations in North Toronto), and Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC).  There was also considerable support from numerous individuals and organizations including: Adam Vaughan, Architects Alliance, Barry Burnett, Bob Fugere, Canadian Tire Store -- 2681 Danforth Store, “DRI”, Capital City Rent-All, Catherine Beaton, Generation PV Inc, Henry Levy, Howard Watson, Jaan Poldaas, Joan and Patti Hanlon, Jonathan Borah, Jon Alexander, John Sewell, Kathy Hardill, Lions Club of Toronto -- Beaches Branch, Pascale Gourmet, Royal Home Care, Greater Toronto Clearinghouse, Michael Giulioni, Nick van Nostrand, Stevie Cameron, Street Survivors, The Furniture Bank, The Futon Store, The North Toronto Memorial Community Centre, Tent City, Victor Willis, Village Building Supplies, and Walter Seaton.

The following presentations or background material are available on-line.

Cathy Crowe presentation
Kathy Hardill presentation
John Sewell presentation
John van Nostrand background information

For more information, contact TDRC at

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