Video: Building community into the bottom line

Watch the webinar recording where we explore ways that landlords and property managers can work with their residents to build community, social connections and capacity for neighbourly mutual aid.

On June 22nd, Hey Neighbour Collective and co-hosts Happy City, Concert Properties and SFU Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue held a panel and webinar to discuss:

  • The City of Vancouver’s role in catalyzing Concert’s Connecting our Communities approach;
  • How Connecting our Communities works;
  • How such a significant investment gained organizational traction;
  • What role research has played;
  • What lessons are they learning during a global pandemic.

Powerpoint presentations

A few participants requested our presenters’ slides. Here they are:

Extended Q&A with presenters

There was a 25-minute Q&A with presenters but that only scratched the surface of the excellent questions posed by participants in the chat forum. So we followed up and got these further responses.

Curious if Building Managers in the 11 Concert buildings identify potential community connectors at the tenant selection stage? 

Nicole Viduka: Yes, Building Managers provide their input at the tenant selection stage. Tenants are asked to submit an Interest From (application) to the program. The Social Sustainability Coordinator conducted one-on-one telephone interviews with each resident and a short list of applicants from each property were reviewed together with the Resident Services Manager. Tenants were then invited to join our Workshop for Community Connectors as part of the onboarding process which included a background check & Volunteer Agreement.

Do the Building Managers have a process for helping orient new tenants (or applicants) to the activities in the building, the tools/resources you have created for the “Connecting our Communities Program”? 

Nicole Viduka: Currently we don’t have a formal process for this, but this is something we are chatting about with property management and our Community Connectors. We’ve been discussing orienting new tenants to the program with a welcome package and connecting new residents with a longstanding tenant or a Connector to welcome and orient them to the community and neighbourhood.

What success (or not) are you having engaging youth (15-19ish bracket)? This age group has been disproportionately impacted by the unintended consequences of the pandemic and it will be important to prioritize their social wellbeing going forward. 

Nicole Viduka: This is a great reflection. We are not targeting specific age groups at this time. We’re encouraging an approach to connecting that is inclusive to all ages, although as the program progresses we anticipate that residents might self-organize around activities that directly target and address the needs of specific age groups. Our volunteers are surveying their communities to inquire into how residents wish to engage and the types of activities they would like to participate in. Some of our Community Connectors are exploring hosting group workshops and check-ins to support mental health awareness.

What insights do you have into how the built form helps or hinders social connectedness, and how are you measuring this? 

Nicole Viduka: A lack of public or communal space in a building makes gathering and thus interacting more difficult. The reverse thesis that more is more remains to be seen. How much more is needed and what kind of space (indoor vs outdoor) is an active debate.

Can you give a ballpark cost of this work and programming for property owners? I’m interested in how you think about the ROI.

Dave Ramslie: A rough budget for this is around $1000 per building per month. That includes staff, volunteer honoraria, some programming and marketing. It does get cheaper per building the more buildings you have. 

ROI? That’s a good one… We hope that the investment results in the following things: Reduced vacancy. Reduced vandalism, reduced operating costs related to disturbance, reduced turn-over (which can be viewed by some as a cost in a hot market but they are wrong) improved brand equity, increased attractiveness to institutional investors.

There’s a future Concert development in North Vancouver.  Will this project be involved in this initiative? Please describe your strategies on how you will be ‘building community’ there.

Dave Ramslie: Yes. There will be a rental building in the first phase of that development and we plan to deploy this program there. At this time we don’t know what the program will look like that far out though.

Can you speak to whether (or how much) your sustainability strategy – including the social sustainability elements – is driven by ‘ESG’ investor interest? 

Dave Ramslie: Unknown at this point. We think there is something there but we don’t know what it is.

What do you see as the biggest barriers to residents connecting and what are the barriers different between age groups, cultural groups? 

Paty Rios: The pandemic has probably shifted a lot of our usual patterns. These days, some feel more comfortable at home than in big crowds. It is definitely going to take time to make sure we are all comfortable together, especially in interior spaces. So that might require a bit of planning and thinking about how gatherings are small at the beginning and in outdoor spaces and evolve over time. 

Besides pandemic effects, in the past, the Vancouver Foundation Engage & Connect report noted that the main barriers have been: not having enough time, financial restrictions, and people thinking that they don’t have something interesting to offer in community events. 

The positive aspect of the different activities that Community Connectors (CC) are organizing is that they are free, at their home – so they don’t have to spend time commuting – and CCs have been asking what residents want. I feel that this approach will help break down the barrier of people thinking they don’t have something to offer because activities resonate with what they want and need. 

Another possible barrier: I anticipate that finding the right space for gatherings might be tricky for some buildings, however, Concert has a variety of courtyards, amenity rooms, and terraces that can address this. It will be important (as a learning) to capture which spaces are allowing different groups to gather and how new buildings could be incorporating these learnings. 

Group barriers: usually people who don’t speak the same language find it difficult to connect. It will be important to share activity details in several languages and enable activities where you can communicate in different ways: cooking, dancing, painting for example. People with different cultural backgrounds might find that some activities don’t resonate with them. It will be important to keep an eye on what they want to do beyond more typical gatherings and embrace the value of cultural diversity. Overall, having a sense of who is in the buildings and prioritizing those who haven’t had the opportunity to socialize as much during Covid seems like a good idea.