Thesis chapter summarizes Regent Park tenant activism

From: Sean Purdy Sent: February 27, 2002 4:41 PM

Subject: By the people, For the people Article

Hi Simon. How are you?
Attached is a first draft of my thesis chapter on the RPCIA. There’s some jargon and it’s very long but I would appreciate any comments you may have, in particular on evaluating the reasons for success and failure. I’m not interested in names but if you can recall any incidents, events etc. which might flush some points out, it would be much appreciated.
Thanks very much, Sean
P.S. I also have chapters planned on Education Activism in the 1970s, and a chapter on Social Services, Recreation and the RP Community health centre
———My reply ——–
Blogs contribute greatly to the democracy of voices and the truly radical notion is that there is space for all expressions, points, counter points, and alternative interpretations.
From: A. Simon Mielniczuk Sent: March 4, 2002 12:13 AM
To: ‘Sean Purdy’
Subject: RE: By the people, For the people Article

Some initial comments:
– breadth of research is impressive, but, overall, too tainted by a ‘good old days’ rose coloured glass.
Regent Park of the 70s, like all politically active communities to this day, had tremendous infighting among those who desired to lead and those who failed to capture sufficient support to retain leadership. We had long discussions internally about the failure of previous leaders to graciously pass the torch to the next leader and continue support. Almost every previous community leader, at one time or another, worked actively against the current leadership. In my view, this is far more illustrative of the dimensions of power and politics than it is of poverty. Within a highly connected community context, these dimensions are magnified.
Those who fought earlier battles with confrontation tactics could never accept the joint negotiations and shared responsibilities underpinning tenant management. Tenant management was about knowing your neighbours, being visible, reporting repairs, and following up the work to see that it was done. It helped chill out a nasty racial battle instigated by white power proponents. It made Regent Park safer, cleaner and more responsive to the day-to-day issues of residents.

From a community economic development lens it brought revenues into the community that stayed there. Both a credit union and a food cooperative project started during that period. It was about solving problems, not confrontation. For big P political action, RPCIA, actively encouraged people to register and vote. During one provincial election when Gord Cressey ran for the NDP, the turnout was several hundred more than average. The drive was not to vote NDP, but to vote.

For little p political action, they fought to get control of the RP Health Centre away from the local tories. The issue of leadership and employment was very difficult. Your research did not uncover that this move was first raised internally, not from any external pressure, and debated extensively. The decision made was honourable and honest.

This was a totally unique initiative. No one in RP had a model for tenant-management. I did have several years experience in organizing tenants, including a US initiative to introduce tenant management. Selecting, training, and supporting block reps was a learn as you go exercise. After a rocky start, it produced some dramatic improvements in the quality of community life.

If memory serves, the reduction in unit reps also created some badly needed supervisory positions. You may want to check the amount of the contract to verify that it was a reduction.

At a local level, there was growing mutual respect and results between OHC and RPCIA tenant management. Resistence came from upper echelons. In every negotiation with OHC, their opposition was clear. Simple changes and modest budgets for better support were denied. Can you imagine a $250,000 budget, with almost 30 PT staff that had only a novice bookkeeper to handle all financial record keeping?

The goal of tenant management was to improve the quality of community life while increasing the ability of residents to work within their community, decide on improvement allocations, monitor contractors working on site, and take on increasing responsibilities for actual management. Some day, ideally, it would move to a cooperative model. Ontario squandered its most interesting social experiment in housing, next to building public housing in the first place.

The tenants were willing to deal with the messy details of management as well as actively promoting community engagement in the broadest range of activities. RPCIA held various social events that raised from $10,000 to $20,000 each year in support of the many initiatives you identified.
Clearly, tenant management would alienate those who wanted a purely adversarial approach, or who wished that RP would rise up and lead the next tenant revolution. It did not. Neither did anyone else.

In my view, a community has bounded ability to control its destiny and to take control of those resources that are available to it. If successful, it may be able to attract additional ones. Once it has some measure of control, it can deploy them to its own best interests. This may not make a big dent in the class struggle, but what has? Power and income continues to condense. Interesting tracts such as yours provide some valuable information, but not enough insight.

People and communities are incredibly complex weaves. Poorer communities get analyzed. Advantaged ones become settings for movies and novels.

NOTE:
– the context of the following looks like a journalistic ‘sound bite’ that diminishes this man’s considerable work and community support.
“McCormick was widely respected in RP for his work in children’s recreation. He recalled in a 1998 interview that he opposed radical actions because he found OHC management was fair. He accepted the paternalistic relationship on offer from the ‘Housing’. He remembers that “they paid my way to Ottawa, didn’t they?” referring to a public housing tenants’ conference.[i]

[i] Interview with Bud and Margaret McCormick in Zapparoli, Regent Park: The Public Experiment,” 41-47. ”

If you are in TO some day, give me a call. I would enjoy a chat.

[i] Interview with Bud and Margaret McCormick in Zapparoli, Regent Park: The Public Experiment,” 41-47. ”

If you are in TO some day, give me a call. I would enjoy a chat.

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About mielniczuk

Community, systems, design, collaboration, change, evidence, Intelligent Accountability(c)
This entry was posted in Exclusion, Organizer's Notebook, Regent Park. Bookmark the permalink.

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