Affordable Housing in Vancouver: The Nonprofit Angle

An inaugural city conference daylights social-purpose real estate

The topic of affordable housing in Vancouver—which seems to have become the campaign issue of a non-campaign year—focuses strongly on residential stock, but seldom extends to include the nonprofit sector. Building Opportunities 2015, a conference recently convened in town to discuss so-called “social purpose real estate,” is striving to change that.Hosted by Vancouver’s Social Purpose Real Estate Collaborative, this week’s three-day conference emphasized the value of not-for-profit real estate in community building, citing social and environmental impacts as significant drivers in the ownership and development of property. A complementary focus noted the challenges and opportunities affecting those organizations in need of such spaces.A closing plenary conducted by the Future Laboratory by Cause+Affect (a report on the conference’s key trends as determined from a series of collective analyses) revealed that though the range of industry professionals who attended share a common drive for collaboration, there are systemic barriers—rooted in access to resources—facing a number of social-purpose real-estate developers. A need for a shared platform for data was voiced—critical in securing partnerships as traditional sources of financing become less readily available.In Vancouver, the rapidly increasing cost of land also poses a challenge for nonprofit and social-purpose bodies in need of space. But according to Jennifer Johnstone, president and CEO of the Central City Foundation and co-chair of the conference’s steering committee, this restriction only serves to fuel the growing movement.“The cost of land is prohibitive for many organizations in the city, but it really forces us to think creatively in terms of how to access that land,” says Johnstone. “As long as the mission-driven sector has their own space, they can work toward building the kind of community that we want to live in.”