Untangling the affordability puzzle with Happy Cities and Chesterman Properties: webinar recap

Resources, recordings, presentations, and notable moments from the third in our ‘Housing That Connects Us’ webinar series.

On May 2nd, 2024, Hey Neighbour Collective hosted Housing That Connects Us #3: The affordability puzzle, part of the year-long Building Social Connections project in partnership with Happy Cities and Simon Fraser University’s Department of Gerontology. This is the third webinar in the ‘Housing That Connects Us ‘series, following November 9th’s conversation with UK innovators

Over the past year, Building Social Connections has brought six Metro Vancouver jurisdictions together to co-create new design policies that support wellbeing for residents in multi-unit housing. This work responds to  Metro 2050 – Metro Vancouver’s recently approved regional growth strategy. In particular, it will help these jurisdictions with the new requirement that Metro jurisdictions show how their ‘local policies and actions’ will ‘help to increase social connectedness in multi-unit housing (on page 72 of the strategy document).

Participant demographics

In this webinar, we discussed what design practices help to make buildings more neighbourly, and the multiple financial levers available to support affordability for multi-unit rental projects. Over 200 participants joined from all around the world! As our breakdown shows, the largest identifiable group of participants were planners, followed by folks involved directly with housing (developers, housing operators or housing associations), consultants, researchers, and community non-profits.

The round up that follows includes the webinar recording, speaker slides and other resources. We’ve also collected a few memorable excerpts from the conversation.

Participant location

A map projection of the major continents with orange bubbles representing participant locations for the third 'Housing that Connects Us' webinar.

Participant occupation

Featured presentations

Michelle Hoar, Project Director at Hey Neighbour Collective, opened the event with a summary of the activities of the Collective and contextualized the conversation to come. 

(HNC brings together housing providers, non-profits, researchers, local and regional governments, housing associations and health authorities to experiment with and learn about ways of building community, social connectedness and resilience in BC’s multi-unit housing communities.)

Learn more: 

[00:10:48] Madeleine Hebert, Senior Housing Specialist with Happy Cities, presented their work on the connections between the ways we design housing and the impacts those designs have on our wellbeing. 

Learn more:

[00:29:36] Robert Brown – founder of Chesterman Properties and Catalyst Community Developments Society – gave a brief master class on the financial levers affecting the development of affordable purpose-built rental housing. (It solves nothing to build socially connected homes if no one can afford them!) 

Learn more:

“More amenity space doesn’t guarantee community, it’s about well-thought-out features, proper co-location of social and amenity spaces.”

Madeleine Hebert, Happy Cities

“Dockside Green is a few blocks away from me and I make a point of walking through the really beautiful pathway there even if it adds some time to my trip!”

Webinar participant


Following the presentation, we opened up the discussion and invited participants to ask questions of the presenters. Emilie Adin, President of the Planning Institute of British Columbia (PIBC) got things kicked off.

“We heard from Robert that building more efficiently and more cost-effectively would bring down the hard construction costs, but that could be seen to be at odds with some of what we heard about designs for increasing chances of intentional community. So my question is, what are the opportunities to optimize efficient design without losing that goal of building intentional community? And also, do you ever see situations where the hard or soft costs (for non-market) exceed the average of what you’d see for private projects?”

Madeleine, Robert, and Michelle shared perspectives from each of their unique positions, coalescing around the idea that designing for quality, livability and social connection while also preserving affordability is a balancing act that requires all parties to be invested and contributing to the outcome (all levels of government and the finance sector have levers to pull and could be more coordinated in their approaches.)

The ongoing Q&A conversation ranged from discussing the merits of building for people versus cars, to the tricky puzzle of getting city planners and developers on the same page with what quality amenity spaces look like, to dealing with the ongoing frustration about permitting times. A short discussion ensued about cohousing (and the desire to make this housing type easier to build) and a specific cohousing project called Little Mountain.

As in all of our Housing That Connects Us webinars, the chat was full of conversation between participants, with lovely moments of sharing throughout. The most poignant happened after we officially closed the webinar and people were leaving. Numbers had dwindled to a small handful, and we invited the small group to take themselves off mute and share their thoughts.

One woman, Laura, thanked us for the webinar and said she felt hopeful for the first time in a while. She shared her experience becoming homeless for the first time at age 80. She currently has no permanent home: “I’m a house sitter. I live in other people’s beautiful homes, but it can’t go on forever.” Her story is unfortunately not unique but is one that reminds us of the importance of building homes that are truly affordable and socially connected for everyone in our society, regardless of age, ability, or income level. (For those interested, TrustedHouseSitters is the service that Laura participates in.)

“There’s no way, on God’s green earth, that the creator, the universe, or the cosmos, planned it this way. There’s no way. This is human invention and it’s got to stop.”

Laura, webinar participant

Robert Brown rounded out the discussion by reminding folks on the call to carefully consider their words when speaking about the places we are working to build affordability and neighbourly connections within: Please, can we refer to these spaces we’re building as homes, not units?”

Followup questions from the chat

“The policy solutions and financial considerations highlighted by the speakers are critical as they would benefit future or new housing projects and the people living in those multi-unit housing units. However, the benefits of housing design policy on fostering social connection and community will likely take years to be realized. In the meantime, what can be done today to promote social connection, community, and belonging within the housing units (however faulty/non-community-promoting their design is) we live in now?” 

Residents of multi-unit homes as well as property managers, landlords, and local government all have a role to play in fostering social connection among existing multi-unit housing. Hey Neighbour has been working with its partners to develop a series of practice guides with specific tools for each audience. 

  • Guide 1 shows how residents can take leadership 
  • Guide 2 and Guide 3 look at what landlords, housing operators, and community non-profits can do on their own or in creative, adaptive collaborations.
  • Guide 4 discusses specific opportunities for local governments to sow seeds and help foster the entire sector.

The fifth guide discusses key learnings from Concert Properties’ Community Connectors and is a practice guide for implementing resident-led social programming in multi-unit rental housing.

“What/where are the main platforms/meetings/spaces/programs in BC where folks interested in learning more and organizing, engaging with these issues can find resources, education, and guidance? (i.e., a group of friends in their early 30s – ready for first-time home purchase – who are interested in co-housing together learn how to start/finance? It is somewhat of an overwhelming process.)”:

The Canadian Cohousing Network is a non-profit that connects people and resources to create and sustain cohousing communities. There is a section on their site entitled How to create a cohousing community

Additionally, Happy Cities is hosting a webinar on May 30th with Our Urban Village Cohousing and the design team for the project.

Collaborative Home Ownership BC (COHO BC) is also worth checking out. They are a  one-stop shop with resources for homeowners, home buyers and sellers, as well as investors, who are interested in sharing ownership of existing homes.

Future work

We continue to be inspired by the conversations that arise in these webinars and are looking at the potential for further deep-dive sessions with municipal planners and other housing sector and finance stakeholders here in BC and across Canada. 

Keep an eye out for future opportunities for discussing ways to foster age-friendly, socially connected and resilient multi-unit housing.

One of the best ways to do that is to sign up for HNC’s e-newsletter and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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