The Jewish connection to the Multifaith Housing Initiative

Affordable housing is a communal responsibility, and the Jewish community of Ottawa is striving to make an impact through its ongoing relationship with the Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI).

“The issue of affordable housing affects all of us in our city, including the Jewish community which is very diverse and includes those living across the national capital region.  The work of MHI also speaks to an important part of the work of the Jewish Federation, which is to build ties among those with diverse backgrounds and with people of other faiths. The Jewish Federation is proud to be a member of MHI as it tackles its challenging and important work,” says Sarah Beutel, VP of Community engagement, Jewish Federation of Ottawa.

Every May during the Tulip Festival, the Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI) hosts the Tulipathon walkathon fundraiser at Dow's Lake where more than 70 faith group members raise money for the tenants who live at MHI communities.  Our Jewish communal institutions are a huge part of the success of this event. The 2023 event raised over $107,000 with 100% of the proceeds going to support the tenants of MHI and three of our local congregations raised $12,500 of that total. Beyond the three synagogues participating in the Tulipathon. There are six local institutions (including the Jewish Federation of Ottawa) who are members of MHI and six Jewish communal leaders who are religious or civic patrons. What is the motivation to renew the membership or patronage year after year?

For Jewish Family Servies, the mission of MHI is deeply aligned with their own mission. 

“JFS Ottawa is a proud partner of MHI. The vision of MHI is to lead in developing a greater understanding of, and commitment to, the expansion of innovative housing-related solutions within inclusive communities. The lack of affordable housing affects clients across our programs, whether it be StreetSmarts, Tikvah, Senior supports, counselling or newcomers supports. We can do better,” Sarah Caspi, JFS’s Executive Director, adds, “as a civic patron, it is my job to promote the vision of MHI and to identify and share gaps and challenges faced by our shared clients. I am a strong believer in the multifaith approach to housing, because together we can take care of our whole community. I am excited to continue to be part of MHI and to work with them on the next MHI housing development.” 

The Jewish community of Ottawa has been trying to do better as a partner in MHI since its inception 20 years ago. With dedicated founding leaders like Rabbi Arnold Fine in 2002, and Rabbi Reuven Bulka z”l and Rabbi Steven Garten joining as patrons in 2005, MHI has been supported to become a community leader for providing affordable housing for people of any faith or cultural background. More than that, MHI creates community. They provide services for the tenants of their communities and rely on the volunteerism of their partners to make it a success. 

“This also helps each MHI community to have its own culture and identity and really reflect the diversity of the tenants living there”, says Jennifer van Oosteroom, Manager of Communications and Marketing for MHI.

“The beauty of MHI is that it doesn't only provide housing, it builds supportive communities. In doing so it builds bridges of understanding between its faith group members, volunteers, and residents.  At a time of rising intolerance in Canada, including antisemitism, MHI is an example of how different faith communities can work together in friendship and harmony.” says Harvey Goldberg a long-standing MHI volunteer and Federation Communications and Community Relations Committee member.

MHI encourages the tenants to ask for the services they need and then tries to source them through the members. This means that MHI gladly plays host to a huge range of religious and cultural celebrations. The Jewish religious and civic patrons have held Passover seders at The Haven (an MHI community), Friday night services, sukkot events, and have met other spiritual needs.

MHI is aiming to relaunch their newsletter in the fall to create more engagement opportunities for their members and patrons. They hope to tie this into National Housing Day on November 19, 2023. They would love to hear about what being a member of MHI has done for their membership. 

To learn more about the work of MHI click here.

MHI AGM at Kehillat Beth Israel 2023