Affordable housing can feel like an unreachable dream. As the cost of housing continues to increase, exploring community-based alternatives for safe and affordable housing is vital. Community Justice Initiatives of Waterloo Region (CJI), a restorative justice agency based in Kitchener, is helping to make the dream of living in a home a reality for people – just not in the way people might expect.
CJI’s solution to supporting people in accessing dignified housing is through ‘Waterloo Region Home Share’ (WRH), a free, supportive process that matches home providers and home seekers in the Waterloo region and outlying areas. A Home Share is where two or more persons, usually unrelated, share a home together, and, through a Living Arrangement Memorandum of Understanding, mutually cohabit.
“This isn’t a program that provides housing,” warns Wendy Meek, Elder Mediation Service Coordinator at CJI. CJI is not a real estate board, and the program is not meant for emergency housing either. The program facilitates a Living Arrangement Memorandum of Understanding between the Home Provider and Home Seeker. It outlines what each side is looking for – whether it’s financial support to cover expenses, companionship, a shared ease of household tasks and responsibilities, or a safe and secure living situation with another person – and provides ongoing support.
The process involved in Home Share is comprehensive: from beginning to end it includes multiple follow-ups to ensure there is compatibility between Home Providers and Home Seekers and a grounded understanding of living arrangements. The process begins with registering with the Waterloo Region Home Share program, continues with an interview, individual peer mentor support, a compatibility match introductory meeting, home visits to the space for evaluation, reference checks, and several back-and-forth mediation meetings to complete the Living Arrangement Memorandum of Understanding.
“We want to give [applicants] an opportunity to discuss everything that is important to them,” explains Wendy. “In terms of the living arrangement, what are public spaces or private spaces; if you’re bringing in a pet – what does that look like? If you’re bringing in visitors, what does that look like? And then they’ll be discussing the contribution to the household expense – what does that look like?”
Home Share is not a new idea; Wendy came across the term through the Cambridge Council on Aging, who introduced the idea. The Home Share concept has also had success in the United States. “I was part of a learning group and one of the different community mediation services across the US and Canada was from Vermont. They were a community mediation service and also provided Home Share,” says Julie Friesen, Director, Programs in Conflict Resolution and Mediation Services at CJI.
You might ask why a restorative justice agency is embarking on this Home Share program. There is a connection to conflict and homelessness. “I hadn’t really been too exposed to Home Share, but the idea of the expertise that is really needed around conflict resolution is – and we know this from our research on housing, in general – the reason that most people experience homelessness,” she explains further. “Obviously, there’s trauma behind a lot of that, but when we ask why folks became homeless, conflict is the number one reason that precipitated the loss of housing.”
Community Justice Initiatives’ goal with Waterloo Region Home Share is to assist people to have a healthy and supportive living arrangement using restorative practice. By being the intermediary between Home Providers and Home Seekers, CJI uses their process of restorative practice to help communities find innovative and new ways of looking at affordable housing. They are inspired by the idea of people finding solutions to difficult experiences and realities.
With eyes on the future, the hope is that the Waterloo Region Home Share program will be used more frequently. “It should be a necessity,” says Wendy. “Because it would reduce the conflict that could be happening.”
For those who are struggling to find conventional mortgages in an unattainable housing market, Julie suggests that “we need to think about space differently. The lack of affordable housing might necessitate this. We need to think differently about single-family housing, the ‘dream’ is less and less likely. We need to think more collectively and less individualistic.”
Julie wants people to ask questions like ‘how do we envision this space? Is it just for us or how can we best use this space in service of our community?’ By supporting people into decent housing, like through the Waterloo Region Home Share program, it creates solutions so people have safe and affordable housing.
By having an impact on the local community, the Waterloo Region Home Share program encourages people to find ways to do things together instead of on their own and possibly struggling. CJI’s belief is that people are stronger together. When people co-exist and thrive together in a positive environment, they work better together, too.
How can you be involved?
Community Justice Initiatives Waterloo Region Home Share is always in need of Home Providers (people to consider sharing their space) and Home Seekers for those who need the safety and security of a roof over their heads. You can also donate to support the Waterloo Region Home Share program, or volunteer. If you’re interested in helping out, please contact CJI at 519-744-6549.