08/22/2012 04:38 EDT | Updated 10/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Sukkahville has Designs on Affordable Housing


Almost obscured by the condo development that dominates the skyline, there's a bright spot on the horizon of Toronto's affordable housing initiatives. Rather than competing for shrinking government subsidies, individuals and organizations are banding together to seek solutions.

Kehilla Residential Programme identifies and champions affordable housing in the Greater Toronto area. The Agency's mandate is fulfilled through community capacity building, research and education, project sponsorship, and development consultation.

In Toronto, many thousands live in substandard housing, including 20,000 members of the Jewish community. Of these 20,000 people, 4,080 are working poor. These numbers are comprised of individuals, couples, and families. Families where two working parents pool their combined income toward having a roof over their heads and still can't make ends meet.

As a local non-profit housing provider, Kehilla Residential Programme is acutely aware of the

situation and has been striving to chip away at it since the organization's founding in 1982. Working closely with other agencies who provide counseling, vocational training, employment, resettlement, housing and financial assistance, Kehilla strives to help families break the poverty cycle. Kehilla manages buildings where renters pay no more than 30 per cent of their income on rent.

"Our great working relationships with these agencies enable us -- through them -- to provide assistance to renters in buildings to live independently. We're just a small, creative, resourceful group trying to solve a huge problem," says Nancy Singer, Executive Director of Kehilla.

Sukkahville 2012 is an innovative event organized by Kehilla, aimed at highlighting and combatting the housing issues faced by so many members of the Toronto community.

A Sukkah is the name of the symbolic temporary dwelling celebrated during the Jewish festival of Sukkoth and mentioned in the bible as shelter in the wilderness. Sukkahville uses the concept of temporary shelter to work toward a permanent solution for affordable housing. Funds raised from corporate sponsorship and donations will be used in Kehilla's newly launched rental assistance program to help working poor households with monthly rent stipends.

The second annual event celebrates not only the holiday of Sukkoth, but also creative design. Sukkahville encompasses a competition of Sukkah designs. Submissions have come from as far afield as Europe and Asia. Architects and artists, design professionals and students, individuals and teams vie to have their designs selected for actual construction. Five will be chosen by a celebrity panel of judges and given a stipend with which to erect their structures. This will culminate in a fun and fabulous Pop-up Design Exhibit.

Inspired by New York's Sukkah City 2010 and building on the success of last year's Sukkahville 2011, the Kehilla Residential Programme has taken the competition idea and run with it, never losing sight of the cause: creating affordable housing for those in need.

The structures created by finalists will be displayed and a winner chosen at a ceremony and family event on September 30, 12 - 4 p.m. at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto. The interactive experience will feature a hands-on sukkah building opportunity sponsored by Habitat for Humanity, an outreach program by Ve'ahavta, music by Klezconnection, free treats and more.