Solidifying the foundations of community causes

Mitacs-Accelerate intern partners with Vancity Credit Union to develop tool kit for not-for-profit real estate purchases

As property values in surrounding neighbourhoods have increased, not-for-profit organizations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which provide services to some of Canada’s most vulnerable people, have felt tremendous pressure to secure spaces where they are needed most. For Watari, an organization which provides counseling and support to at-risk citizens of Vancouver, this meant exploring the idea of purchasing a single-resident occupancy (SRO) hotel to be its new permanent home.

But for not-for-profit organizations which rely on government support, donations and volunteer resources to operate, the purchase of real estate is a complicated task.  When University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) Masters student Thomas Bevan partnered with Vancity Credit Union through Mitacs-Accelerate, the need to develop a “Social Purpose Real Estate toolkit” to assist organizations like Watari became apparent.

Social Purpose Real Estate refers to the ownership and operation of land or building properties by not-for-profit organizations with a mission for community benefit. For Vancity, this definition also extends to the “preservation of real estate holdings in targeted communities or communities under development pressure.”

With the idea for a project in place, Watari was approached by Catherine Ludgate of Vancity Credit Union to develop and enact the plan which would turn their current lease into stable mortgage payments for a new home in the Downtown Eastside.

Thomas began by consulting with Watari to develop a business plan for the mortgage, taking notes and critically examining the process as a test case for the “toolkit” being developed with Vancity.  Not-for-profit organizations with similar aspirations to Watari could then use the toolkit to learn and apply the lessons to their own real estate experience.

The toolkit, as it eventually came to be, comprises 15 steps which help community initiatives to determine whether or not the purchase of real estate is viable for them, then helping them to move through the process of obtaining a mortgage.

As a complement to the Mitacs-Accelerate project, Thomas also developed a video with students from Vancouver Film School, which helps to explain Social Purpose Real Estate and promotes the toolkit to not-for-profits who may be interested in securing their foundations more permanently. Overall, the partnership between Watari, Vancity, Thomas and Mitacs-Accelerate proved to be a tremendous learning experience for all involved.

 Professor Thomas Hutton, who assisted and supervised Thomas in his development of the plan, praised Mitacs-Accelerate and this project for its contributions to the greater social fabric of Vancouver:

“I have found that Mitacs-Accelerate is of tremendous value to the faculty and more particularly the graduate students here at UBC SCARP. Apart from the very useful funding which provides the students the resources required for their internships, the collaborations between the School, students, Mitacs and industry agencies and firms is just what is needed to make better use of all the intellectual, institutional and experiential assets we can collectively bring to bear on complex problems such as the one faced by Watari and Vancity.  There is a very enriching connectivity between high-concept scholarship, public policy, and real-world application through Mitacs that in my view has no equal anywhere in Canada.”

Catherine Ludgate, Manager of Community Investment, spoke on behalf of Vancity saying, “Mitacs-Accelerate provides a great opportunity to workshop or test a particular business idea or challenge, with a focused effort and scope for the work. In this case, the tool kit will be beneficial to Vancity to assist our not-for-profit members in the future as part of their long-term sustainability strategies.”

As areas such as Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside continue to develop and work towards revitalization, important social organizations will be able to stand on stronger foundations thanks to partnerships like these made between Mitacs-Accelerate, Vancity Credit Union and Watari.

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities:


Mitacs empowers Canadian innovation through effective partnerships that deliver solutions to our most pressing problems. By driving economic growth and productivity, we create meaningful change to improve quality of life for all Canadians.