Connect Money Impact: Attainable & Affordable Housing and Social Enterprise

CMI 2023

Jeremy Dawn (SNFLWR Investment Corporation), Lindsay Harris (Propolis Cooperative Housing Society), Julia Payson (Canadian Mental Health Association Vernon), and Cailan Libby (Happipad) at CMI 2023.

There are over 12 million empty bedrooms across Canada — space that could be used to accommodate everyone and foster a sense of belonging for all, a surprising ray of hope in the gloom of today’s housing crisis.

At Connect Money Impact, host Jeremy Dawn, Founder & CEO at SNFLWR Investment Corporation and Entrepreneur in Residence at Purppl, spoke with Lindsay Harris, President of Propolis Cooperative Housing Society; Julia Payson, Executive Director at Canadian Mental Health Association Vernon; and Cailan Libby, Founder and CEO at Happipad, about addressing this crisis at the “Attainable & Affordable Housing and Social Enterprise” panel.

Considering the relevance and urgency of this serious subject, it wasn’t a surprise to see the room packed full of people, to the point where all the chairs were taken and many people were standing. We’re all looking for a path forward in this bleak landscape, and this panel was able to provide a much-needed waymarker to help those in need attain homes.

Obstacles to Housing for All

Attainable and affordable housing for all is a difficult problem and solutions are not straightforward. In fact, it’s difficult to get solutions off the ground.

As Lindsay Harris said, there’s no playbook for starting a housing co-op. Construction is getting more complex and expensive, which is further complicated by the very specialized nature of the development consulting field. In light of this, financing for Propolis is becoming increasingly expensive and complex.

Cailan Libby also described some of the difficulties Happipad is experiencing in their challenging quest to change the status quo. Much like Propolis, Happipad has its own expenses, as insurance, building technologies, and software engineers are all expensive and it costs a lot of money to develop, build, and operate an online service. They also have a lot of stakeholders they need to take time to speak with to help them understand that enterprise software requires millions of dollars to build and maintain.

The reality is that a lot of capital is needed to get affordable and attainable housing going. Thankfully, Propolis finds that community bonds can be a helpful tool for financing and a step in the right direction.

However, the challenges are multi-faceted, going beyond the enormous hurdles of capital and expense. Julia Payson emphasized that non-profit housing has its own history of racism, colonialism, and segregation. A number of housing societies were built because settler societies were exclusive and did not allow certain people to live in the homes they built. With this painful history, old and deep wounds, and housing providers building on unceded Indigenous territory, there is a lot of reconciliation needed and a lot of work to be done to staunch these wounds, start the healing process, and ensure affordable housing is truly inclusive.

Pressing Onward, Despite the Risks

So how do we even begin to address such large obstacles? How do we start making progress on this problem? How can we ensure everyone has the security and safety of four strong walls and a roof over their head? 

Creative problem-solving and resourcefulness are central to all nonprofit work, and this is especially true of the work being done to empower everyone to have a place to call home. Board members need to be willing to “look everywhere” for solutions and hunt down financial support from every source they can find. That’s the only way to thrive, manage overhead, support the team, run programs, and have the money needed to build more.

Nonprofits need to set aside all hesitation, boldly taking steps forward, despite the risk. It’s time to start investing in themselves and their communities, rather than being too cautious with their resources. Spending money can be scary, but it’s the only way to make progress.

As we take these leaps and creatively combat these problems, we need to keep our focus on something else, something critically important: addressing the root causes of homelessness. These roots are deep, systemic, and structural. We need to get to the root, rather than just providing temporary housing solutions. That’s the true path forward to ending this crisis.

Hope, Lighting the Way

Seeing how deep these root causes run and looking at how massive this problem has grown can be overwhelming. It will take time and a lot of resources to start to uproot this crisis. Yet, all hope is not lost. 

It’s important to remember that there are creative ways to solve each piece of this puzzle, despite the complexity. Finding those solutions and snapping those pieces in place requires different personalities, different levels of capital, and different approaches. 

It’s not just the job of the smartest or wealthiest people, either. Everyone can find their own way to impact the system — and they have. Lindsay Harris shared that the youngest investor is only 16 years old, scraped together $1,000 of his own money, and said he felt that “investing in Propolis will help to make the world a little bit less dystopian.” Learning this filled us with warmth and hope.

That feeling intensified when Cailan shared his personal experience with Happipad and how having a house companion through Happipad empowered his elderly mother to remain in her home and improved her life significantly. This illustrates that home sharing doesn’t have to be a frightening experience but can be empowering and comfortable.

Seeing these examples reminded us that no matter how tremendous a problem may seem, no matter how hopeless it makes us feel, or how unsolvable it may appear, there is always something that can be done. We got to see solutions that are making progress, which was a real uplift to everyone in the room. It proves that we can all make a difference and proved that strides are already being made.

We have hope that, one day soon, everyone will be able to live in security and peace.

This is the eighth in a series of blog posts about Connect Money Impact 2023 created for Purppl by Sparx Publishing Group, a purpose-driven full-stack marketing agency on a mission to make the world better. 

The Sparx Publishing Team

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