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Innovations in collaboration from the Calgary Affordable Housing Foundation

Today the Expert Community on Housing (CMHC) hosted a webinar on the Calgary Affordable Housing Foundation, which is a really interesting collaborative organization doing work in the area of homelessness and affordable units.

Alan Norris (Executive Director of Brookfield Developments) noted that many of the people present in the webinar worked on Calgary’s 10-year plan on homelessness in 2008–the community (Calgary Homeless Foundation and two other agencies) put together the Resolve Campaign, and nine agencies ended up participating in total) to raise matching funds to build affordable housing when the Provincial government gave $118M. About 20 people volunteered to fundraise. A MOU was created to lay out how the 9 agencies would contribute money, what to do if one agency raised more money in the campaign, and consolidated the agencies’ fundraising into one effort. All nine agencies had a shovel-ready capital project. There was a lot of cooperation between the agencies even beyond this effort–and provided a unified voice against homelessness in the city. He noted that agencies were required to fund the campaign monthly, but some weren’t seeing the increase in funds through fundraising at the beginning. The target was $120 million, $75 from philanthropic sources, and CMHC also contributed some financing for energy efficiency in the buildings. There are only two buildings that have not been completed–22 have been completed with 2200 people housed.

Moderator Ken Cameron asked why we expect people on the non-profit side to give time off the side of their desks–they’re obviously achieving their goals, but what does the development side get out of it? Alan noted that builders came up with some efficiencies to bring costs down. But he said the builders and donors were also quite supportive of bringing down the costs of homelessness to the city (not just social, but financial in terms of hospitalization, social services, etc.) Philanthropic donations were paying about 25% and builder donors the other 75%.

Stephanie Felesky has served on a number of boards and talked about the history of Calgary as a city that understands collaboration, where people like to contribute. In the mid-1990s the homelessness crisis became visible and a local businessman, Art Smith, called a group of people together and demanded they do something about it–that was the beginning of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, which included business owners and agencies (Stephanie was then co-director of United Way). That led to the 10-year plan and the Resolve campaign. Collaboration isn’t easy of straightforward–all nine agencies had different points of views, but their goal was the same: helping others to succeed. They developed a culture of trust, which was a natural evolution after the campaign, to the formation of the Calgary Affordable Housing Foundation. The campaign had made everyone understand that it was necessary to work together to attract private donors, the government (through four different premiers), and many stakeholders. This was part of the initial impetus for CAHF to compete in the affordable housing challenge, funded by CMHC. CAHP is unique in that its sole purpose is to attract funds for affordable housing. Stephanie noted that sometimes compromise can be uncomfortable, and there were definitely challenges for the agencies in building that level of comfort for everyone.

Jolene Livingston is a career fundraiser who founded Bespoke Consulting. She noted that this issue affects every Calgarian (1.4 million people). CAHP hired Bespoke in 2020 and Bespoke quickly saw how successful the Resolve campaign had been. CAHP is a permanent organization registered as a charity, so it needs long-term funding. Bespoke is trying to attract angel investors, but there are over 50 non-profit agencies in Calgary that own or operate affordable housing units, and they also need to fundraise–but even the top 10 organizations only raise about 5% of their budgets from fundraising. Bespoke will try to facilitate conversations across sectors, bringing together the agencies to see if they can co-created fundraising opportunities, building the CAHP board, funding a case-first approach to housing.

I’m sure there are lots of lessons to be learned from the collaborative spirit of the CAHP staff and board members. Listen up, Nova Scotia!

 

Ren

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