Social Purpose Real Estate

The vision is borne out of an undeniable need. People are better off when they can afford a home where home is: where they work, go to school, where their social connections are and/or where they’ve lived their entire lives.

The implications

“In order to keep the workforce in a municipality, you need them to be able to afford to live there,” says Allyson Muir, the Executive Director of Sanford Housing Society. “People who are working in the District of North Vancouver are not going to keep working there if they can only afford to live in Langley. Nobody who is a low-income earner can afford to live 50 or 60 kilometres away from their workplace.”

The developer

With over 30 years of experience, Sanford Housing Society has built over 23 different projects and 500-plus units of supportive and affordable housing throughout Vancouver and Richmond. Originally focused on providing supportive housing for people with mental health issues, its scope expanded to include affordable housing through their subsidiary, the Sanford Affordable Housing Society.

The vision

"Before an affordable housing project even comes close to reality there’s so much work to be done to bring the vision to life", says Allyson. A $15,000 grant from Vancity Community Foundation to the Sanford Affordable Housing Society furthered the early development stages of a new 90-unit building in the District of North Vancouver.

“The grant may be small when you compare it to the cost of building the housing, which is in the millions of millions, but that seed money is what makes these ideas come to life,” says Allyson.

The funding helped with things like the design, financial modeling, budgeting and legal work to secure a lease on the land. They also worked with Terra Housing, who are specialists in social purpose real estate.

The project

Too young for an official name, Sanford refers to it as the Oxford Street project, as it’s located at the corner of Oxford and Orwell streets. The six-storey, wood-frame development will have 90 units consisting of an equal mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom homes, which will assist in addressing the shortage of family rental units in North Vancouver.The plan is to make it a true community with a diverse mix of people: singles, seniors, families with children and people with disabilities. Fifty percent of the units will be for low-income earners, with rent geared to income and 30 percent for people earning moderate incomes. About one-fifth of the units are earmarked for the most vulnerable people; Hollyburn Family Services came on board as a partner to help select these tenants.

The milestones

Sanford Housing Society’s vision and concept has solidified into a proposal and secured $9 million from BC Housing’s Community Housing Fund. The next major hurdle is the application for re-zoning and development permits with the District of North Vancouver. If that’s approved, this vision of affordability will become a reality.

The stability that makes all the difference

Housing provides the foundation for success in any area of life, says Allyson. “We have seen people be able to get their feet on the ground with affordable rentals, go back to school, stop the cycle of moving from place to place, one rent increase away from having to give up that apartment and find another one. Being able to give people affordable housing can allow them to put down some roots and feel that stability.”