At the heart of every decision they make comes a simple, yet universal question rooted in compassion and empathy: what can I do to make mom or dad’s golden years the best they can possibly be?
On the surface, the Kiwanis North Shore Housing Society is an affordable rental housing provider: volunteers and paid staff comb the North Shore to find accommodations for seniors, they run and maintain the buildings and look after any issues that arise in a residential portfolio.
But at the society’s core is a commitment to dignity, ensuring no senior gets left behind in a white-hot housing market that’s seemingly shrinking by the day.
“You meet these people and the first thing you think about is your parents,” explains Kiwanis board member Francis Caouette. “My parents have passed away some time ago, but I would meet these people and I would say, ‘There is my mom sitting there, doing a puzzle, reading a book or sitting with her friends.’ It comes home and becomes personal very quickly. I think that’s one of things that’s really part of the appeal in terms of the work we do - it is very personal.”
Kiwanis has been operating in North and West Vancouver for 70 years and represents an amalgam of housing operations across the North Shore. The society embodies a long-term effort to provide non-profit and subsidized housing principally to local seniors: the age requirement is 60 years and older for most of the society’s buildings and 65-plus for Lynn Woods and Lynn Manor.
Over time, Kiwanis has been able to slowly acquire properties, operate them and develop a small surplus, which is retained and re-invested in upgrades, new builds or whatever else the society can accomplish.
Those accomplishments have been simultaneously vast and life-changing.
In the past decade, the society has added three new buildings to its portfolio and now operates a total of 744 rental apartments across the North Shore. Once the society’s newest property, Lynn Woods, is completed in the summer of 2022, that number will grow to north of 900.
Simply put, that’s 900 examples of long-term tenure, piece of mind and most critically, a place to call home.
“One of the most important things we provide is security,” Caouette says. “This type of housing provides these people with long-term security for their home – that’s fundamental to being able to live a successful life.”
On the North Shore, like everywhere across Metro Vancouver, land is the key - specifically getting access to land and at a decent price.
Most of the society’s buildings operate under housing agreements with municipalities; clauses are included to specify for accommodations for those aged 60 and up who fall within certain income and asset levels. Kiwanis also partners with BC Housing and Vancouver Coastal Health to assist in the leasing of properties.
“We work very hard to maintain the properties well,” says Caouette, who chairs the society’s building committee. “That sense of commitment that Kiwanis delivers, that reverberates throughout the building: people see it, they understand it, they respect it and I think that goes a long way towards supporting that sense of dignity.”
And while the term “affordable housing” may carry certain connotations, Caouette maintains that the society’s buildings speak for themselves.
“If they are harbouring apprehension as a result of the myth of what non-profit or social housing looks like, they come and see our product and that myth is dispelled immediately,” he says. “They see that our properties are clean, modern and well taken care of.”
A former North Shore municipal staffer who’s now retired, Caouette joined Kiwanis three years ago; doing so was a way to give back to the community and married his former professional life with his post-work commitment to paying it forward.
He is not alone in possessing that philanthropic flair.
“That sense of helping someone is reflective in the approach that all board members take,” Caouette says. “Our board is made up of all professions — architects, lawyers, engineers — and they all give of their expertise very generously. It’s with that common feeling that we’re really supporting a demographic that is in need. To a person on the board, we all feel that the demand is so great that we absolutely have to continue on with the work we are doing.”
For more information, visit kiwanisnorthshorehousing.org.