Outside-the-box thinking results in affordable housing
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Outside-the-box thinking results in affordable housing

February 21, 2022

AT A GLANCE

  • One year after discussing innovative ways to create affordable housing, CMHC’s Lance Jakubec and Vancity’s Kira Gerwing were collaborating on a $6 million dollar investment.
  • CMHC provided the funds to Vancity through the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund, which is designed to encourage new funding models and innovative building techniques.
  • One of the first projects to be created as result of the funding is Aspen, a 145-unit affordable housing project in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood.
L to R: Lance Jakubec, CMHC; Kira Gerwing, former senior manager community investment, Vancity Credit Union; and, Irene Gannitsos, senior manager strategic initiatives and investment, Vancity Community Foundation outside Aspen, a 145-unit affordable housing development in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

“Being here, seeing this project nearly complete, you truly get to see the impact of your work,” says Lance Jakubec, CMHC.

In 2016, Lance, a CMHC employee with 17 years under his belt, joined a team to launch the National Housing Strategy’s $200 million-dollar Affordable Housing Innovation Fund.

The goal of the Fund is to encourage new funding models and innovative building techniques to create the next generation of affordable housing in Canada.

Being here, seeing this project nearly complete, you truly get to see the impact of your work.
– Lance Jakubec, CMHC

Lance was tasked with helping external partners understand the fund, guide them through the application process and ultimately, help build more affordable housing.

“So much of our days are spent in meetings, building spreadsheets,” says Lance. “These are essential parts of our jobs – but every project has greater meaning.”

Central to that greater meaning, are relationships.

Partners with a shared vision

Lance warmly greets former senior manager community investment, Vancity Credit Union Kira Gerwing and Irene Gannitsos, senior manager, strategic initiatives and investment, Vancity Community Foundation. They are meeting outside Aspen, a 9-storey affordable housing project in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

  • Vancity Credit Union (Vancity) is a member-owned financial co-operative headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Members pool their deposits and savings to invest in each other and make positive impacts in the community.
  • Vancity Community Foundation’s mission is to work with individuals and organizations to help build a society that is more inclusive, just and sustainable. One way the Foundation aims to achieve its mission is by increasing access to and availability of affordable housing.

After crossing paths at various conferences Kira and Lance discovered a mutual desire to think outside the box. Familiar with Vancity’s mandate to increase the supply of affordable housing, Lance reached out to Kira with the idea to collaborate through the Innovation Fund.

“We (CMHC) often share the same overarching goals as our external partners — the difficulty is that we often speak a different language,” says Lance. “The work is in figuring out how we can align our objectives, manage expectations, and understand the parameters of our proverbial toolbox.”

It’s a process that takes energy, perseverance and time.

Aspen will provide affordable housing for families and individuals in Vancouver. L to R: Lance Jakubec, Kira Gerwing and Irene Gannitsos.

Working together to solve housing affordability

A year after Lance and Kira’s initial discussion, CMHC was able to provide a $6 million dollar investment into Vancity’s Pre-Construction Equity Loan Fund. The renamed Vancity Affordable Housing Accelerator Fund provides patient, flexible and low-interest loans to not-for-profit affordable housing projects throughout the Lower Mainland.

“Anything new and innovative requires a lot of work and collaboration by people who are client-focused and solution-oriented,” says Lance. “That’s our Innovation Fund team! It’s thanks to their dedication that we were able to finalize and deliver this investment in such a short turnaround.”

We’re driving towards our mandate, Vancity is driving towards theirs… together, we’re delivering affordable housing units that people can call home.
– Lance Jakubec, CMHC

Between 2018 and mid-2020 the fund disbursed $12 million in financing, facilitating the creation of 2,500 rental homes. Since the fund’s inception in 2011, it has contributed to more than 4,000 units.

“It’s a true win-win-win,” says Lance. “We’re driving towards our mandate, Vancity is driving towards theirs, the non-profits are receiving assistance and together, we’re delivering affordable housing units that people can call home.”

New rental housing for Mount Pleasant

Aspen received $500,000 in financing through the Vancity Equity Loan Fund. With this initial funding, Vancity was able to secure additional partnerships which allowed the project to evolve into a 145-unit affordable housing project in one of Vancouver’s most vibrant neighborhoods.

Lance attributes the success to Kira and her team.

Aspen offers a mix of studio, 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom units, is pet-friendly, has a community garden, and features a health centre on the ground floor. L to R: Irene Gannitsos, Lance Jakubec, and Kira Gerwing.

“Vancity is the perfect partner for CMHC,” says Lance “They are passionate and collaborative partners but also pragmatic and realistic.”

Kira has since moved on from her role with Vancity and Lance is now with another team within CMHC. But, Lance continues to work with Irene and Vancity to ensure that the work they have all accomplished together, continues to effect positive change.

“Lance’s support and creativity has been critical to the success of our Vancity Affordable Housing Accelerator Fund,” says Irene.

“He helped to address a key capital gap for non-profit housing projects during the pre-development phase and is always there to explore new ideas, programs and products with us. This helps us to build the capacity of the non-profit sector to develop rental housing for low- and moderate-income individuals and families.”

KEY FACTS

  • Vancity’s Pre-Construction Equity Loan Fund received $6 million through the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund, a National Housing Strategy initiative.
  • Aspen also received $48.5 million through the Rental Construction Financing initiative, a National Housing Strategy program that supports rental housing construction projects.
  • Aspen was developed by non-profit affordable housing developer Catalyst Community Developments Society.

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