Practice Guide #3: Developing organizational partnerships to build community in multi-unit housing

Third in a series of four guides from Hey Neighbour Collective about strategies and practices to increase neighbour-to-neighbour connections and social resilience among residents living in multi-unit housing.

Social connectedness has been demonstrated to strengthen health, well-being, and individual and collective resilience. Meanwhile, multi-unit housing such as apartments and condominiums are becoming a prominent form of housing in many fast-growing urban areas. So, what are the best approaches for helping nurture and strengthen neighbourly social connections in these spaces, and what kinds of benefits can result?

These practice guides are written specifically for residents, landlords, housing operators, non-profit organizations, and municipal governments. The guides summarize Hey Neighbour Collective’s key learnings about the vital roles that each of these groups can play in fostering neighbour-to-neighbour connectedness and social resilience in multi-unit housing. The guides also point to the top tips, tactics, and strategic approaches, and describe the most common benefits that emerge for everyone involved.

Find and download the practice guides in this series. Find all five of the recent practice guides on our resources page.

Practice Guide #3: Developing organizational partnerships to build community in multi-unit housing

Where there is a shortage of time or capacity for a single resident champion, housing operator, or community organization to take on full leadership, partnerships can be of enormous help in fostering social connections among residents in multi-unit housing. This guide puts the spotlight on creative, practical partnerships between municipal government departments, landlords, housing operators, and community-based organizations that are bringing residents together to help make buildings more inclusive, improve collective emergency preparedness, and enhance engagement with supportive service agencies. A simple table lays out what each category of partner can typically bring to the table, and what benefits each often gets in return.

Partners acknowledgment

This learning report would not be possible without all of the Collective’s many partners including our Community of Practice, Research team members, and Learning Network Collaborators. Our thanks goes out to all of these partners who share the Collective’s concern about rising loneliness and social isolation and see a role for the housing, health and urban planning sectors to collaborate on solutions.

The value of social connection

Social isolation has been linked with negative impacts on life satisfaction, safety, health, and emotional well-being. Conversely, social connectedness has been demonstrated to strengthen health, well-being, and individual and collective resilience.

Multi-unit housing such as apartments and condominiums are becoming the dominant form of housing in many urban centres. Often, for a variety of intersecting reasons, people living in multi-unit housing tend to know their neighbours less than people in single family dwellings. However, this can be seen as an opportunity rather than as a problem: There are many examples in BC and around the world of residents in multi-unit housing finding ways to increase their social connectedness — starting with connections to each other.

Building design, amenity areas, and duration, stability, and affordability of residency, alongside programming activities led by residents or building operators can help or hinder the fostering of friendly social connections.

Connected neighbours often feel a greater sense of safety and belonging and are more likely to assist each other through difficulties and emergencies. There are also many benefits for housing operators, governments, and community organizations when residents of multi-unit housing are more connected and mutually supportive.

Neighbourliness doesn’t just “automatically happen,” though. Social connectedness between neighbours improves dramatically when it’s intentionally nurtured — and that’s what these guides are all about.

Read more about the links between loneliness, social isolation and well-being.

Partnerships can help

Many of the potential benefits of growing stronger communities in multi-unit housing are easy to see; however, it can sometimes appear to be potentially difficult, time-consuming, or resource-intensive to take on the responsibilities of leadership. Who can or should spearhead efforts to foster more social connections amongst neighbours? 

Who can or should spearhead efforts to foster more social connections among neighbours?

Residents, housing operators, community organizations and government agencies can all contribute constructively toward helping improve the conditions for both spontaneous and intentional connections between residents to occur. And where there is a shortage of time, skill, or capacity for any one person or organization to take on full leadership, partnerships can be of enormous benefit.

A group of residents sit and stand around a table with pizzas laying on top.
Photo provided by Catalyst Community Developments Society.

Partners in preparedness: Spotlight on collaboration in the Connect & Prepare program

Connect & Prepare is a series of workshops during which neighbours from the same block or multi-unit housing community come together to learn about emergency preparedness and the important role of social connections in collective resilience. They then collaborate together on shared projects. The program offers a unique blend of outreach and engagement, facilitation, education, training, and group action related to emergency preparedness and social connectivity that’s difficult for any single organization to have the knowledge or capacity to implement alone; partnerships are often key to its success.

Building Resilient Neighbourhoods (BRN) partnered with resident champions, the City of Victoria’s Emergency Management Division (VictoriaReady), and the Capital Region Housing Corporation (CRHC) to deliver Connect & Prepare to groups of neighbours in several non-market multi-unit housing complexes in Victoria, British Columbia.

CRHC staff facilitated promotional outreach to residents in several buildings—many of whom included seniors, people with disability, or lower-income families—and invited resident “champions” to step forward and apply to participate in the program. BRN, VictoriaReady, and CRHC then collaborated on selecting the resident champions and host buildings.

The resident champions assisted with ongoing outreach to neighbours and hosting meetings, while BRN and VictoriaReady delivered the workshops. CRHC ensured its building managers were aware and supportive of the program, and the CRHC managers ultimately helped with identifying locations to store the shared emergency supplies that residents received from VictoriaReady.

BRN later began a “scaling pilot” of Connect & Prepare. Interested municipal departments in several BC localities helped sponsor and support the program, while BRN provided curriculum materials and trained local nonprofit organizations as delivery partners who collaborate with engaged housing operators.

Finding the right partnerships for supporting resident well-being and connected communities: Spotlight on Brightside Homes

Brightside Homes is a non-profit housing operator and developer with almost all of its current 750 units offered at rent-geared-to-income rates. In their independent-living buildings, they have a high proportion of seniors (76%), people with disability, and families.

There are limits established in the BC Community Care and Assisted Living Act on how extensively a landlord can appropriately become involved in residents’ daily lives; consequently, Brightside focuses on fostering partnerships for its community development and resident-support efforts. Brightside often works with community health and other non-profit organizations, as well as with government agencies, to bring in activities, events, and services, and help strengthen resident well-being and social connections.

To guide these efforts, Brightside has also developed a “Community Development & Resident Support” strategy which is informed by priorities identified through regular Community Enhancement Surveys completed by residents (see Guide 2: Landlord- and Housing Operator-led Approaches to Growing Community in Multi-unit Housing).

The strategy also guides their resident support team in selecting, developing and maintaining partnerships. 

Brightside’s assessment criteria for a potential partnership include clarifying and evaluating:

  • each partner’s role; 
  • the potential benefits, costs, or risks to Brightside and its residents; 
  • the alignment of workplace values and organizational goals, and 
  • the sustainability of the planned program. 

“Partnerships extend the work we can do,” explained Liam Griffin, Communications and Partnerships Manager at Brightside Homes. “We want partnerships because we don’t always have the skills or expertise to assist in all of the areas of daily life that may be affecting our residents. But there are often existing community agencies that have extensive experience in those areas.” 

Such partnerships have proven to be an effective way for Brightside to get home support and health services to residents, and to facilitate resilience building and mutual aid. When residents are more connected to supportive community services, explained Griffin, they have more stable tenancies and are more likely to be able to continue to live independently in their own homes for much longer.

In one example, Brightside recently partnered with Oasis Senior Supportive Living, Queen’s University, and Collingwood Neighbourhood House. The OASIS program is “designed to strengthen and sustain healthy communities of older adults by addressing important determinants of healthy aging.” Brightside provides access to its buildings and amenity spaces, and OASIS seeks out and helps bring other community organizations and senior-serving agencies into collaboration to run fitness activities, health education, nutrition and cooking classes, emergency preparedness workshops, and social events in Brightside buildings. These activities have a focus on reducing isolation, improving health, and supporting aging-at-home in naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs). In this case, Collingwood Neighbourhood House has provided a staff coordinator to facilitate activities in two Brightside buildings in Vancouver, BC.

“Partnerships extend the work we can do. We want partnerships because we don’t always have the skills or expertise to assist in all of the areas of daily life that may be affecting our residents. But there are often existing community agencies that have extensive experience in those areas.”

Liam Griffin, Communications and Partnerships Manager at Brightside Homes

Partnering to develop accessible and more inclusive housing: Spotlight on Catalyst Community Developments Society

Catalyst Community Developments Society and PALS Adults Services Society (PASS) partnered to develop housing that supports people with developmental disabilities to live independently while also becoming more socially connected.

PASS had long seen a need for specialized housing where people with autism could live more independently, away from their family homes, but still connected to community. Catalyst, meanwhile, was constructing a new building in need of tenants located in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood—the Aspen. The Aspen would be close to transit, essential services, and PASS program offices, and included amenity spaces accessible to everyone.

Could the two organizations help meet each other’s needs? Out of this question, a unique, partnership-based project, likely a first in Canada, emerged.

PASS helped select prospective tenants, and PASS and Catalyst staff met over the course of the Aspen’s construction to ensure that the PASS tenants would feel comfortable and safe moving into the Aspen.

According to Lauren Crum, Housing Coordinator at PASS, the large size of the tenant cohort and the fact the building was new were integral to the project’s success, as they allowed the PASS tenants to be distributed thoughout the building among other tenants from the community, while also allowing relatively close proximity to support relationships between the PASS tenants.

Four residents stand together on a balcony waving their hands in the air, with sunny Vancouver in the background.
Photo provided by Catalyst Community Developments Society.

“It made it possible for Catalyst to better accommodate sensory and other needs, and better reflects the intention of inclusivity,” said Crum. “It also made a significant difference in terms of building up confidence in the PASS tenants.” Lauren Crum, Housing Coordinator at PASS

An array of other collaborations, largely coordinated by PASS, has made the project financially sustainable. The pilot now involves 16 young adults with autism, 15 families, 9 live-in caregivers, PASS and Catalyst team members, home-support workers from the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion, rental subsidies from the Morris and Helen Belkin Foundation, and funding from the province for shelter for person’s with disabilities and for caregivers through Community Living BC.

One of the key challenges had been a perception that such an undertaking would be onerous, but the collaborations have, in fact, made it relatively easy. “Spending time developing the relationship between the two organizations paid off,” said Crum. “It facilitated sometimes uncomfortable conversations, and that made everyone feel more comfortable heading into an unknown situation.”

Maura Chestnutt, former VP at Catalyst, agreed. “You can find tenants through a partnership like we have with PASS as easily as you can find them advertising in rental marketplaces.”

“When we first heard about PASS Housing we felt an enormous sense of relief, that there was going to be a place for [our child] for the rest of her life, in a social setting with her friends and allowing her to be as independent as possible,” said one of the parents.

PASS has since moved into discussions with Catalyst and four other developers about adapting this model for other building projects. 

“It made it possible for Catalyst to better accommodate sensory and other needs, and better reflects the intention of inclusivity. It also made a significant difference in terms of building up confidence in the PASS tenants.”

Lauren Crum, Housing Coordinator at PASS

Partnering with residents and housing operators to expand organizational outreach: Spotlight on West End Seniors’ Network

West End Seniors’ Network (WESN) has initiated partnerships with resident champions  and managers of multi-unit buildings to deliver their Close to Home program.

Close to Home offers support for onsite social, recreational, and educational activities for residents. Rather than requiring community members to venture far away to access community services or social activities, WESN brings programs, services, and staff support into the buildings.

Recently, WESN has begun reaching out to identify and proactively collaborate with “resident community champions” at three multi-unit buildings in the West End neighbourhood of Vancouver that have high proportions of residents who are seniors, people with disability, and/or people living on a low-income. In order to reach more residents, WESN and the resident champions have engaged the support of the building managers as well, thereby expanding their outreach and the activities they can do. In one building, they ran a “lobby intercept” to casually chat with other residents and survey them about what kinds of activities they would like to see in the building. This facilitated new connections and opportunities, and in turn led to more events and activities in the building attracting more people.

Not only do these activities benefit the residents—especially those less able to travel—but Jennifer Conroy, WESN’s Manager of Programs, said these partnerships have brought innovation and benefits to WESN as well. 

“Going off our own premises to meet in these places is a new development compared to WESN’s traditional programming,” said Conroy. “This is more free form, it’s not scheduled, it’s more responsive to what residents want.” Conroy added, “The business case for doing this is very strong for us. We’re reaching people we wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach. It increases people’s awareness and connections to us and to other services and experiences that we’re able to offer.”  

Diverse partnering for diverse goals: Spotlight on city of New Westminster and Seniors Services Society of BC

Seniors Services Society of BC (SSSBC) has partnered with BC Housing, the City of New Westminster and a wide variety of other organizations and agencies to engage with residents at Ross Tower, which includes a high proportion of frail and live-alone seniors with low levels of social connectedness.

Through their Integrated Services Program, SSSBC delivers assistance with light housekeeping, meals, transportation, and navigation of other services and supports to vulnerable seniors within the building. Both Hey Neighbour Collective (HNC) and the City of New Westminster have helped fund SSSBC to weave in a focus on strengthening social connectedness as part of this pilot program. SSSBC also liaises with the BC Housing building manager to enhance resident use of common areas and amenity spaces, and facilitates communications with and between residents through notice boards and online platforms, celebrations and social events.

In addition, Building Resilient Neighbourhoods Society and New Westminster’s Emergency Management Department are supporting SSSBC to help strengthen neighbour-to-neighbour connectivity, emergency preparedness, and resilience through delivering the Connect & Prepare program at Ross Tower.

SSSBC’s partnership with the City in turn helps to facilitate access and connection to other City initiatives. For example, building residents are also invited to participate in the New Westminster Digital Inclusion Project, a collaboration involving the City of New Westminster, and other community organizations. Project partners assist seniors in obtaining and maintaining digital devices and internet access, and provide training and technical support, to help seniors stay connected with other residents, friends, and family.

According to Kyoko Takahashi, Program Manager at SSSBC, these collaborative relationships between organizations provide many benefits for everyone involved. “We show up for each other. We apply together for funding, coordinate public educational events, and can solve issues and concerns with residents or in buildings more effectively together thanks to these working relationships, shared goals, and mutual understandings.”

Anur Mehdic, a social planner with the City of New Westminster, agreed. “As social planners we have only so much capacity and can’t be experts in everything, so we rely on non-governmental organizations like Seniors Services Society to bring their experience, knowledge, and skills, and help us connect with and support some of our city’s most vulnerable residents,” said Mehdic. “A collaborative community planning project should leave a community not just with immediate ‘products,’ but also with an increased capacity to meet future needs. The Ross Tower Project is a wonderful example of such work.”

Partnerships for community building: What you contribute and what comes back

Landlords and housing operators

What you can contribute

  • Outreach and communication with residents
  • Access to amenity spaces
  • Permissions
  • Honoraria for resident leaders or budget for resident activities
  • See Guide 2: Landlord- and Housing Operator-led Approaches to Growing Community in Multi-unit Housing

What comes back

  • External funding and resources of partners
  • Ability to bring in diverse skills, expertise, and services

Nonprofit/community organizations

What you can contribute

  • Specialized program or service expertise
  • Program facilitation
  • Program resources

What comes back

  • Ability to engage with less accessible multi-housing residents and target populations

Government agencies

What you can contribute

  • Specialized program or service expertise
  • Navigation of bylaws and opportunities for support or funding
  • Access to government resources

What comes back

  • Ability to engage with less accessible multi-housing residents and target populations
  • Enhanced community resilience


What you can contribute

  • Leadership, organizing, volunteer community building
  • Outreach and engagement with neighbours

What comes back

  • Greater diversity of activities, events, services
  • More and more diverse connections to other residents and the broader community

All partners

What comes back

  • Develop more well-rounded understandings of the needs and interests of residents
  • Increased resources
  • Expanded capacity 

Key steps for building and sustaining partnerships

  • Clarify your values, interest, and intentions in growing community.
  • Understand residents’ needs and interests and priorities.
  • Make time to build relationships with potential partners.
  • Establish roles based on what each partner can bring.
  • Leverage resources by working together. 
  • Create collaborative environments that address each partners’ interests and needs.
  • Encourage co-leadership and sharing of responsibilities to enhance the likelihood for sustainability of the activities.

Learn more 

Please wait while flipbook is loading. For more related info, FAQs and issues please refer to DearFlip WordPress Flipbook Plugin Help documentation.

Land acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge that the learnings represented in this guide were gleaned from HNC partners working in numerous unceded, traditional and ancestral territories, including those of the following peoples: Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) qʼʷa:n̓ƛʼən̓ (Kwantlen), q̓ic̓əy̓ (Katzie), kʷikʷəƛ̓əm (Kwikwetlem), sɛmiˈɑːmu (Semiahmoo), Qayqayt, sc̓əwaθən məsteyəxʷ (Tsawwassen), Syilx (Okanagan), and Lək̓ʷəŋən (Esquimalt and Songhees.)

Hey Neighbour Collective (HNC) recognizes that colonialism isolates Indigenous Peoples intentionally and by design, by, for example, prohibiting cultural practices, separating communities, and weakening family and language ties. HNC recognizes these historic and ongoing inequities and systemic barriers and strives to be part of movements to correct them.

Funders Acknowledgment

HNC’s work would not be possible without the support of our funders and sponsors from 2019 onwards. They are:

Practice guide 1 funder logos, including United Way, Real Estate Foundation, BC Housing, BCNPHA, Vancity, Landlord BC, McConnell, Mitacs, City of North Vancoouver, and more.