Dedicated leader awarded SFU Urban Studies Alumni Award for Community Engagement

February 05, 2020

After years of working with community-building organizations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Audrey Guay had a lot of questions about why the city wasn’t working for her neighbours.

To find answers, she enrolled in SFU’s Graduate Urban Studies Program in January 2018. She wanted to learn how she might address some of the critical urban issues she repeatedly encountered.

Since joining the program, Guay says she has learned to broaden how she approaches community-building. She now incorporates much more community engagement. For example, she has planned public education and engagement events that encouraged local community members to suggest novel, affordable housing solutions, such as community land trusts and church-led housing redevelopment projects.

Guay’s community engagement projects, coupled with her outstanding research skills, have earned her the 2019 SFU Urban Studies Alumni Award for Community Engagement.

Urban Studies professor Karen Ferguson nominated Guay for the award. She describes Guay as a “determined, diligent and self-directed student.” She attributes these qualities to Guay’s “raison d’être, which is to pursue urban justice.”

Guay has done some of her housing work at the Metro Vancouver Alliance (MVA). It is a relatively new, broad-based organization that encourages community groups, labour unions and faith and educational institutions to work toward shared goals.

During her time at the MVA, Guay successfully obtained a MITACS Accelerate grant in partnership with the Real Estate Foundation and also won a 2019 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Canada Graduate Scholarship for students in a master’s program. She used this funding to establish a team of MVA leaders who could discuss housing issues with their membership.

“I learned that the community wants much more than affordable units to live in,” she says. “They want to be involved in changing the way housing works in the city.”

For her MUrb thesis project, Guay is using some of this information to explore how democratic claims often overlap claims for housing affordability.

“I think, often, engagement work gets skipped over because it’s seen as slow, inefficient, or superfluous to expertise,” she says.

Yet she has found that the most successful housing plans involve the people who will be impacted by them.

“It’s been a challenging but rewarding discipline for me to learn to slow down, involve others, share power, and listen well,” she says. “The Alumni Award for Community Engagement encourages me to keep going along this path, and to keep learning to grow as a leader who involves people. I’m really grateful for that encouragement.”