Rupert Pilot Project. A self-Help and Community Rehabilitation Project in Canada


The overall goal of the project, set by the Rupert Coalition, was:

…To work with rooming house tenants in a community development process to create a comfortable, secure environmental which they can control. To achieve this goal, the Coalition recognized that it is necessary to address the physical and social conditions in rooming houses. The focus of the project is on the people living in rooming houses, and on using a community development approach to ensure that tenants achieve substantive gains (such as housing that is clean and safe) and also increase their control over their physical and social environment.

The self – evaluation by Rupert Community Residential Services of Toronto Inc. (the successor organization to the Rupert Coalition) concluded:

Overall, we have found the pilot project to be a success. Some of the more outstanding elements include:

  • safe, secure and affordable accommodation for over 400 rooming house tenants (to September, 1993),
  • physical standards over and above municipal by – laws and provincial requirements,
  • through monitoring and support services, an increased number of options for tenants to assert their rights and meet their needs,
  • the creation of an innovative monitoring program in private rooming houses,
  • a positive influence on provincial and municipal housing standards and policies,
  • a co-ordinated project between government, private and non – profit partners.

The independent evaluator, Jim Ward Associates, concluded:

Overall, the Rupert pilot project has been a considerable success. It grew from the ashes of the December 23rd, 1989, Rupert Hotel fire, a tragedy claimed the lives of 10 rooming house tenants in downtown Toronto. That even brought together a large group of concerned citizens, social activists, and social service agency personnel who wanted to ensure that there would not be a repeat. Possibly the Rupert’s most outstanding achievement was that it developed a method for working with this disparate group of people and, by and large, it achieved its objectives.

The Rupert project achieved a great deal in a short time. In about two years, the government and non-governmental partners completed renovations on 198 rooms in eight privately – owned rooming houses. Support services to meet the non – housing needs of the 500 tenants were designed and implemented. There was independent monitoring of the private landlords to ensure compliance with Rupert standards. An initiative was launched to reach tenants living in rooming houses not directly part of the Rupert.

Very little of each component was new. The project adapted successful models from Toronto and across North America. The notable achievement of the Rupert was in the breadth and depth of its work. It gathered virtually every major actor – governmental and non – governmental – around one big table (or, at times, several smaller tables) and forged a consensus that held, by and large, throughout the project.

The physical detail of the Rupert pilot project has been documented and evaluated. The Rupert Coalition, which designed and implemented the project, released a series of interim reports and completed an extensive evaluation in October of 1993. Jim Ward Associates, an independent evaluator hired jointly by the Rupert’s government and non – governmental partners, spent more than two years studying the project. Several interim evaluations were issued and a final report was released in November of 1993. Both the independent evaluator and the Rupert Coalition judged the pilot project a success. Both issued detailed blueprints for continuing action to improve the physical and social conditions in rooming houses.

The political winds shifted dramatically during the time of the Rupert. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, federal, provincial and municipal governments were continuing to fund community – based housing initiatives. By 1992, however, the federal government had cancelled development of new not – for – profit housing in the name of fiscal restraint. The Ontario government launched a new not – for – profit housing initiative in 1992, but the development of new projects slowed to a crawl as the provincial government was gripped in the growing frenzy of cost control. By the mid – 1990s. The cautions spending practices of earlier years had yielded to a virtual freeze in every level of government. No new housing or social services initiatives were being funded, existing community – based organizations – even ones with a long history and deep roots in their communities – were being strangled through government funding cuts.

The Rupert fire, the pilot project and related initiatives led to a number of important successes – such as improvements in fire safety standards, inspection procedures better models for the rehabilitation and management of rooming houses and the delivery of support services. However, once the funding for the pilot project was spent, the governments were not willing to commit additional money. The full potential of the Rupert remains untapped while governments in Canada embrace fiscal conservatism.

Building beyond good will

The Rupert achieved its goals through the collaboration of the governmental, non – governmental and private sector partners.

Virtually all the Rupert structures were collaborative, and all elements of the pilot project sought to proceed on a community development basis; that is, directly involving the tenants in the desing and implementation of the project.

The Rupert sough to create as big a table as possible in building the pilot project, it sough to bring as many people as possible to the table.

The Rupert relied almost entirely on the good will and shared commitment of the various partners. The structures that it created to design and implement the pilot lack effective financial or legal control over the actual work of the project. Lots of participation, lots of good will, lots of shared commitment, lots of responsibility, but not too much authority – that is the simple description of collaborative structures created by the Rupert to implement the pilot project.

The wide – open structures of the Rupert served well in the advocacy phase, when the Rupert was negotiating the details of the pilot project with the government. The collaboration was also useful and necessary during the design phase of the project, as the Rupert was preparing the various components of the project: non – profit housing, private housing, support services and non – conforming initiative.

However, the good will shared commitment were not enough to carry the project through the implementation phase, when the Rupert lack the effective financial and legal controls to ensure that the ideas of the pilot project were turned into reality.

A major lesson from the Rupert pilot project is that clear and legally effective forms of monitoring and control are required in collaborative ventures among governmental, non – governmental and private sector partners to ensure that the goals of the project are fully realized.

The Rupert Coalition, which conceived and launched the pilot project, created an incorporated body – Rupert Community Residential Services of Toronto Inc. – to complete the work of the pilot project and be the vehicle for continuing collaboration among governmental and non – governmental organizations working with rooming house tenants in Toronto.

Rupert Inc., as it has become know, continues to meet with representatives from community based organizations, rooming house tenants, and the municipal government attending. The Ontario government is no longer a partner.

Conclusions and recommendations

The Rupert achieved a great deal in a short time. More than 500 tenants had better homes, effective working relationships were established among government and NGO partners, and the work was extensively documented and the material is available for other to study.

Beyond the accomplishments of the pilot project, the work of the Rupert has been evaluated and recommendations on future initiatives have been proposed.

Among the common recommendations:

  • Continued action is required to improve physical conditions in rooming houses.
  • The social conditions must be addressed, especially the needs of “vulnerable” adults, including those with a psychiatric history.
  • Collaboration among government, NGOs and private landlords is necessary and can succeed.
  • In addition to funding future initiatives, government has a role in improving the conditions in rooming houses by upgrading standards and regulations and improving inspection practices.

Virtually every Rupert participant agreed that private rooming houses component was the most successful of the elements of the pilot project. Clear and comprehensive standards and operating requirements were created, legal contracts incorporated these standards and made them binding on the partners, and independent monitoring assisted the partners in complying with their contractual obligations.

The three most important lessons from the Rupert pilot project are:

  1. Advocacy initiatives can thrive bases on nothing more than good will and shared commitment, but the implementation of a pilot project involving housing, support services and other considerations required the creation of effective legal and financial controls. It is possible to create a community – bases corporation that builds on a collaborative structure while ensuring a more effective administration (as the Rupert did in the final months of the pilot project)
  2. Large – scale projects such as the Rupert may be possible, but in an era of restraint it is unilikely that the same level of funding could be secured. Smaller initiative over a longer – term, which cost less from year to operate but which accomplishes its work incrementally, may be possible depending on the right circumstances (which might include, unfortunately, another tragic fire to create public attention and political momentum).
  3. Advocacy groups need to develop the capacity to better understand the political and social environment in which they operate, in order to anticipate the opportunities for future initiatives to improve the social and physical conditions in rooming houses