Toronto ACORN

Toronto ACORN is the local affiliate of ACORN Canada, an independent national organization of low and moderate income families.

ACORN Affordable Housing Forum at The 519Our Impact Why We Exist

With over 20,000 members organized into 10 neighbourhood chapters across Toronto we've been organizing to win a Toronto where low and moderate income families have their voices heard and their power felt since 2004.

We believe that transforming the conditions that adversely affect millions of Canadians can best be achieved with a national active membership who are deeply invested in their organization and focused on lasting socio-economic change.

Active campaigns in Toronto taht ACORN is helping lead: 

Affordable Internet for All: The widening digital divide is growing problem in Toronto, as more and more of essesial services are pushed online.  ACORN's plan is for the CRTC to mandate that all internet service providers (Rogers, Telus, Bell) have to provide low income families $10 internet.  The CRTC is having consultations on interenet pricing in the winter and ACORN will be the voice of low and moderate income Torontonians at those hearings.

Predatory Lending: ACORN's groundbreaking campaign in 2005 led to regulations on Payday Lenders. More recently Toronto ACORN has started a campaign to adress regulatory holes in installment loan indursty, which give out larger sub-prime loans at what should be criminal rates and fee structures.  This also connects with ACORN's long standing belief that their should be federal legislation that forces bank to reinvest into low-and-moderate income communities. 

Affordable Housing: There is a housing crisis in the City of Toronto, and the ones that feel the detrimental affects the most are also the ones who can least afford it. ACORN is organizing and campaigning for a effective rent control laws to be reinstated by the province as well as calling on the province to give inclusionary housing  powers to the municipalities. 

ACORN 100 Parkway Forest Dr protest landlord TimbercreekOur Story What We Do

History of Organization

Since being founded in 2004, Toronto ACORN has quickly established itself as a force for change.  Toronto ACORN works by building new community groups in different low income neighbourhoods and helping those groups establish community change campaigns on local issues.  Once a new group is established, it elects a local board and joins with the other groups across the city (and province, and country) to work on issues of a broader impact for low and moderate income families.  

Accolades and Accomplishments

We have spearheaded a number of successful campaigns with an impressive track record of winning changes on issues of concern to our membership.

Fair Housing for Toronto Tenants (2004-Current): For 8+ years Toronto ACORN has fought to see standards raised for tenants in Toronto.  Our organizing has led to the creation of Toronto's first proactive apartment inspection regime, and helped tenants win $10's of millions in repairs to poorly maintained units.

Payday Lending Regulation (2004-2009): Toronto ACORN took a major role in ACORN Canada's first national campaign that led to the successful regulation of payday lending across most Canadian provinces.  In Ontario and BC where we were most active, the industry has gone from completely unregulated to having maximum fee limits, disclosure requirements and restrictions on predatory practices.

Raising the Minimum Wage (2005-2007): For years the provincial government had refused to consider a raise in the minumum wage, much to the concern of Toronto ACORN's low and moderate income membership.  As a result we joined the '$10 an hour' minimum wage campaign as a leading partner to bring our constituency onboard with the campaign, and held several widely attended townhalls in target neighbouhoods in the inner suburbs to pressure the provincial government. Following a byelection defeat in York-South Weston (one of the target neighbourhoods we held a townhall in) the province reversed thier policy and agreed to a plan to raise the minimum wage to $10.25 by 2010.

Our Programs How We Do It

Community Organizing: Our core work involves building a city wide membership of low and moderate income families through a grassroots organizing methodology.  This work involves creating new community organizations capable of running campaigns on issues of community significance, then tying them together to run campaigns on issues of a broad impact to low and moderate income families.

Environmental Organizing:  In partnership with the City of Toronto and others, we apply our community organizing methodology to engage community members in carbon footprint reduction and local food projects. 

Financial Literacy & Free Tax Prep: Our free tax prep and financial literacy programming aims to build the collective capacity of our membership and the neighbourhoods we serve to make better choices regarding thier financial futures.  

Community Organizing

Over the last few years Toronto ACORN has been developing a base of tenant leaders who have become leading advocates in support of a municipal Landlord Licensing system. This tenant recommended proactive system is a self funding program that closes the gap between city by-laws and the reality of massive substandard housing across the city of Toronto. While this campaign has won repairs in hundreds of buildings, the biggest success of the campaign has been the creation of the Multi-Residential Apartment Building-Audit and Enforcement Program (MRAB). This new program - for the first time in post-amalgamation Toronto – creates a proactive inspection regime that inspects apartment building across Toronto. While this system is a step forward from the former complaint driven system, its deficiencies are painfully clear. For example, of the first 119 apartment building inspected, 681 work orders were levied, but only 100 have been complied with. Further, of the 581 outstanding work orders, there have been only 9 prosecutions and 4 remedial actions. 

Toronto ACORN’s elected board along with a focus group of leading members held a strategy session to articulate their vision for housing in Toronto in this context. Based on this strategy session, our members are advancing a number of initiatives to improve apartment inspections and rental housing quality in Toronto. 

Funding and Program Partners

Over the past several years we’ve received generous support directly or in partnership from the following funders for this campaign or leadership development associated with our tenant membership base: Atkinson Foundation, Metcalf Foundation, McConnell Foundation, Labour Council, CAW, Steelworkers, OPSEU and the Toronto Community Foundation.

At various points during the campaign we’ve worked with the following allies:  Parkdale Community Legal, Federation of Metro Tenants Associations, Campaign 2000,  various public and private sector unions, and many others.

Program Impact

Despite the MRAB’s clear deficiencies, a preliminary investigation by the City of Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards department estimated that close to $100 million had been invested by landlords as a result of the City’s new focus on apartment standards.  

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

Estimated incomes for a number of occupations and groups have put affordable housing out of reach. The diminishing incomes of tenants and the declining social housing stock are major issues.  Ensuring that private building and social housing tenants are united and empowered to champion their own issues in a strategic way is a key part of Toronto ACORN’s work. 

Participant Vignette

In 2006, Natalie Hundt received a knock on her door from a Toronto ACORN organizer who asked her if she had any issues in the building or the neighborhood.  Ms. Hundt was so frustrated with the unresponsive property management company that she joined the organization immediately with the hope that something could be done.

Natalie quickly became a leader in her local Toronto ACORN chapter that was working to fix her apartment building, and has seen how powerful organized tenants can be in affecting change. She has since attended community meetings, rallies, deputized at city hall, spoken at town halls, and Toronto ACORN leadership schools, and built her knowledge of legislative government at all three levels. This knowledge, combined with her enthusiasm for tenant organizing has equipped Natalie with the ability and confidence she needed to take a real leadership role in her community. 

Poverty Reduction

Pioneered in ACORN Canada’s Metro Vancouver office is an innovative poverty reduction strategy we’re hoping to expand in Toronto.  This program draws from our large membership base of low income families and seeks to fill in the gaps left by the declining role of governments in enrolling citizens in benefits programs.  

The program works by using a series of intake and outreach mechanisms to identify families and individuals who are eligible for a slate of government benefits for which they are not currently enrolled – and enrolling them.  This program helps to solidify the financial wellbeing of some of the most precariously employed and housed in Toronto.  

Government benefits like the Canada Learning Bond require citizens to obtain application forms from the government, SIN numbers for their children and speaking with bank representatives to obtain a $500 RESP for their children.  Toronto ACORN works to identify eligible families then partner with Service Canada and bank/credit union branches to process these families en masse.  Another key component is providing free tax prep clinics for low income individuals and families as a tool for enrolling them in government benefits like the GST/HST rebates, Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) and Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB). 

Funding and Program Partners

Parts of this project have received generous support from Citizens Bank and Alterna Credit Union in the past and we are currently working to enrol families in the Canada Learning Bond through a partnership with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

Program Impact

In the past 5 years we’ve prepared over 1200 free income tax returns for low income individuals and families, returning close to $2,000,000 in returns, benefits and cost savings through corporate tax prep avoidance.  Further we've assisted countless families enrol in a number of other benefits & programs and are currently working to enrol families with children born after 2004 in a series of education savings programs that are not accessible through the tax system. 

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"The gap between Toronto’s highand low-income neighbourhoods is deepening. Over a million people live in neighbourhoods in the northwest and northeast of the city that have experienced more than a 20% decline in incomes since 1970, compared to the Region." This program area addresses the widening gap between rich and poor by ‘easing the strain’ placed on some of Toronto’s lowest income residents.  We aim to bring these financially vulnerable families back into the mainstream by helping them access government benefits they are entitled to but not enrolled in – delivering much needed income and support.

Participant Vignette

Edward lives in St. Jamestown and has been a resident of a high-rise apartment building there for over 5 years. One of Toronto ACORN's community organizers knocked on his door 4 years ago to ask him about the issues he felt his community faced. Edward had previously been the victim of some of the most abuse practivces of the payday lending industry, which made him particularly interested in the work Toronto ACORN was doing around financial literacy and he attended workshops on the subject where he learned about how to avoid fringe lending organizations like Money Mart and other payday lenders. Since 2007, Edward has been a vocal spokesman for Toronto ACORN on issues of poverty reduction and predatory lending.

Environmental Organizing

Toronto ACORN’s environmental organizing work is focused on utilizing our existing inner suburb membership base to undertake carbon footprint reduction projects. We utilize our proven outreach and engagement strategy to engage those people least able to mitigate the results of climate change - low income folks - to take simple actions to reduce their communities’ carbon footprint.

The program draws from our experience doing tenant outreach and organizing and applies our model to another issue, as well as allows us to tap into our existing community infrastructure and leadership in the neighbourhoods.

Funding and Program Partners

This project is funded through the City of Toronto’s Livegreen program and carried out in partnership with the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA).  

Program Impact

We've helped community residents establish community gardens in the Weston/Lawrence and Crescent town neighborhoods and plant trees in Jane/Finch, Crescent town and Weston and Scarborough Centre neighborhoods.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

"More than 80% of buildings that exist today in Toronto will still be in use in 2050, and many, including the city’s more than 1,000 residential high-rises, use space and energy inefficiently."

Participant Vignette

Prem Isaac Masih has lived in the Weston Community for 8 years and had been involved in a number of community campaigns with Toronto ACORN since he joined in 2006. When Prem heard that Toronto ACORN was launching an environmental change project, he signed up on the spot. After the first year of working with his neighbourhoods to build a community garden he cited access to locally grown fresh food as the most important part of the project. Prem is hoping that in the coming years he’ll be a part of a neighbourhood group that can expand its gardens to other communities.

What You Can Do

Community Organizing

Activities a donation will support

A contribution to this program will help us put community organizers in new neighbourhoods to identify and develop new tenant leaders.  These tenants are cultivated through a grassroots leadership development process to become leaders in their community capable of engaging their neighbours in the campaign as well engaging with their elected representatives.

 For $5,000 we can graduate 10 new leaders from a tenant leadership school, for $15,000 we can run a three month organizing drive in a new neighbourhood.

Donation impact

With greater financial support we will be able build the number of tenants directly engaged in the campaign, as well as the number of tenant leaders taking direct ownership of the campaign ensuring that the issues, strategies and tactics are deeply rooted in tenant concerns. 

 

Poverty Reduction

Activities a donation will support

With additional support we would create a stable year round benefit enrollment program that utilizes our large membership base and outreach capacity to screen low income Torontonians through the Federal Government’s benefits and credits screening system at benefits.gc.ca.  This has the potential to allow thousands of families to access programs from which they are entitled but not currently enrolled. 

Donation impact

With a gift of $5,000.00 we would be able to prepare 50 free income tax returns and screen those individuals for unrealized government benefits at benefits.gc.ca.  For $15,000.00 we could expand out outreach program to identify low income Torontonians who haven’t filled taxes in recent years and work to return them to the financial mainstream – and get them access to the benefits they’re entitled. 

 

Environmental Organizing

Activities a donation will support

With greater investment we would expand this project to do greater outreach in the neighbourhoods we currently work in. It would also support the capital expenditures required to make existing and planned community gardens permanent parts of the neighbourhoods.

Donation impact

An investment of $5000.00 will allow us create a new community garden in a low income nieghbourhood that already had ‘green community leaders’. An investment of $10,000 will allow us to expand to a new priority neighbourhood with a 2 month green organizing drive.  

Contact

John Anderson
Toronto ACORN
416.461.9233

Finance & Governance

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