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Financing Affordable Housing: Propolis Cooperative Housing Society

By Affordable Housing

Propolis is a non-profit co-operative based in Kamloops, B.C. that is creating a community of environmentally conscious individuals, brought together by a shared vision of affordable and sustainable housing.

We had the pleasure of meeting Lindsay Harris, the co-founder and president of the Propolis Cooperative Housing Society, and learning more about their ambitions for the co-ops’ first project. Lindsay, who works with Kamloops Food Policy Council, has long had a focus on community economic development. “I have always taken a systems approach to food insecurity, and for me, that also encompasses housing,” she shares. 

Propolis has partnered with local Kamloops resident, Miles Pruden, who owns a sustainable real estate development company, to bring the project to life. Miles’ company, Nexbuild Construction, built what has been dubbed as Kamloops’ most sustainable multi-family home (which can be viewed below). With Miles’ expertise, the co-op hopes to construct housing that is not only better for the environment but also reduces ongoing energy and maintenance expenses for tenants. 

Lindsay got in touch with Tapestry Community Capital because she sees Community Bonds as a flexible tool that could work in tandem with financing that they are hoping to secure from the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC). Over the last year, Lindsay has conducted her own research on the community financing landscape in British Columbia, making use of a BC-based toolkit for starting a community investment cooperative. “I wear a lot of hats and have many projects on the go, and I decided I ultimately didn’t have the capacity to also start up a community investment co-operative, and that’s why I was so excited to learn that Tapestry already has the needed infrastructure in place to raise community investment.”

“One of the things that has become very evident from our conversations with our network and with the community is that there are a number of people that are very interested in substantively supporting this work but we need a platform for them to be able to invest,” Lindsay shares. Lindsay came prepared with a list of questions about Community Bonds, all of which are very familiar to the Tapestry Team. 

 

Are we better to have a smaller group of high-net-worth investors, or a wider group of community members contributing smaller investments?

This is a common question, and the simple answer is – it depends. Community bonds offer an incredible pathway to engage your community and create lasting relationships. On the flip side, we understand that organizations need capital to bring their projects to life. “We think there can be a happy medium and that’s why we often design a Community Bond campaign with multiple investment options,” shares Ryan Collins-Swartz, Tapestry’s Co-Executive Director.  “For example, there may be one bond that offers a lower entry point and perhaps a shorter duration, and this would allow for more widespread engagement, and then another that might have a higher entry point, longer duration and slightly higher interest rate that is better suited to higher net worth individuals.”

 

Is it possible for institutions to invest in Community Bonds, such as foundations?

“Definitely!” shares Ryan. “We see huge interest from foundations because many have earmarked specific funds for impact investment, and they are always on the lookout for investable projects with social and environmental impact. We have also seen companies, both big and small, being very interested in investing.”

 

How are interest rates set?

This is a key step in the Tapestry process. We want to make sure that Community Bond issuers are going to the market with an investment opportunity that fits their financial needs, but also an offering that is exciting and attractive to their community. “It’s a multi-step process, but financial modelling of an organization’s financial capacity and projects, along with community consultations, is really key,” shares Ryan. 

 

Can community bonds offer patient capital?

“The beautiful thing about Community Bonds is that they put the control in the hands of the issuer. If you wanted to issue a bond with a 15-year term, we could certainly explore your community’s appetite to make a longer-term investment,” says Ryan. 

 

Lindsay shared that prior to meeting Tapestry they had a perception that raising community investment was a complex process, and they had felt fearful to take it on alone. “Kamloops is an incredibly community-minded place, and I have no doubt that there would be widespread support and involvement in a campaign like this.”

The Co-op is currently looking at properties for their first project and are advocating to the City of Kamloops to sell a piece of city-owned property. Lindsay shares that this has been a slow process, but that moving on private properties comes with its own set of challenges. “We are definitely facing hurdles in terms of being able to move quickly on a property – we are hoping Community Bonds can be part of the solution.”

Financing Affordable Housing: Mainstay Housing

By Affordable Housing

In the Spring of 2021, Mainstay Housing and Houselink Community Homes merged to form Houselink & Mainstay. Together this new organization is the largest supportive housing and non-profit housing provider in Canada. They have a portfolio of about 60 buildings across the City of Toronto, and manage another 300 units through partnerships with private landlords. They also provide support services, beyond housing, to more than 900 individuals.

“This merger really made sense for a number of reasons,” explains Gautam Mukherjee, Houselink & Mainstay Executive Director, “for one, it meant that we could leverage a larger balance sheet to fund new developments.” The organization’s strategic plan has a strong focus on accessibility and scale with the development of purpose built, mixed-income housing. 

“About half our portfolio are rooming houses, with people sharing bathrooms and kitchens, and we know that for some populations of people receiving our support services, it’s just not the right housing setting,” says Gautam. Part of the organization’s strategy is to raise capital through the sale of these rooming houses, in order to fund new builds that better fit their clients needs.

“We are actively in the land market, and had an offer signed back recently – I think this could be a great demonstration project for community investment,” says Gautam. He explains that underwriting has become very challenging in recent months, with interest rates and building costs up. “What originally looked like $6.5 million needed in owner equity could now be upwards of $20 million and we will have a gap to fill,” he explains. 

The organization recently incorporated a non-profit subsidiary to take on the development on behalf of Houselink & Mainstay. This subsidiary has a clear mandate for the development of mixed income housing. The parent organization will then deploy rent supplements to ensure that a percentage of the units are supportive, and provide support services to tenants. 

The conversation shifts away from Houselink & Mainstay for a moment as Gautam gives the Tapestry team a quick 101 on the affordable housing policy framework in Ontario. He explains that the model has shifted over the years away from supportive housing grant funding to the provision of rent supplements. In the case of the Ontario Ministry of Health, they are providing rent subsidies directly to community agencies, who then decide how to use them. “In some cases an agency will lease one unit, or a few units, and in others they might lease an entire building.” 

“Essentially, we are a conduit for providing equity, in the form of rent subsidies,” explains Gautam, “and most of these subsidies end up in the hands of private landlords – so we are really just transferring equity to them.”

When Houselink & Mainstay sell their rooming houses their operating funding will convert to rent supplements, which they will be allowed to transfer to other properties.  “These rent subsidies cover 100% of average market rent (AMR) and we intend to redeploy them into our own newly built units.” 

Gautam is of the opinion that things can only get better from here. “We haven’t seen indications of increasing grant amounts to offset rate increases, or make stress tests easier. And there is no provincial participation, so that can only improve.” Gautam believes we may also see the City of Toronto wave development charges for non-profit projects where a certain proportion of units are affordable. 

“I think the land economics are the same for everybody – private or non-profit,” says Gautam, “and if we want to compete, we need to get into the land market and be willing to take some risks.” He’s of the view that if these projects, in the worst case, can work as market developments, then non-profits should be initiating projects. “We need to give the government projects to invest into because they’re not coming to the table proactively.” 

Gautam sees the benefits of allowing community members to invest in these projects too. “Getting community buy-in for what we are doing is very appealing, and there’s obviously the need to bring in new capital.” Gautam also shares that their Board has been considering different ways to grow the community profile of the organization.

“When we do talk publicly about what we are doing, we are getting traction. But historically, we haven’t used that momentum for fundraising, and we don’t have a way to do what you are doing,” says Gautam with a smile, “of course, that’s why you are doing it!” 

“I’ve long been supportive of community funding for housing development  – I think it’s brilliant!” Gautam wraps up, “we just need to know what to do and where to go.” 

About this Blog Series

In October 2021, Tapestry was selected to take part in a Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) program called the Housing Supply Challenge. This innovative competition encourages residents, interested parties, and experts from across the country to propose creative solutions to housing. The goal: to help meet Canada’s pressing need for safe and affordable homes by breaking down barriers to the creation of new supply.

Tapestry participated in Round 2 of the program, Getting Started, which seeks to find solutions to pre-development challenges, such as community resistance and obtaining financing. The program granted incubation funding to the 29 organizations selected to allow them to further develop and test their solution proposals.

Through six months of research and consultation, we had the opportunity to speak with over 40 interested parties in the affordable housing sector, from housing providers, to development consultants, to funders and lenders. Each and every individual and organization consulted helped to co-design our solution proposal.

The “Financing Affordable Housing with the Power of Community” blog series shares the lessons learnt and stories heard from some of the amazing organizations that we have partnered with.

Tapestry receives CMHC support to mobilize investment in affordable housing

By Affordable Housing, News

Tapestry Community Capital has been selected as a winner of the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC) Housing Supply Challenge to scale up community investment in the affordable housing sector. 

“We are incredibly excited to have the support of CMHC,” says Ryan Collins-Swartz, Co-Executive Director of Tapestry. “With this funding, we will help affordable housing providers to tap into a new source of capital, enable more projects to get off the ground, and increase the supply of affordable housing in Canada.”  

Community bonds are a social finance tool used by nonprofits, charities and co-ops to finance capital projects with impact. Similar to traditional bonds, they are interest bearing loans. The key difference – they provide investors with both a financial and social return. 

While unlocking private capital, community bonds also build a powerful sense of community ownership. Residents, local businesses, and institutions alike can all invest to improve their community, while earning a fair return. Organizations such as Brique par Brique in Montreal, QC and The Mount in Peterborough, ON have successfully utilized community bonds to finance the construction of affordable housing. 

“We have witnessed the power of community bonds to garner community support for projects,” says Mary Warner, Co-Executive Director at Tapestry. “When someone becomes an investor, they are not only becoming financially invested but also emotionally invested in the outcome of the project. For a sector that is often afflicted by NIMBYism, this support is critical.” 

Tapestry is working with multiple partners to support program implementation. Key to the solution are twelve demonstration projects that will utilize and showcase the community bond model. Cumulatively, these projects will leverage $40 million in community investment, financing over 2000 affordable housing units. 

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Tapestry to build a long term, sustainable, and value aligned funding source for our organizations to acquire and preserve affordable housing,” says Chiyi Tam, Executive Director of the Kensington Market Community Land Trust. “We are eager to forge a path forward, demonstrate the community bond model, and support other like minded organizations to follow in our footsteps.” 

The solution also focuses on increasing the participation of retail and institutional investors in affordable housing. By raising awareness among investors and streamlining the process to invest in community bonds, Tapestry will grow the community investment marketplace tenfold. 

“We know there is very strong interest among investors to support affordable housing projects and Tapestry is creating the pathway to make that a reality across communities” says Mritunjay (MJ) Sinha, Tapestry Board Member and responsible and impact investment advisor. 

The program will launch in October 2022 and run until March 2024. For more information about the upcoming events and support for community financing, sign up to The Thread newsletter here.


Photo credit: Cathy Crowe

About Tapestry Community Capital

Tapestry Community Capital is Canada’s leading non-profit service provider for community bonds. For the last decade, Tapestry has been supporting social purpose organizations across Canada to assess, structure, market, and manage community investments. Tapestry raised over  $90 million from over 4,000 community investors

For media inquiries, please contact Stephanie Pinnington at Stephanie@tapestrycapital.ca.

About the Housing Supply Challenge 

The Housing Supply Challenge is an innovative competition that encourages interested parties from across the country to propose creative solutions to Canada’s housing crisis. The goal: to help meet Canada’s pressing need for safe and affordable homes by breaking down barriers to the creation of new supply.

Tapestry participated in Round 2 of the program, Getting Started, which seeks to find solutions to pre-development challenges, such as community resistance and obtaining financing. The program granted incubation funding to 29 organizations to allow them to further develop and test their solution proposal. After six months of research and consultation, Tapestry submitted a final solution funding proposal – “Financing Affordable Housing with the Power of Community”. Tapestry is one of 14 organizations selected for funding and will share a pool of $38 million to implement their solutions. 

Financing Affordable Housing: Community Involvement Legacy Homes

By Affordable Housing

Michael Stanley, Executive Director of Community Involvement Legacy Homes, was sitting in his MBA Finance class at Cape Breton University when he first learned about Community Bonds. “I thought to myself, wow, this is amazing and why am I only learning about it now?!’’ Michael tells us enthusiastically as we meet them for the first time over a Zoom call. 

Community Involvement Legacy Homes (CILH) was founded in 2007 and currently owns and operates nine single-family homes for adults with intellectual disabilities. Michael shares that they have been quietly operating in the community for many years but they are looking to rise to the occasion, and be an active partner in expanding affordable living options for all people, but in particular community members with intellectual disabilities. “We want a deeper tie and to share our history with the community. We are envisioning a community imagined, community-driven, and community-owned initiative for people to live well in our neighbourhood,” he shared.

CILH has a new project in the works to build and operate an affordable co-housing development in the Leeds and Grenville region. The project will be a three-way partnership with a nearby township that will provide the parcel of land, and a developer of prefabricated cabins.

“We need to think about the price of the unit, the rent for the tenants, but also about the carrying costs to the tenant and to us as the property manager,” says Michael. “These cabins are amazing because they are extremely energy efficient, low maintenance and even come equipped with rooftop solar installations.” The organization has also been in conversations with a local renewable energy co-operative to expand the solar energy production possible on the site.  

Financially, the organization is in a very stable position. With all nine properties nearing the end of their mortgage terms, there is sizable equity that can be leveraged for future projects. Despite having carried debt on multiple properties for many years, Michael shares that the Board of Directors still has trepidations about taking on the risk and opportunity of such an investment. “I think it all comes down to this being very new, and it seems sort of out of left field when compared to our current model.” 

“There are some areas where we would definitely need help,” shares Michael, “I think particularly on the marketing and community outreach piece, we would need more support.” Michael is the only paid employee of the organization and only works part-time.

We concluded our call on a high note. Michael shared his excitement for doing something new and innovative, and for the potential to introduce the concept of community financing to the Leeds Grenville region. “I think we have the perfect storm here,” says Michael with a smile, “Coming out of COVID, I think we all have a new and deeper appreciation for community. I love the community bond model because it allows us to take direct action rather than wait for the big powers that be to decide if our community deserves funding.”

About this Blog Series

In October 2021, Tapestry was selected to take part in a Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) program called the Housing Supply Challenge. This innovative competition encourages residents, interested parties, and experts from across the country to propose creative solutions to housing. The goal: to help meet Canada’s pressing need for safe and affordable homes by breaking down barriers to the creation of new supply.

Tapestry participated in Round 2 of the program, Getting Started, which seeks to find solutions to pre-development challenges, such as community resistance and obtaining financing. The program granted incubation funding to the 29 organizations selected to allow them to further develop and test their solution proposals. 

Through six months of research and consultation, we had the opportunity to speak with over 40 interested parties in the affordable housing sector, from housing providers, to development consultants, to funders and lenders. Each and every individual and organization consulted helped to co-design our solution proposal. 

The “Financing Affordable Housing with the Power of Community” blog series shares the lessons learnt and stories heard from some of the amazing organizations that we have partnered with.

Financing Affordable Housing: Kensington Market Community Land Trust 

By Affordable Housing

In October 2021, Tapestry was selected to take part in a Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) program called the Housing Supply Challenge. This innovative competition encourages residents, interested parties, and experts from across the country to propose creative solutions to housing. The goal: to help meet Canada’s pressing need for safe and affordable homes by breaking down barriers to the creation of new supply.

Tapestry participated in Round 2 of the program, Getting Started, which seeks to find solutions to pre-development challenges, such as community resistance and obtaining financing. The program granted incubation funding to the 29 organizations selected to allow them to further develop and test their solution proposals. 

Through six months of research and consultation, we had the opportunity to speak with over 40 interested parties in the affordable housing sector, from housing providers, to development consultants, to funders and lenders. Each and every individual and organization consulted helped to co-design our solution proposal. 

In this blog series, “Financing Affordable Housing with the Power of Community”, we will be sharing the lessons learnt and stories heard from some of the amazing organizations that we have partnered with, including Kensington Market Community Land Trust, featured in this article.

Kensington Market is under tremendous economic and development pressure.

Renters are being pushed out of their homes, food sellers are losing their stores and diversity and affordability – the very soul of the Market – are under threat. The Kensington Market Community Land Trust (KMCLT) is a grassroots organization actively addressing this crisis. The land trust acquires and provides management of land, in perpetuity, removing properties from the pressures of the commercial real estate market.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Chiyi Tam, the Executive Director of KMCLT, to learn more about the land trust’s goals and plans for acquiring properties. We got right into it when Chiyi began telling us the story of how KMCLT came to own their first property last year – with only a $75 balance in their bank account at the time and a $6.25 million ticket price on the building. 

“It was truly amazing,” Chiyi shared, “as the story often does, it began with community organizing.” In 2018, tenants living in 54-56 Kensington, a 12-unit residential building, were unfairly threatened with illegal eviction. “It was very clear that the landlord’s intention was to convert the units into short-term rentals, and the only way to prevent this was to keep those tenants in place.” 

The community activated quickly, and with the support of individual neighbours, the Friends of Kensington Market and Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services, all tenants resisted the eviction attempt and remained in their units.

Two years later, the building came up for sale. With leadership from City Councilor Mike Layton, The City of Toronto stepped in with a $3 million forgivable loan, recognizing that if this building was purchased privately it would mean losing affordable housing units; and a down payment was made possible through a neighbour in the market that personally put up $300,000. 

To complete the financing puzzle, KMCLT worked with a number of financial institutions, including Vancity Community Investment Bank, which Chiyi says played a critical role in mentoring them through the process, and Alterna, who came through with the mortgage. They also received a very last-minute 0% vendor take-back (VTB) mortgage for $250,000 to cover the remaining capital costs. “I was concerned about repaying the VTB through fundraising, but within a week of the news getting out, we had collected $12,000 in donations,” shared Chiyi. 

With their first project under their belt, Chiyi shares that they are ready to take on a second project. “Neighbours and community members have been mapping property ownership and building types in our area, helping us identify acquisition targets and buildings at risk of private redevelopment. That’s our shopping list.” Chiyi shares with a smile. 

Chiyi believes Community Bonds could be an important piece of their financing for acquiring new properties, or potentially developing a new mixed-use, mixed-income build in the pipeline. It is clear that what KMCLT is doing is resonating and there is widespread community support, not just in Kensington Market among residents and businesses, but across the entire city. “Everyone benefits from this amazing place and wants to maintain its eclectic, inclusive soul.”

Chiyi shared that there was much discussion among their Board about the direction of their future financing. “They understood the different risks and costs associated with pursuing a traditional charitable approach and taking on investment. I think this comes down to our overall financial literacy as an organization, and our core values about how we are held accountable by our members, donors, and investors.”

A key takeaway from our conversation is the power of connecting with like-minded organizations to learn through their experiences. Chiyi highlighted that the mentorship they received from the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust in acquiring their first property was invaluable. “It was like group therapy for the anxiety of going through a commercial acquisition project,” says Chiyi with a sigh of relief that that chapter has closed. “I don’t think we could have done it without that direct transfer of knowledge and support.”

Chiyi hopes to be able to work with Tapestry and pilot the Community Bond model for other land trusts to be able to replicate in the future.

 

 

*Please note the ’Financing affordable housing with the power of community’ project received Incubation Funding under the Housing Supply Challenge – Getting Started Round, however, the views expressed are the personal views of the author and CMHC accepts no responsibility for them.

**Photos provided courtesy of Kensington Market Community Land Trust www.kmclt.ca

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