“Vancity addresses community needs more creatively than traditional financial institutions.”
“Vancity addresses community needs more creatively than traditional financial institutions.”
“Being firmly rooted in local communities delivers strong results.”
Chris Friesen, director of settlement services at ISS of BC, led his organization’s efforts to build the refugee welcome centre.
Catherine Ludgate, Vancity manager of community investment, helped pioneer the idea of wrap-around refugee services.
Elaine Kennedy, senior branch manager at Commercial Drive Community Branch, oversees Vancity’s kiosk at the centre.
Canada welcomed 40,081 refugees between November 4, 2015 and January 29, 2017 and there will likely be similar numbers arriving in future years. Affordable long-term housing, employment and lack of experience with Canada’s financial system are among the key challenges they face. But communities across the country have been mobilizing to provide newcomers with the support they need.
In Vancouver, the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISS of BC) opened a new facility in June 2016 to welcome refugees and new immigrants to Canada. As a fully integrated service hub addressing the immediate needs of immigrants and refugees, the building at 2610 Victoria Drive is the first purpose-built facility of its kind in the world.
The ISS of BC Welcome Centre has accommodation for government-assisted refugees, who typically stay for about three weeks as they begin the process of building new lives in Canada. Services on site include a medical centre, a daycare, language classes, mental health support and legal advice.
Vancity’s support for the project goes back to its inception, with a $1 million grant for the centre and an additional $200,000 pre-development loan. The idea for wrap-around refugee support was developed by the ISS of BC’s director of settlement services Chris Friesen and Catherine Ludgate, Vancity manager of community investment.
“There are many shared values between refugee-serving agencies like us and the credit union movement,” says Chris. “It’s really an opportunity to improve the outcomes for refugees as they seek to navigate the complexities of a new country and a new community.”
With the completion of the 58,000 square-foot building, government-assisted refugees can open their first Canadian bank accounts at a Vancity kiosk on site. When their first support cheque arrives, they can cash it at the Vancity ATM on the outside of the building and go from that appointment to pay the rent for their first home in Canada. The kiosk is a satellite office of Vancity’s Commercial Drive Community Branch and is overseen by Elaine Kennedy, senior branch manager.
“The key benefit of the Welcome Centre is that refugees don’t have to move all around the city, sometimes with young children, to access the services they need,” Elaine says. “At the welcome centre, everything is in one place.”
“There’s a huge value to our communities in making sure that new arrivals to Canada get a good start,” Elaine adds. “A big part of that is understanding how our banking system works and that’s why we’ve combined our physical presence with the offer of impartial financial literacy training for new arrivals.”
The comprehensive service model pioneered at the welcome centre has gained international attention. Chris has hosted delegations from countries around the world looking to learn from ISS of BC’s example. He is encouraging refugee agencies in other locations to reach out to their local credit unions and build similar partnerships that enhance financial service support for refugees.
“Many of the refugees that we receive have been living in camps for many years and have not had access to financial services,” he says. “Being able to work with a financial institution in the same place that they receive a whole range of other services should be considered international best practice. We believe it helps refugees integrate much more effectively into the community and that’s a good thing for all of us.”Close
We measure progress on three connected outcomes – impact, confidence and integritysee the 2016 results here
Darren Kitchen of the Cooperative Housing Federation of British Columbia, project managed the development of 358 affordable homes.
Christine Bergeron, vice president of impact investing, wealth management and community real estate worked on Vancity’s investment.
Garth Davies, managing director of New Market Funds, generated investment from foundations and charitable organizations across Canada.
Vancouver’s rental housing market has a huge hole in it. At the lower end, there is some government-supported housing provision for the very poorest and those in desperate need of shelter. At the top, there are market-level developers. But what about the growing number of households that are not served by either? There’s no shortage of high-end units for investors in Vancouver, but where are the affordable rental homes with two, three or four bedrooms for families who actually want to live in them?
It’s no secret that providing affordable housing in Vancouver for people on low and moderate incomes is a huge challenge. But a group of forward-thinking organizations has come up with an innovative solution in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
Darren Kitchen of the Cooperative Housing Federation of British Columbia (CHFBC) is the project manager behind a plan, supported in part by Vancity, to build 358 affordable homes aimed at households with incomes between about $22,000 and $86,000 per year. Construction began in 2016.
“The City of Vancouver promised to lease six separate pieces of land for free and asked for expressions of interest to build affordable housing on them,” Darren says. “We put together a bid on four of the sites in partnership with a wide range of organizations to build apartments and townhouses, which will be rented at below market rates.”
The project plan takes the money generated from higher rents in the most attractive homes – those with waterfront views of the Fraser River in South Vancouver – to subsidize rents at the other sites. In addition, one of the sites will generate money from the sale of retail space at the base of the development.
“What’s innovative about all this is the portfolio approach we’re using with the four sites,” Darren says. “The beauty of this model is that we can make full use of the money we’re generating from the Fraser River site and the retail space on Kingsway to provide a wide spectrum of affordable housing options. If we did them all as one-offs, that money would be stuck on the site where it was generated. It gives us a whole lot of flexibility to manage the resources more effectively.”
“Building affordable homes in Vancouver is not easy these days,” Darren adds. “This plan gets it done because the City leased the land for free, because CHFBC’s not-for-profit housing partners and its Community Housing Land Trust Foundation contributed equity, and because New Market Funds also put money into the deal.”
New Market Funds is a specialized fund manager that connects community needs with investment capital and has invested $11 million of the project’s $120 million price tag. Garth Davis is its managing director.
“We always start with the community need and with this project it was of course that there’s a desperate need for affordable housing in Vancouver,” says Garth. “To put the problem in perspective, Metro Vancouver forecasts a need for 2,400 rental units per year. The $120-million project that we’re part of only gets you 358 so there’s tons of potential for us to do this type of work in the future. We’ve really only scratched the surface.”
New Market Funds raised money for their investment fund from foundations and charitable organizations across Canada. Given the persistently tight margins in Vancity’s conventional business of taking deposits and providing loans and mortgages, the credit union saw this fund as a great opportunity to generate alternative sources of revenue and contributed $2 million. Christine Bergeron, vice-president of impact investing, wealth management and community real estate worked on Vancity’s investment.
“We’ve been looking for opportunities to diversify our business, but always in ways that align with our vision and our values,” she says. “The investment in New Market Funds will give us a decent rate of return and, at the same time, allow us to generate a lasting impact in the community.”
amount transferred to new system in deposits and loans
third highest-selling year on record for Metro Vancouver housing market
of Metro Vancouver millennials live with their parents
Rachel Tuttle, Vancity program manager for financial literacy, travelled across Canada to train new Each One, Teach One coaches.
Kate Martin, a policy analyst at the Canadian Credit Union Association, evaluated more than 70 financial literacy programs to find one that could be delivered nationwide.
Cara Bahr, community engagement manager at Affinity Credit Union, led her organization’s involvement with Each One, Teach One.
Cara Bahr is a fully trained accountant and a highly educated professional. But at no point as part of her formal education did anybody ever tell her what a credit score was, nobody explained the difference between a checking and a savings account and nobody described to her how to manage a credit card.
It’s a strange fact that although money and finance play a huge part in everybody’s lives – arguably more than ever before – basic financial literacy education is all but missing from Canada’s education system.
“There’s been some movement to change this, but I think it will take a while,” says Cara. “This is perhaps something we can offer in the interim as well as an option for the many people who would not otherwise be in formal education.”
She is referring to Each One, Teach One, a comprehensive financial literacy program developed by Vancity that is now being offered free across Canada through the credit union system. As the community engagement manager at Affinity Credit Union in Saskatchewan, Cara was among the first credit union employees outside of British Columbia to be trained to deliver the financial literacy workshops and to train others in turn.
“In the past, we used a couple of different educational platforms, but it was a piecemeal of resources rather than a complete offering,” says Cara. “What we love about Each One, Teach One is that it’s presented in a really compelling and compassionate way and it’s very simple. It allows us to better connect with the groups we present to in the community.”
The impetus for expanding Each One, Teach One outside of a BC offering delivered by Vancity employees came in part from the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA), a member organization for credit unions across Canada, which was looking for an existing financial literacy program that could be adopted nationwide.
“We were mandated to look for a program that would meet a range of needs for the credit union system,” says the CCUA’s policy analyst Kate Martin. “We evaluated around 70 different programs and Each One, Teach One met all of our criteria and kept rising to the top. It just checked all the boxes for us.”
The program offers a wide range of learning through 14 modules. Topics include basic banking and basic budgeting, credit cards and prepaid cards, identity theft and fraud prevention, RRSPs & TFSAs, and basic taxation and filing.
“The key thing is that it meets people where they are in terms of their finances,” Kate adds. “Many of the workshops are designed for specific life stages so people can select classes that are directly relevant to them.”
Once Each One, Teach One had been selected as CCUA’s preferred program, Rachel Tuttle, Vancity financial literacy program manager, and Catherine Ludgate, Vancity manager of community investment, travelled across Canada to train cohorts of representatives from other credit unions. In the course of just six weeks in the fall of 2016, more than 100 people from 60 credit unions and regional centrals trained as coaches, which means they can themselves train their colleagues to deliver financial literacy classes under the program.
“It’s been pretty amazing going into communities which, even though they may have had some form of financial literacy programming in the past, are hungry for something more comprehensive,” Rachel says. “Each One, Teach One gives them something that is much more robust, is easy to understand, is unbranded and emphasizes providing neutral, unbiased information without any commercial agenda.”
Rachel points out the co-operative way in which Each One, Teach One was rolled out and the program itself fits well with the seven co-operative principles, the last of which is concern for the community. In keeping with that spirit, credit unions across the country are now offering financial literacy in their communities and Affinity Credit Union has already worked with seniors, high school students, new Canadians and women’s groups.
“We believe that everybody has the right to the information they need to make good financial decisions,” says Cara. “There’s so much power in knowledge. Helping people understand things that can be complex or intimidating really positions them to be more fully engaged in society. It allows them to make better life choices, which in turn affects health and well-being. We’re so incredibly grateful to Vancity – this is such an amazing gift that they’ve given the system.”Close