By Guest Blogger, FRAN KLODAWSKY Membership & Outreach Committee Chair
Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI), along with many other groups, is working hard to increase good affordable housing in Ottawa. Over the past 21 years, MHI has grown into a small but highly effective affordable housing provider, supported by volunteers and members of many faith traditions. MHI now owns 149 units in five housing communities and aims to grow to as many as 500 units in eight communities in the next 3-5 years.
In 2009, at the urging of founding member Sister Jean Goulet, MHI began a tradition of recognizing National Housing Day with a public event. In that year, we hosted an Interfaith Prayer Service, held at St. Basil’s Catholic Church, to recognize the day. Those who attended, mostly core supporters of MHI, were deeply moved by the event. They wanted to ensure it continue each year and attract a wide audience. The decision was also made that in 2010, the prayer service would be followed by a fundraising dinner, to help with MHI’s goal to expand its housing stock.
This first fundraising dinner was well attended, supported by donations from 11 restaurants and 4 musicians, allowing a modest ticket price of $25.00 per person. Over 200 people attended the event, and it attracted both media and political interest. Both MPP Yasir Naqvi and MP Paul Dewer helped serve during the event. Volunteers donated over 200 hours to its planning and implementation.
In 2012, a 10th Anniversary Dinner took place, yet another very memorable event. The prayer service included a multi-faith choir led by Barbara Clark, the founding director of the Ottawa Children’s Choir. Among the musical selections were This Little Light of Mine, Hymn To Freedom, Une Colombe, Hine Ma Tov, To Young Canadians, and What Does The Lord Require of You.
The tradition of MHI hosting an event in honour of National Housing Day has continued each year since 2009. And in each year, it has remained important to highlight the need for much more affordable housing and to recognize the important contributions of members, volunteers and Patrons for MHI’s successes. But, over time, it also became clear that the work required for the fundraising dinner did not result in enough funds to justify the effort. In 2014, MHI’s National Housing Day (service and reception) became a free event open to all.
Organizers began to develop a theme to help structure the event program, including “To Serve and Support” (2014), “Providing Haven” (2015), “A Compassionate City” (2016), “Breaking New Ground” (2017), “Reflecting on the Journey So Far” (2018), “Bolding Crossing Boundaries” (2019), and “Celebrating MHI’s Volunteers” (2021). In 2020 and 2021, on-line pre-recorded video events were prepared, in recognition of pandemic restrictions of the time. In 2022, it was agreed that the 20th Anniversary Gala should take the place of a separate National Housing Day event.
Over the years, we have been honoured to hear from significant keynote speakers, among them: founding members Sister Jean Goulet and Sue Evans, and current Executive Director Suzanne Le, Sister Lorena Morris (Caldwell Community Housing), Dr. Lindy Samson (CHEO), Rev. David C. Kettle (former Chaplain General of the Canadian Forces), and Diane Holmes (retired City Councillor).
A program structure tried in 2018 became the preferred approach. Beginning with a formal program where MHI’s Patrons, staff and volunteers are featured in the opening welcome, prayer, keynote address, and updates about MHI, followed by an informal reception with light refreshments where members and other guests can mingle with MHI Patrons, staff and volunteers. Ottawa City Hall has become the best location, thanks to the sponsorship from various City Councillors over the years.
MHI’s success in creating more affordable, inclusive housing communities and, in expanding awareness of the importance of such housing, depend on the many contributions of its expanding and committed community of members, Patrons, volunteers, staff and public and private sector supporters.
We look forward to seeing many of MHI’s friends and supporters on November 19th beginning at 3 pm at the City of Ottawa when we will celebrate this year’s theme: “The Joy of Dreaming Big”.