Tamil Co-operative Homes
Once a haven for Tamil refugees, today this co-op welcomes immigrants from many countries and is considered not just an affordable stop but a permanent home.
Tamil Co-operative Homes has gone through many changes since it was built in 1984, but it has always been a model of what a safe, inclusive and diverse community can look like at its very best. The original purpose of the co-op was to provide housing for Tamil refugees. Over the years, it has opened its doors to newly arrived immigrants from a number of countries, most recently Myanmar (Burma). Today, the largest ethnic groups represented at the co-op include members of Tamil, Burmese, Vietnamese, Filipino and Ethiopian heritage.
Co-op President Nanda Nandanakumar says that in the past, residents thought of the co-op as a first, affordable stop before establishing themselves and moving on. This perspective has changed with a new generation of members who perceive the co-op not as a stop but as home.
Nandanakumar describes the co-op as an extension of the family. “We strive to be inclusive, always. We want to make sure every individual at our co-op knows they are heard and part of our co-op.” Tamil places an importance on engaging young and older members, with education, athletics and childcare.
The co-op encourages cross-learning of members’ cultures and serving members in their first language, fostering a real sense of friendship and kinship.
Tamil members are actively involved in activities outside their co‑op, such as at local resource centres, schools and women’s centres. The co-op also provides space for several community programs.
In 2015, Tamil won CHF Canada’s Award for Co-operative Achievement for its dedication to helping newcomers adjust to their new co-op home and to the larger community.
More recently, the co-op has added a new dimension to its diversity by electing a majority of young members to its board. All the young board members were raised in the co-op. “It was an opportunity to give back to the co-op that raised us,” says Nandanakumar.
The 2016 election drew the highest voter turnout ever, she says, and the board has received great support from members of other co-ops and from their regional federation, CHFT, which provided them with board and chair-training workshops.
Nandanakumar says that with the new board, there has been increased member engagement. She says that at Tamil, it takes at least three meetings to pass the budget – but that’s not a bad thing. Instead, it represents the desire on the part of members to really understand the process. “They want to be involved, and I think their voices are heard,” Nandanakumar says. “That’s what’s most important to us.”