“Change is not born out of silence” – from jenndenouden.com

“Change is not born out of silence.

Recently, we had the opportunity to be very vocal about an issue that is at the very center of Avana’s core values. We have always been vocal about affordable housing, but our voice has moved from meeting rooms and unfruitful email chains and moved into the public forum. We have always used Avana’s voice to advocate for change, however, once we did so publicly we made the people who are able to make those changes uncomfortable. We did what is considered unconventional for private business in our province and we openly communicated our discontent with the current provincial government policies. 

In the past, we went through conventional channels. Not once did we ask for funding specifically for Avana. We advocated for systemic change, we tried to share our experience working in the business of developing affordable housing strategies, what we had learned, where the gaps existed, and even; how to fill them. Policy which would entice other developers to adopt our purpose-led model. On Thursday, March 10th, Avana was part of a good-news story. An announcement in which we highlighted a partnership with the federal government, their crown corporation the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and the City of Regina. During this event, reporters noted that the province was absent and I was asked about it. The door opened, we stepped through and we are happy we did. 

Why? Because we have a solution. One that benefits all of us. It is a solution that allows the private sector to contribute to the social progress of the community. It allows the government to see rewards while cutting costs. It provides support to those who need them most, and it does so while creating jobs, infrastructure, and economic impact in our province. 

Avana is unconventional, so it really shouldn’t surprise people that we are unafraid to leave convention behind. Rebellion against the status quo is part of our identity.

Conventional hasn’t been working, and that is what should make people uncomfortable, not the call for change and a private business using their voice to advocate for that change.

When we first walked into the Legislature as guests of the NDP on Monday, the same question was asked by nearly everyone we met: 

“Why would a successful business take such a critical stance of the government?”

Because we can and we care.

We are one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies. We have approximately $400 million in assets under management. Due to the magnitude of our operation, our relationships with our suppliers generate consistent contracts and significant economic impact in our markets. We build communities. We have accomplished all of this in spite of operating in a male-dominated industry as a female-led business, which, if you’ve read this blog, you’ll know is something I talk about from time to time.

One of the reasons we have seen success is because we understand that communities need to be inclusive. They need to be safe. They need to acknowledge the issues facing their residents. They need to provide a framework so we can work towards solutions for those issues. 

The Minister of Social Services, Lori Carr, responded to our concerns through the media on Monday and congratulated us on the funding we received through the federal government’s National Housing Strategy. She went on to say that there are so many programs who apply for funding and she is sorry Avana’s did not get selected for funding, but there is only so much money to go around. 

While I can appreciate that there is limited funding, it concerns me that they assumed we were there to ask for money. That has never been the case. The Minister went on to say that currently there are 317 vacancies in affordable units managed by the Saskatchewan Housing Authority. 

Carr says that all Ministry cases are looked at on an individual basis and support is provided when and if possible. Carr went on to say that this shows that no gaps exist and that she is proud of the work the Ministry does.

If you look on the surface and see the vacancy rate, it does give you pause for a split second. Maybe there isn’t much of a problem here. There are 317 empty units, they wouldn’t be empty if there was a need for them. If you dig just an iota deeper though, the truth is there to be seen and it is not pretty.

We work very closely with organizations that provide support, including housing, for families and individuals fleeing interpersonal violence. Neither of the two most prominent shelters for families and individuals fleeing interpersonal violence currently have any vacancies. One single unit is currently in transition and being prepared for a new family. One organization alone turned 135 people away due to lack of capacity in February. About 20% of these were turned away because they were individuals looking for housing that have not experienced interpersonal violence. That same organization has turned away 1016 individuals in the past 11 months. 

The reality is that there are barriers in place which prevent families from being able to access the 317 empty units. They are old. They are in unsafe neighbourhoods, often in the same neighbourhoods where the partner who perpetrated the violence still resides. They are not suitable for families. There are even specific and unrealistic criteria that if not met mean the person is turned away.

How can the Minister say there are no gaps?

We are a private enterprise, but we understand that without our residents, the families that call Avana suites home, we don’t have anything but empty buildings. Our vacancy rates in Regina are 2.1% and that is almost exclusively in our at-market homes. Shelters have zero vacancies. Yet the government is proud of a 15% vacancy? 

There is more to this story. So let’s explore it. Let’s fix it. Let’s talk.

This can be a win for everyone. This is a win we can all share today. Unfortunately, the win requires this government to acknowledge there’s a problem in the first place. Until there is a willingness to listen, families will be turned away from shelters and denied housing, shelters will be full and underfunded, and those 300 or so vacancies will still be there and the government will still be proud of a vacancy rate that is not a reflection of the realities our communities are facing.”

Jenn Denouden

President & CEO

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