First there were the sewer rats running wild. They were so big you could put saddles on their backs and they all seemed to have long whiskers and tails and extremely nasty dispositions. They actually stayed on the site until after we formally occupied the building. Carla will be able to attest to the size and speed those rodents could travel.
The second was the loveable (to some and a nuisance to others) the pesky ‘Rocky’ our resident raccoon. It was his home before ours and he had no intention of being evicted. He not only stayed while the construction was going on, he had a nasty habit of stealing the construction workers lunches. He was quite apt at opening lunch pails much to the dismay of Mario. Mario’s wife then packed Rocky a lunch daily of a peanut butter sandwich and Oreo cookies.
Rocky also liked to sleep in the hoist in the evenings. One morning, Pat Turcos entered the hoist, fired up the motor, woke up Rocky, Rocky wailed and Pat screamed. Pat got little sympathy as he proclaimed Rocky bit him. Sympathy was on the side of the sleeping fella who was awoken unexpectedly.
After construction we had a family of pigeons who decided to call the co-op home and build nests in the underground. They were clever enough to wait for cars to enter the garage and then they would follow them in before the door closed. They would often wait by the door patiently till a member needed access to the garage. They were equally smart when leaving the underground as they would fly by the garage sensor to open the garage door for them to scavenge for food.
Interest in the co-op
As Local 79 had promoted the success of the co-op proposal, we received hundreds of requests for membership prior to construction. What is more interesting was that word got out that we would be setting aside units for battered women and we received numerous calls from shelters.
When the time came to begin the interview process we were overwhelmed with hundreds of applications. Local 79 members had a 30 day window of opportunity to apply before the applications went out to the community at large. We were insightful enough to not only date stamp the day we received them, but the time which proved to be beneficial when unit selections were being conducted.
Being on the Board of Directors, I / we were allowed to use Local 79 offices to conduct interviews. We had four or five teams of two interviewers per team to interview 4 times a week for about 5 weeks. It was a very long but very fair process. In the end, we filled the co-op, many times over and were able to redirect our applicants to two other co-ops. It was a lot of hard work, by a lot of dedicated people, but we also had a lot of fun in the process.
We then conducted several information sessions at the Yonge Street library for interested applicants and continued that practice here when we had several vacancies available at one time.
When all the applications had been processed and we had the units filled, we then held unit selection meetings. Perspective members could choose their unit depending on the size required and their seniority in the application process. This proved to be advantageous and avoided disputes over priorities of applications especially when they were date and time stamped.
Market Value Rent – Comparators
The closer we got to occupancy; the Province set the rates for market value. I was strongly opposed to MOH making a comparison with condo renters. In reality, they had little option to do otherwise as there were no rental buildings in the immediate area. Based on the high end for market value, we lost a few Founding Board members who had worked so hard to build the co-op and also applicants who could not afford to pay the assessed market value.
The Official Ground Breaking
The day finally came for the official ground breaking ceremony. It was well attended by Provincial representatives, Toronto City Councillors, such as Jack Layton, Olivia Chow, and Kyle Rae, Local 79 Board Executive members, LCDF staff, friends and family. Many speeches were made by the Provincial representatives, City Councillors with both Muriel and me going to the lectern.
Everyone spoke to the success and need for social housing and particularly co-ops. We had a reception at the Flat Iron Bldg. at Church and Front. For the Union and the Founding Board it was a monumental day based on all the years of hard work bringing it to the phase we were now entering into.
The common phrase being spoken from all those involved was “We never thought we would see the day”.
The Construction Phase
As previously stated the Labour Council Development Foundation were the developers of the project. I cannot speak more positive about the professionalism, integrity and dedication of the construction crew under the supervision of Vito Ferri.
All those involved from Larry Domenici the Construction Manager to Van Luz, the accountant were dedicated to the quality of the workmanship. Although I can’t thank each individual here their collaborative efforts were appreciated. Special thanks go to Tony Pollsonelli, Bob McDonald, Brent Witty and Jan Griffiths who worked long hours with the Board and forfeited many of their evenings. Also to be remembered fondly are Pat Turcos, Mario and of course ‘Leaky Joe’ who were onsite. All were remarkable in ensuring we had the best support and expertise available to us.
Housing Victims of Violence
When I proposed the possibility of housing victims of abuse in high risk situations, the Founding Board approved unanimously. I then turned to Jan Griffiths to see if it was legal and feasible and she did the research. To the best of our knowledge we were the first housing co-op to provide priority housing status to victims of violence prior to construction and written into the original co-op bylaws.
Through her research Jan found a co-op in the Lake Simcoe area that had just developed a similar approach to helping provide women with a safe haven who were current members of their particular co-op. She contacted them and they generously shared their information. From there we developed our own bylaws to not only give priority but to ensure that our bylaws would allow victims to stay in their units versus having to use the shelter system as a safe haven.