"Power of partnerships can end our housing crisis" Philip Mills, Habitat Waterloo Region CEO

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Philip Mills, Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region CEO

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Power of partnerships can end our housing crisis

"Being an elected official sounds terrible to me. The premise isn’t so bad. The promise to represent your community and its needs within government and leading that community to be the best version of itself sounds like interesting and deeply satisfying work. But when things don’t go your way, the accountability to that community is merciless. And with so many opinions surrounding any issue, no decision is going to make everyone happy.

With that in mind I think our local municipalities deserve a — perhaps rare — pat on the back for going beyond simply acknowledging the huge housing issue in our community and putting a number on what they will do about it.

Collectively, in response to targets set by the province, they have committed to having nearly 70,000 homes built by 2031. This is now a pass or fail, with Cambridge committing to 19,000 homes, Waterloo to more than 15,000, and Kitchener to 35,000. 
We cannot lose, in all the appropriate praise around these announcements, just how massive this commitment is: 70,000 is a lot of homes. And consider the fact that our cities don’t actually build houses.

These commitments are bigger than just a number though. These are commitments to partnership and to collective effort. These are commitments to do things differently. Why? Because turbulent times are times for something different. When the old way isn’t working, we are often forced to consider a new way.

In 2021, about 6,000 new units were built in Waterloo Region, one of the best years recorded. Prior to that, the 10-year average for new units built in the region was 4,208. Assuming the larger number of 6,000 new units per year, the numbers don’t add up to 70,000 new homes by 2031. This commitment is a lot more homes than has ever been built locally per year.

So how do we build more than we ever have and fulfil our target?
We’ve gone down this road a little at Habitat for Humanity. How to do more is a question we’ve been wrestling with for years now. As the need became more pronounced, we knew we needed to change how we did things. But how?

Well, our new Shantz Hill Towns project, in partnership with Activa, gives us some answers. Despite how it may seem to some, there are amazing developers in this region who care deeply about our community. Activa is one of them. This partnership, between a charity and business, means we will build more units faster than we ever could on our own. And doesn’t that sound like what we need to get to 70,000 homes?

The answer is that we get to 70,000 doing it together. We do it with partnerships. Unexpected partnerships with a shared goal and vision. Partnerships that allow all parties to do what they do best. Lean into our collective strengths so the result is greater than the sum of the parts.

Activa isn’t in the position to do what we do at Habitat Waterloo Region. They don’t have the staffing, history, or the experience we’ve gained over 30 years in this community to do affordable housing like we can. But Activa is an exceptional builder and, when partnered with an exceptional affordable housing provider, we are greater than the sum of our parts.

And let’s not forget the amazing support we’ve had from the City of Cambridge the entire way through. From the moment we said we are coming to Cambridge they’ve been on our side, because they see the need and want the housing in their city.

Building 70,000 homes is a commitment the cities frankly cannot achieve on their own. But partnering with not-for-profits and the private sector creates a powerful engine for social change. That is how we get to a transformative solution. That is how we end a housing crisis."

Philip Mills 
CEO, Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region 

Philip Mills, CEO

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