When I joined SJNPH in 1995 it was at a crossroads. The government funding programs we depended on were gone….. Great programs like the Pre-86, Post 85 and CMHC Direct Lending. With these programs Saint John Non Profit Housing was able to develop affordable housing with little risk and a high level of government support. When the programs ended we basically reverted to a property management company --- and the prospects for future affordable housing developments seemed bleak. Also, prior to my arrival… SJNPH’s senior management were city employees…. but due to the funding cuts it was decide management would return to their city jobs and Saint John Non Profit Housing would have to find its own way. Many believed that SJNPH’s best days were behind us, but I’m pleased to report that my BOD’s weren’t among them.
The BOD of directors made it clear they wanted to stay on mission ---- that is ------ to continue to develop affordable housing---- despite the cancellation of the housing programs.
One of the first things I did was conduct a Strategic Review. We needed to develop a vision for the future and determine the key steps to achieve this vision. The review also indicated that if SJNPH wanted to continue to develop housing we needed to change our organization culture---- from one of dependence on government subsidy programs ----- to one that fostered independence from government programs.
We also recognized we had to change our housing development approach. In this new environment we would need to “think outside the box” to make new projects a reality. We needed to think like an entrepreneur---- be innovative ---- be focused ---- be prepared to take calculated risks ---- and most importantly ensure that each project was financially sustainable and contribute to the sustainability of future projects. Finally, we recognized we had to be conscious of the time factor. We now planned for the long term and concentrated on taking baby steps towards our future goals.
So you may be wondering how we applied our new strategy and new culture to the development of our first project. I started with a very simple recipe: Find innovative ways of reducing the project capital cost ------- while increasing project equity----- so the project was not only financially viable but would also contribute to the sustainability of future projects. It took us around 2 years before we were ready to develop our first project, I recommended starting small because I wanted to ensure success ---- since failure was not an option. A small success would give us the confidence to move forward.
Our first project was a 4 unit building located on 40-44 St. James. We reduced the capital cost by subdividing an existing lot we already owned--- eliminating the land cost ---- and significantly reduced the architect fees by using an existing project design --- constructed by Housing Alternatives a few years prior. We increased project equity by utilizing a great municipal program called the HIP or Housing Infill Program ----- we also convinced the province to give us a one time $40,000 capital grant and rent supplements for each unit. Thinking of the future we financed the project over 20 years instead of 25 years. The project was financially sustainable from the get go ------ and has generated a surplus every year since it was constructed. Although just a coincidence, another interesting point is that our formula for success---- which involved combining capital grants with rent supplement units ---- was also the formula used by the Affordable Rental Housing Program introduced by the Province a few years later.
Around the same time we were constructing 40 St. James Street ------ I crossed paths with a newly elected MLA named Trevor Holder. Trevor heard about our project and approached me with an innovative idea to further reduce the capital cost by having our next project constructed by the Saint John Community College. This would be a win-win situation for both Saint John Non Profit Housing and the Community College. The students would get “real life” on the job training and SJNPH would have the project constructed at a significantly reduced cost. Trevor arranged meetings between SJNPH and the Community College, but unfortunately we were unable to make it happen due to liability concerns. I never forgot Trevor’s innovative idea and parked it until I could find an organization I could partner with.
3 years later ---- In 2003 I became aware of the CTC and realized they might be the organization to partner with. --- The carpenters training centre is a joint union-management carpentry training program.--- I approached the CTC who agreed to partner with SJNPH on a project on the corner of Queen and Wentworth streets. At the same time the Federal and Provincial governments were negotiating a new “Affordable Rental Housing Program” which we were able to tap into.---- It was a match made in heaven Together with the CTC, and Affordable Rental Housing Program we constructed 3 four unit buildings between 2003- 2007. True to our new strategy we remained focused on reducing the capital cost and increasing equity so each project was not only financially sustainable ----- but would contribute to the viability of future projects. We continued to be innovative when developing each project. This picture is of the first project on the corner of Queen and Wentworth street. We purchased the dilapidated property for $1.00 from the owner ----- who was about to be taken to court to have the building demolished.
In 2002, at the same time we were starting our partnership with the CTC, the Board of Directors started planning for the development of a very ambitious project ---- Leinster Court This is a picture of the development site in 2003 – a parking lot
Leinster Court was not just an affordable housing project – it was much more than that --- and true to our new strategy the Board was challenged to be innovative and develop a project that would be a catalyst for future developments. We had some ambitious goals that included: proving to private developers and banks that the high Saint John vacancy rate was an anomaly…. skewed by the large number of dilapidated buildings factored into the calculation. The actual vacancy rate for new construction was very low – closer to 1% . We wanted to prove there was a market for new high end units in Saint John, believing if they were constructed it would free up units in the lower end for lower income earners. We wanted to prove that mixed income housing works ----- and should be the model of choice when developing higher density housing projects. And finally, we wanted to develop a well designed building that would be the premier apartment complex in Saint John to live.
We also didn’t deviate from our financial sustainability recipe. We were relentless in pursuing opportunities to reduce the capital cost and increase equity. Of course, the fact we were approved for funding under the affordable rental housing program was a great help ----- but remember this was a mixed income project ----- the market units did not qualify for rent supplement or capital grant funding. Managing our risk was a top priority.
The design for Leinster Court evolved between 2002 and 2008 when the building was finally constructed. This is an early concept of the project. As you can see we were certainly being innovative and “thinking outside the box” This was my favorite design but it was not pursued because we received pressure from outside the organization to design a more historic looking building.
This is the final concept for the project. The four storey apartment complex contained an underground parking garage and 52 apartment units, 26 of which were RGI.
This is a picture of Leinster Court shortly after it opened in 2009. The development of this project was not without its challenges. Although the project had broad community support, Saint John Non Profit Housing encountered significant neighbourhood opposition. Some neighbors felt the building was too big for the area, would increase the area crime rate and bring property values down. The opposition became very heated and delayed the project by a number of months. The Board of Directors, who are all volunteers, were so committed to this project ----- they saw it through to the end ----- even when at a times it would have been easier to through in the towel. It is because of this group of volunteers this project was ultimately constructed. The capital cost of the project came in at $6.27 million dollars. The market units rent for around $1,000 /month + utilities and parking. Since opening in 2009 we have never had to advertise a vacant unit, the units have rented themselves. Leinster Court has generated a surplus since it opened and contributes to the viability of future projects.
You may have noticed ---- Financial Sustainability is a core component of our strategy. During our Strategic review in 1995 we set a long term goal to reduce our dependence on government programs.---- Therefore allowing us to develop innovative affordable housing with or without government housing programs. The plan was to have our existing housing portfolio be the engine that funded our future growth. We demand that each project not only stand on its own but also contribute to the viability of future projects. Since adopting this policy every project we have developed has done just that. This is allowing us the flexibility to take larger risks and be more innovative when we develop future affordable housing.
One final thing about financial sustainability ---- If possible invest in yourself. In our case, as the unrestricted surpluses from our projects started to accumulate ----- the BOD’s need to decide how best to invest this cash. SJNPH decided to invest in ourselves. ------ Instead of investing in low interest GIC’s we decided to pay down our higher interest project mortgages on renewal. Since adopting this strategy SJNPH as paid off all the mortgages on all our four unit buildings constructed since 1995 ---- except for one with will be paid off this year. This in turn increases the surpluses these projects generate – and you guessed it – contributes to the viability of future projects.
Since the construction of Leinster Court, we have been busy constructing new projects. This six unit building ----- located in the city’s north end just opened January of this year. It was a pilot project with Kent Homes to assess the viability of using manufactured housing vs. stick built. We self financed this project further reducing its capital cost Finally, We are just about to break ground on a six unit mixed income seniors complex on City’s west side. We hope to have it open by the fall of the year.
Saint John Non Profit Housing has come a long since 1995 . ----- I believe the keys to our success are contained on this slide ---- and they don’t only apply to the development of new affordable housing ----- but are also a template on how to tackle most challenges and opportunities your organization may encounter. It could just as easily be your organizations name on the top of this slide.----- Challenge yourself to be innovative, entrepreneurial, focused on your goals ---- even when times are tough…… don’t be afraid to take calculated risks and don’t be satisfied with just breaking even ---- ensure your organizations financial sustainability over the long term. Most importantly ---- have a long term plan, don’t expect immediate results and be prepared to take baby steps towards achieving your long term goals.
NBNPHA 2014 Conference Saint John Workshop A - Learn from New Brunswick’s most successful housing providers on how they have continued to grow, stay on mission and maintain viability over time.
SAINT JOHN NON PROFIT
STAYING ON MISSION AND
Change organization culture from one of dependence on government
housing development programs to independence from housing programs.
Saint John Non Profit Housing Inc.
• Be Innovative
• Be Entrepreneurial
• Be Focused
• Take Calculated Risks
• Ensure Financial
40-44 St. James Street
1998 – 2000
20 Year Mortgage
Partnership with Carpenters
Partnership with Carpenters
Broadview AvenueMain Street
Leinster Court Goals
• Prove to private developers and banks
that despite the high vacancy rate, there
was a market for high end units in Saint
• Mixed income housing works.
• Develop an apartment complex that would
be constructed to standards other
developers would emulate.
• SJNPH started with a strategic vision in 1995
of achieving financial sustainability for the
organization as a whole.
• We demanded that each project not only
stand on its own but also contribute to the
financial viability of future projects.
• Our vision is now becoming a reality giving
SJNPH the ability to develop future projects
with much more flexibility.
Invest in Yourself
• SJNPH adopted a strategy of using its
unrestricted surplus funds to pay down its
“ Your Organization Name Here”
• Have a plan
• Be Innovative
• Be Entrepreneurial
• Be Focused
• Take calculated risks
• Ensure Financial
• Take baby steps toward
your long term goals