RentSafe Roundtable on Healthy Housing in Ontario

By Carlos E. Sánchez-Pimienta, Rachel Hayton and Randi Wang

On November 23rd, 2016, over 60 participants convened at McMaster University’s David Braley Health Sciences Centre, in Hamilton, Ontario to attend the RentSafe Roundtable. The event provided a collaborative environment to learn about the findings of RentSafe baseline research on housing-related health risks in Ontario, and to discuss recommendations for action on how to achieve healthy homes for all. Participants included, among others, tenants, landlords, housing advocates, health and legal professionals, and representatives from social services agencies.

The roundtable was organized by the RentSafe Project Team and led by Erica Phipps, Executive Director of the Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment. Erica is also a PhD student and Vanier Scholar at the Centre for Environmental Health Equity. In the context of Canada’s National Housing Day, an evening public forum was held in the evening of November 22nd as a kick-off to the roundtable. This event featured Dr. Megan Sandel from Boston University, who gave a talk about the impact of physical living conditions on children’s health and well-being, aptly titled “Home is the vaccine for child poverty”. This presentation provided insights on why it is essential to take children’s health into account when making housing policies.

The official Roundtable meeting took place on November 23rd. Elder Yvonne Maracle of the De Dwa Da Dehs Nye>S Aboriginal Health Centre started the event by with an opening ceremony and teaching, which set a positive path for the work of the day. Erica Phipps presented an overview of the RentSafe Initiative, highlighting its purpose, phases of research, and progress to date. Her overview was followed by a panel of tenants who participated in focus groups as well as presentations on RentSafe baseline research thematic panel discussions. The discussions between presenters and other Roundtable attendees enhanced people’s understandings of both tenant experiences of unhealthy homes, and the response of the social service system to unhealthy housing conditions. A link to the final baseline report will be added to this posting when it becomes available.

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During the lunch break Elder Yvonne led a smudging ceremony and shared further teachings on the importance of being respectful and knowing our place in the natural environment. Participants also had time during the break to speak to one another and foster collaborative relationships.

The second part of the Roundtable focused on ideas for action. The RentSafe team organized five separate break-out sessions in which attendees could develop recommendations for future action. The sessions focused on the following topics: 1) Tenant rights and justice, 2) Indigenous housing needs and priorities, 3) Housing provider needs and priorities, 4) Health, Legal, and Social Services, and 5) Legal barriers and reform. At the end of the activity, a representative from each group shared their ideas for improving RentSafe’s suggestions for action.

The roundtable concluded with a “5 for 25” activity. This exercise allowed a collective ranking of the most important actions for achieving healthy housing for all. Each participant received a cue card on which they wrote an idea for action. Through five iterative rounds, each participant exchanged their cue cards with others, and ranked the idea they received from 1 to 5 according to the idea’s importance. After the ranking was finished, participants read out loud the recommendation on the cards in decreasing order of importance. This “5 for 25” activity created a collective sense of priority, and ended the session in an interactive and creative way.

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Erica Phipps, RentSafe Team Lead and Roundtable Coordinator

Overall, the RentSafe Roundtable provided a space to better understand housing quality issues as seen from multiple areas of expertise. Collective knowledge and experience crafted exciting  ideas for action towards reaching healthy housing for all. It is essential to acknowledge the outstanding work of Erica Phipps in her contributions to the Roundtable and broader RentSafe Initiative. Her leadership and hard work set a strong precedent for RentSafe’s collaborative efforts.

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