Catherine Wilkinson, long time local resident, is a feisty, results-oriented individual. You may have read about her recently regarding controversies surrounding the Toronto Community Housing Company. This past January, Mayor Rob Ford forced the resignation of all board members, both newly appointed as well as existing members.
Unlike other members of the housing board who are appointed by the city, Wilkinson is one of two tenant representatives elected by tenants in a citywide vote. She fought back when asked to resign. In spite of a city council motion by Ford and the new councillor for Beaches-East York to remove the tenant reps from their posts on the board, Wilkinson has been vindicated by her recent re-election by her constituency — the tenants who live in Toronto Community Housing.
Wilkinson is a fighter who strives to address the issues that matter most to tenants. Her priorities are to deliver better customer service and communication, barrier free access, improved building maintenance, repairs and more housing units.
Growing up on Willow Avenue, Wilkinson attended local schools like Balmy Beach, Glen Ames Senior School and Monarch Park Collegiate. Some years later, she became the constituency assistant to a Member of Parliament north of Toronto, planting the seeds of activism within her.
Like many born and raised ‘East-enders’, Wilkinson found herself back in the heart of our community, now a mother and a young grandmother. Her first grandson was born with a critical health condition so Wilkinson decided to create a positive response. She organized an awareness and fundraising event to raise funds for research efforts at Sick Children’s Hospital.
To help break down the barriers between social housing tenants and their neighbours, Wilkinson organized a community barbecue called, Rock around the Block. This was the beginning of a series of events that were marked with her signature touch.
She also started a wonderful annual Christmas tradition of organizing a dinner to engage local residents and use their culinary talents, to offer a traditional sit-down dinner for at least 85 people. She also set up a computer lab in her building, providing hands-on instruction to interested tenants and their children.
Wilkinson organized the first tenant association in her building. Combined with her high level of engagement within the community, it led to her run for one of the two tenant representative positions on the Toronto Community Housing board, which started with a 100-person candidate list. She had moved from her desire to engage fellow residents in community activities to the larger scale pursuit of advocacy for all tenants living in Toronto housing.
With 132,810 people waiting for affordable housing in Toronto, Wilkinson is in the right place at the right time because of her deep understanding of tenant issues and the housing needs of the many on the waiting lists. This is especially important at this time with a new mayor who has demonstrated his ambivalence, some might say, antipathy toward social housing. His musings of selling off or privatizing of our city’s valuable housing stock to finance tax cuts is disquieting.
Wilkinson certainly has her work cut out for her as the representative of tenants and supporters of good housing policy.
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