Renewable Cities

Practical tips from members of the housing community

July 02, 2024

In early May, we collaborated with BC Housing (BC Builds) and Vancity Community Foundation to host ‘Let’s Build Housing on Community Land,’ a workshop for government, community and non-profit landowners who are not traditional housing providers but are interested in developing housing on their land.

We invited members of the housing community to share their stories from their recent housing development projects and work within the industry. They spoke about the importance of building relationships, creating a strong project vision and embracing complexity to create excellent housing to help foster healthy, happy, connected and resilient communities for hundreds of years.   

The speakers also reminded us that it’s about so much more than just maximizing the number of units, quoting Robert Brown, who emphasizes the importance of shifting mindsets between units and homes.

“There are mindsets we need to shift. The talk about the number of units we need to build instead of the number of homes we need to build. We have to stop using the term ‘units’-- it’s not units, it’s homes.”

  • Luke Harrison, Catalyst Community Developments Society

  • Michelle Hoar, Hey Neighbour Collective

  • Renée Olson, Khowutzun Development Corporation

  • Rowena Rizzotti, Legions Veterans Village

Here are some key themes from our conversation:

Michelle Hoar (Hey Neighbour Collective)

“The housing we build today is meant to last hundreds of years... why aren’t we building excellent housing?”

Michelle, whose partners at Hey Neighbour Collective focus on building community, social connectedness and resilience in multi-unit housing communities, emphasized that the housing we build now will be here for many decades.  

This focus on longevity highlights our responsibility and opportunity to create housing communities that have a lasting positive impact on the well-being of residents.

“If we don’t do it right, we’re going to bake in issues for a long, long time,” she said.

A recurring theme was designing homes that promote social connection and community to mitigate loneliness and social isolation.  

“We have an amazing opportunity to get this right and our environments deeply impact our well-being... we have a responsibility but also an opportunity to build the best housing, not just decent housing,” said Michelle.

Left to right: Luke Harrison (Catalyst Community Developments Society), Michelle Hoar (Hey Neighbour Collective), Renée Olson (Khowutzun Development Corporation)

“If you don’t build relationships first, things don’t move fast.” 

Speakers discussed the importance of collaboration, trust and relationship building with partners and various stakeholders. These are essential for ensuring the success of a housing project.

“We hold partnerships sacred... whether with municipalities, First Nations or churches, these relationships take a long time to develop,” said Luke from Catalyst Community Developments Society.

Luke also emphasized the importance of nurturing relationships before diving into a project to ensure that the partnership is a good fit for all parties.  

Building a strong working relationship will benefit the project, especially when “partners need to step up in different ways than they had originally imagined and be willing to do that,” he said.

Renée from Khowutzun Development Corporation highlighted the importance of alignment and choosing the right partner, saying “make sure you surround yourself with people that deal with facts, and truth and information, not those who have a different agenda, and you will be much more successful.”

Rowena Rizzotti (Legions Veterans Village)

“The vision starts with the need.” “Visions matter to funders.”

Having a clear vision at the start of a project will inspire, motivate and align stakeholders. A project vision is essential for maintaining direction, progress and commitment throughout the project.

“We went out to the community and spent a lot of time hearing where the gaps were and finding what the need was. This helped us define the vision,” said Rowena who recently completed the Legion Veterans Village development in Surrey, B.C.  

A vision that focuses on the community’s needs also grounds stakeholders and funders and helps them feel passionate and invested in the project goals.

“Crisis breeds innovation.” “Prepare yourself for complexity.”

Every project will face complexity and difficult conversations. Speakers shared instances where they had to ‘break the rules’ and pivot from conventional methods to find better solutions.

Luke reflected on a time when a funder pulled out late in the project, but ultimately led to a better outcome. “We ended up being better off because of the new funding partner... Going back to the idea of partnerships, if you can have that grounded in a place where you can have difficult conversations about overcoming obstacles and problem solving rather than finger pointing... if you can collaborate and continue to have that positive forward motion, in my experience, the project is better off.”

"Crisis breeds innovation,” said Rowena, emphasizing that you need to be ready for pivots and new solutions.  

She also highlighted the importance of including difficult people in conversations as a critical piece for moving forward. “We made friends with the crankiest people... they told us where the ship storm was so we could get ready for it and understand the pitfalls in advance.” This prepares housing projects for their inherent complexities and fosters creative solutions.

Successful projects require patience, creativity and a willingness to collaborate with diverse stakeholders to achieve a project’s vision and create practical, long-term, resilient and excellent housing.

Want to read more themes from the workshop?

Check out our What We Heard Report, which highlights themes discussed by participants, as well as select quotes from the workshop.


Two upcoming workshops:

Online workshop: Let's Build Housing on Community Land 

July 16, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

We are offering an online workshop for government, community and non-profit landowners interested in developing housing on their land.  

The workshop will feature: 

  • Reflections on recent housing development experiences

  • Funding information from BC Housing/BC Builds and Vancity Community Foundation 

  • An opportunity to connect with other groups exploring redevelopment of their lands

    Sign up

In-person workshop: Crafting a Vision for your Land 

August 27, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. 
SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue (580 W Hastings Street, Vancouver)

This workshop will help participants:

  • Create a framework for leveraging and using their land to fulfill their organization’s mission
  • Develop strategic priorities, guiding principles and a real estate strategy integrated with their mission

This workshop is intended for participants who attended our introductory ‘Let’s Build Housing on Community Land’ workshop either in-person or online.  

Please complete the form below if you are interested in attending this workshop.

Expression of interest