Finding New Ways To Address An Old Issue

A lack of affordable housing in Calgary is, sadly, nothing new. But with the help of a grant from AREF, Highbanks is looking to work with the real estate industry to find fresh, innovative ways to address this ongoing issue for young single women and their small children.

Highbanks helps a handful of families in Calgary by providing subsidized, safe and affordable places for them to live along with a number of other supports. “We serve young moms and their children who are homeless, at risk of being homeless or leaving profoundly traumatic situations,” says Krista Flint, the executive director at Highbanks. “We provide a housing first model with a focus on education and everything we do is sensitive to the deep trauma most of our girls have experienced.”

The mothers, many of whom haven’t finished high school, are required to go to school full time. Over the last 15 years, many of the young women have gone on to get post-secondary diplomas or degrees. Highbanks puts on community events and provides workshops and classes on parenting, coping and stress strategies, financial literacy, nutrition and life skills. A registered social worker refers women to other agencies and supports. It costs about $35,000 a year to help each family—an investment which Highbanks estimates saves taxpayers about $650,000 in publically-funded social services costs.

“We serve 11 families. We work very closely with organizations concerned with homelessness in Calgary. At any given time, we have about 30 young moms on our waiting list seeking help,” Flint says. “About 97 per cent of the young women who leave us go on to pay market rent and in some wonderful cases, own their own home.”

With a $21,000 grant from AREF, Highbanks will connect with experts and hire consultants to look at best practices for innovative affordable housing. They will build a strategy to work with landlords, property owners, builders and developers to find more housing for young families while also filling vacancies in the rental market.

“We are really excited to start thinking about how we might address the huge need. The money from AREF allows us to think in non-traditional ways about how we might be able to expand our reach,” says Flint. “We are really keen to break down the paradigm of ‘We need a capital campaign and we need to build something else,’ because there are so many wildly innovative models for spaces for social good and we’re really excited to lead that thinking in our sector.”