AIS joins WoodGreen – a case study on organizational integration

November 3rd, 2020 by Iler Campbell LLP

A Tudor style, 3-storey walk-up apartment building with 13 units built in 1995. A landscaped rear patio, and large trees add to the appeal of this building located within 10 minutes of the beaches.

An east end café was the setting for an energetic conversation between a leader of a small supportive housing program and the CEO of a large community service organization. Accommodation, Information and Support Inc. (AIS) a pioneer of the supportive housing model for persons with mental health challenges and WoodGreen Community Services, a systems leader in providing innovative solutions to challenging social issues, began a conversation about the mutual benefits of joining forces.   Despite the global pandemic, we continued with our plans and completed a voluntary integration on April 1, 2020 into a single corporation, WoodGreen Community Services. We felt it was an opportune time to leverage our combined expertise to better serve clients, who need us now more than ever, with intensive mental health and supportive housing supports.

For 47 years, AIS has owned and managed four small apartment buildings in the communities of Riverdale; Upper Beaches; Downtown Toronto and the Annex. The building in the Annex is unique because it is a mixed-use building with 16 residential units and 4 commercial tenancies including: retail; dental; restaurant; and a communication tower. This model helped AIS diversify its revenue and earn surplus funds to be used towards enhancing their mission to further develop more supportive housing. AIS was accredited by Imagine Canada in 2018.

AIS had a strong governance structure, well-maintained buildings, committed staff that offered a unique and holistic model of support, solid financial history and a growing number of donors who supported our mission. AIS has served 120 clients with a staff complement of 18.

Despite AIS’ achievements and its drive to add more supportive housing stock in Toronto, its board recognized it required more resources and capital investments to make this a reality. That’s why it began a search for a community partner. The AIS Board made the decision with significant input from staff and consultation with its tenant group. AIS concluded that Woodgreen Community Services was the best match as the agency that aligned with AIS’ values and had the expertise and experience to meet AIS’ needs.

The value alignment includes: putting clients at the core, being innovation-driven, demonstrating sector leadership, and intensifying WoodGreen’s impact and status as a high-performance organization. The integration will result in a stronger organization to meet the changing needs of clients with mental health challenges; to ensure financial viability of AIS’ housing portfolio; and to work collaboratively to develop/acquire/lease new supportive housing units.

WoodGreen Housing is one of the larger non-profit, community-based housing providers in Ontario. Its parent organization, WoodGreen Community Services, also ranks among the largest non-profit charitable organizations providing integrated social services in the Greater Toronto Area. A founding United Way of Toronto member agency, WoodGreen Community Services is a leader in providing innovative holistic solutions to challenging social issues and existing organizational capacity. WoodGreen programs serve close to 37,000 people each year, and the organization is often cited as a best-practice provider in Canada. Housing support is a core component in WoodGreen’s expansive range of services. The organization directly houses over 1,000 people in close to 800 units across the 11 residential properties it owns and manages. Additionally, it operates a separate unit to provide related housing help and other services to transition people from homelessness to affordable housing.

AIS began the integration process by developing a key strategy for embracing a culture of change and integration. Dr. Bobby Siu, Management Advisory Services, guided the Integration Planning Committee comprised of Board, Staff and Tenants through the process. The three phases took approximately 18 months to complete: Phase One – Search for Community Partner; Phase Two – Due Diligence; Phase Three – Approvals and Implementation. The key terms of the Memorandum of Understanding included tenant housing security and job security for AIS staff. The deal was sealed with an Asset Transfer Agreement transferring all of AIS’ assets and liabilities to WoodGreen. Soon AIS will be dissolved as a corporation. Marissa Bastidas, the former ED of AIS, is the Director of Community Housing and Supports at WoodGreen and says of the experience: “While the integration planning process diverted focus and resources from operations, we are excited about the new collaboration. While it will be sad to see the dissolution of the AIS Board, we are confident that joining forces with WoodGreen will achieve operational efficiencies, new integrated services and growth potential of supportive housing.” Mwarigha, VP Housing and Homeless , WoodGreen says of the experience “The AIS integration is well aligned with WoodGreen’s specific objective to grow its portfolio of housing with high-needs service supports. The strategic value of integrating AIS and WoodGreen has been strongly considered in the context of the overall system rationalization and consolidation of LHIN-funded organizations in the City and Province.”

In summary, that coffee meeting at the east end café, was the start of a long-term community partnership. There are a lot of potential synergies and value-add to clients of both organizations in an integrated model, including a shared deepening of how to serve very high needs tenants in supportive housing and ultimately in co-creating an effective and impactful model to the betterment of clients’ quality of life. Most importantly, there is good potential to leverage AIS’ existing buildings for further development/intensification of supportive housing units.

Iler Campbell has worked with AIS for 40+ years on a wide range of legal issues: real estate, refinancing, commercial leasing, corporate, employment, and tenant matters. Despite the pandemic, it was our pleasure to with Marissa and the AIS board through the transfer of the AIS assets and soon, the dissolution of the corporation.   We know that many clients are looking inward to determine whether they are the right size or right structure to meet current and future needs. While the pandemic has changed the way we work, it’s no reason to stop those plans. We’re here.

Filed in: Client Profiles, Co-operative Law, Housing