Is Everyone in Co-operative Housing Really Co-operative?

Housing co-operatives, whether non-profit or ownership models, do require some degree of deliberate co-operation. Naturally, there will be conflicts of all kinds:  many types of activities and behaviours, even if no criminal law or City by-law is broken, may breach a co-op’s rules,  and annoy neighbour or possibly both. When the rent, known as occupancy charges,  gets behind, the concept of “co-operation” gets stretched to the breaking point. Membership meetings are held, and the landlord who can evict you is — surprise! — your neighbours! This is much more personal than in a condominium, where a bank may repossess your unit if your mortgage falls behind, or the condo unit owner can lock you out if you are renting the unit, or a corporation places a lien on your unit if the monthly condo fees are not paid.

The most striking difference between co-op housing and all other forms of tenancy,  besides the charming aspect that residents are called  “members”, is that until this year, financial problems and evictions ended up in a different and much more expensive court process than all other evictions. At our legal clinic we are  eagerly anticipating changes that will simplify (we hope) the problem-solving for co-op members. On June 1, 2014, the Landlord and Tenant Board will become the arbiter of co-op disputes.

What is so monumental about this change, and who is going to notice?  We think that all agency and settlement workers might want to be aware of this, in case their clients live in co-ops. Also, social assistance office employees should be pleased: resolutions should be faster, easier and less expensive for all. We hope. For more information, the Co-op Housing Federation has put it all in one place, in their newsletter at  http://www.chfcanada.coop/eng/pdf/ONB/ONB2014-04.pdf

If you are a co-op member, you have probably received quite a bit of explanation about the changes, but if not, you should inform yourself. Decisions will still need to be approved by the members. You might find that you are the subject of the new process, or the decision-maker.

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Be the Change: the First Hurdle is the Hardest

Sam, a high school athlete, faces discouraging barriers until one person, then another, then another, decides to make a difference....

Sam, a high school athlete, faces discouraging barriers until one person, then another, then another, decides to make a difference….Read about it in our story!

 

Before he crouches in the starting blocks, Sam can see the university track team coach, standing at the finish line, holding up a university team uniform. Between Sam and that uniform are several hurdles with the first in letters so large that they make the first hurdle taller than all the rest. He reads, “Fee to apply: $95.”

If Sam can’t raise $95, it doesn’t matter that he can easily clear the academic and Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) application hurdles.

“Sam” is not his real name, but his university application dilemma is a real life story currently unfolding in Etobicoke.

A year ago, Sam didn’t dream about track or about university. He had money from odd jobs for drug dealers and gang members. So, how did he change direction?

If you care about the answers, you can be part of the change.

The Youth Justice Initiative

Rexdale Community Legal Clinic’s new Youth Justice Initiative was the catalyst.

When Sam had trouble with the law, a duty counsel lawyer put him in touch with Camieka Woodhouse, our Youth Justice Initiative worker.

She discovered that he had the potential to continue onto university and that his athletic prowess would probably assure him of a scholarship. Suddenly, Sam could see horizons that had previously been completely blocked by the ugly brick buildings encircling his neighbourhood. Once he could “see” the university, he began to work and dream and train.

Sensing a change in him, Camieka asked some probing questions. She was familiar with the barrier posed by the Ontario Universities Application Centre process.

Moneyed families, preparing to fork out large amounts for their children to succeed, barely notice the registration fee.  On the other hand, young people without family supports or money are completely stymied. They’re only eligible for OSAP if they are accepted into university, and they cannot be accepted because they cannot afford to apply.

Because of this fairly modest barrier, budding opportunities die.

Where legal clinics can step in to help

Legal clinics are funded by Legal Aid Ontario to provide access to justice for low income residents in their communities.

Most clinic workers understand this can go beyond legal remedies and could include reducing poverty, increasing access to education and generally making a difference in any way that they can. And so, Camieka began searching for the non-legal remedy. Without it, she worried that Sam would return to his previous career options, mostly involving various forms of crime and ultimately, violence and incarceration.

Camieka believes that Sam has the ability to cross the other hurdles without her, but she was very concerned that he would turn to his former criminal associates to get the registration fee, and that this would amount to “falling off the wagon.”

Unknown to Sam, several conversations cascaded into a happy ending. A conversation at the clinic led to a request to a service club, and within 24 hours, the Knights of Columbus had come up with more than enough for Sam to launch his career plan.

Being the Change

At the clinic, we puzzle over how to create a pool of funds for cases like Sam’s and how to make guidance counsellors, youth counsellors and students aware of it.

Too many in our community face these hurdles:

  • growing up in poverty
  • bad role models for future paths
  • lack of opportunities for youth

Camieka sees her clients strolling around the starting line, studying the hurdles. On either side of the hurdles, there are “run off” lanes where the finish line is much closer. At the end of that line, a corrections officer is holding not a lycra tracksuit, but a cotton prison uniform.

Finding another path is about Being the Change: partnering and networking in our community and reducing poverty by addressing the causes.

Camieka is one of many people at our clinic and in our community who is part of the change. Now, so is Sam.

 

Footnote: Sam is a real person. For purposes of this article, Sam has been given a fictitious name.  Camieka Woodhouse is a real person, who has moved on to a different job, as real people do. Her work with young people at Rexdale Community Legal Clinic is being carried on by Tameka Francis.

 

Ann McRae is the Director of Legal Services at Rexdale Community Legal Clinic. 

Refugee Law Services – Adeegyada Sharciga Qaxootiga

Refugee Law Services - Adeegyada Sharciga Qaxootiga

REXDALE COMMUNITY HUB: Family Law Information Session

Microskills: Family Law Info Session

REXDALE COMMUNITY HUB: OCTOBER 25th Grand Opening!

Rexdale Community Hub: Grand Opening!

 

Paralegal Amanda Bitton: Proud to be a full-time advocate for refugee claimants

LAO newsroom

News archives

LAO Newsroom

Paralegal Amanda Bitton is proud to be a full-time advocate for refugee claimants

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Licensed paralegal Amanda Bitton has been “excited, proud and nervous” ever since Rexdale Community Legal Centre hired her in July to support refugee claimants on a full-time basis.

She’s very aware that her new job — providing frontline services to these vulnerable clients — is part of a Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) pilot agreement to fund the cost of hiring her, and demonstrate LAO’s commitment to the appropriate use of licensed paralegals.

So she sometimes loses sleep thinking of the responsibility she’s taken on.

 Amanda Bitton

High quality services are paramount

“As a regulated professional who must meet the licensing requirements of the Law Society of Upper Canada, this is an important opportunity to demonstrate that my experience, training and ethics will result in high quality services. That’s what will be paramount,” she says. “The stakes are high for me because everybody is watching. But my main concern is that they are even higher for my clients.”

Amanda’s education includes a four-year degree in political science at McMaster University. However, she actually started working at the Rexdale Community Legal Clinic while she was still a student of Humber College’s two-year Paralegal Education program, from which she graduated in June 2012.

Amanda applied to the Rexdale Community Legal Centre while she was still at Humber, to provide her with work hours toward the mandatory 14-week paid work term that’s part of Humber’s licensing requirements for students in this diploma program.

She hearts Rexdale

Her work placement at Rexdale, followed by employment there between August 2012 and January 2013, gave her experience in helping out at reception and attending intakes, hearings and interviews.

“By the end of that placement, I knew there was nowhere else I wanted to work,” she says. “I just love this clinics’ underlying philosophy of trusting colleagues and clients to come up with the most effective resolutions through working together in collaboration.”

What appealed to her most? “Clients would come in, throw a bunch of papers they couldn’t make sense of onto the desk, and ask for assistance,” she explains. “I loved being able to help people determine which issues they needed to deal with to move forward, to represent them before administrative tribunals such as the Landlord and Tenant Board, and to see them walk away and feel a bit easier about their lives.”

Amanda kept coming in as a volunteer once her paid placement at Rexdale was over, and cheerfully took on even the most basic tasks. When the prospect of applying for the refugee pilot arose, she began studying the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, signed up for training on refugee law, began attending conferences on the subject, and asked to job-shadow LAO’s refugee lawyers.

Passion, a positive attitude and an astute legal mind

“We hired her because of her passion, positive attitude, commitment to our clients and incredibly astute legal mind,” recalls LAO’s Jayne Mallin, who headed up Rexdale’s legal clinic at the time.

“We had recognized very early on in Amanda’s placement, through her handling of intake and while assisting with research and factum writing – where her legal analysis was always accurate, thoughtful, and solution focused – that she is a very high quality paralegal.”

Today Amanda’s responsibilities include interviewing refugee claimants, helping them fill in the forms they need to complete to apply for refugee status in Canada, and representing these vulnerable individuals, under the supervision of a lawyer, at the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

“If my Mom had known about what community legal clinics could do for families like ours, if we’d had someone advocating for us like I can advocate for my clients, she would have had fewer struggles,”

Advocacy, accessibility and affordability

An LAO staff lawyer and LAO’s district office staff review Amanda’s paperwork once it’s completed. While Amanda is qualified to appear on her own before the RPD, an LAO lawyer will accompany her to hearings for the first six months of the pilot. This interim measure will ensure that clients are receiving high quality services and provide her with further training.

She’s pleased to be on a career path that goes back to her childhood in a single parent family. “If my Mom had known about what community legal clinics could do for families like ours, if we’d had someone advocating for us like I can advocate for my clients, she would have had fewer struggles,” she says.

“It’s all about accessibility and affordability,” she adds. “Sometimes only a lawyer can do the job. But we are a more affordable alternative in situations where a paralegal is qualified to do the same job. Here at Rexdale, I can provide quality legal services within my scope of practice for refugees whose very lives could depend on their ability to access resources and justice in a meaningful way.”

Questions

For questions or further information, please contact:

Josephine Li
Communications advisor
Phone: 416-979-2352, ext.6015
Email: lijos@lao.on.ca and/or media@lao.on.ca

http://legalaid.on.ca/en/news/newsarchive/1309-20_AmandaBitton.asp

REXDALE COMMUNITY LEGAL CLINIC: 2013 Annual General Meeting

Thanks to everyone who attended our Annual General Meeting, including our community partners Albion Neighbourhood Services, Rexdale Women’s Centre, Rexdale Community Health Centre, Somali Business Development Centre, Dejinta Beesha, Rexdale Community Hub, our staff, students, and volunteers, our board of directors, and our community!

We also appreciate and would like to acknowledge the presence of Legal Aid Ontario including Professor John McCamus, Chair of the Board of Directors , Vicki Moretti, Vice President GTA Region,  Cynthia Harper, Director of Poverty Law Services, Catherine Sutherland, Poverty Law Coordinator, and Jayne Mallin, Senior Counsel and Special Advisor to the GTA Clinic Transformation Project.

We also want to extend our gratitude to The Honorable Ted McMeekin, Minister of Community & Social Services, for providing insights into recent changes to OW and ODSP, as well as Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy.

Special thanks to the Broken Silence Dance Crew for providing entertainment!

 Director of Legal Services Ann McRae, Chair of the Board of RCLC Robert Reynolds, and Treasurer Anita Billing  Chair of the Board of Directors for Legal Aid Ontario Professor John McCamus
 The Honorable Ted McMeekin, Minister of Community and Social Services  The Minister address changes to OW & ODSP as well as Ontario's poverty reduction strategy.
 Director of Administration Itallica Battiston  Broken Silence Dance Crew
 Broken Silence Dance Crew  agm_8sml

Our Annual Report is now available online:

http://www.rexdalecommunitylegalclinic.ca/Annual_Report.pdf