What does it take to bring innovative housing ideas together to imagine the future of community housing in Canada? A competition, of course.
Starting in June 2018, a brand new community housing competition called the Reframe Housing Competition (Reframe) invited cross-sectoral actors from across Western Canada and the Territories to pitch their most creative housing innovations and ideas to a committee of Urban Matters CCC and BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA) staff. Reframe offered participants a chance to win cash and receive support and resources that could help them accelerate or scale their housing innovations.
As a collaboration between Urban Matters CCC and the BCNPHA, the goal of Reframe is to identify and highlight models and ideas that have the potential to improve community housing across Western Canada and the Territories (for competition details, see this previous blog post). Additionally, Reframe aims to create a culture in which housing innovators can share their learnings, network with one another, and—ideally— transfer and scale promising practices across communities.
Urban Matters President, Ken Gauthier and BCNPHA CEO, Jill Atkey have both emphasized the importance of working with small, medium, and big ideas. “There’s no such thing as an idea that is too small,” says Gauthier.
Following the launch of the Reframe competition in June, contestants had just over three months to develop and pitch their housing ideas to the Reframe committee.
As the contest drew to a close at the end of September, Urban Matters CCC and BCNPHA had received a number of interesting applications, including early stage innovations and pitches for projects already underway. Participants emerged from the private and non-profit sectors. By early October, the evaluation committee had reviewed all submissions and built a short list.
Addressing housing issues head-on
Urban Matters’ Community Housing Lead Matt Thomson was impressed by the contestants’ submissions, “the winning submissions showed great insight into some of the housing issues faced by diverse BC communities. From First Nations on-reserve housing, to the challenges of being a renter (and landlord!), to disaster recovery, the winning applicants showed a willingness to develop innovative solutions to some of our province’s most pressing housing issues.”
Short-listed applicants were then invited to present their concepts virtually to the evaluation committee. From there, four winners were selected: two active-innovation applicants and two idea/creation stage applicants.
Fast forward to November 2018 at the Housing Central conference in Vancouver, BC (November 18-20, 2018) where Urban Matters CCC and BCNPHA announced the Reframe Housing Competition finalists. “It was exciting to announce the winners and build momentum within a group that is already working together to build a stronger, more affordable housing sector in Canada,” describes Reframe committee member and Urban Matters’ Community Well-Being Lead, Jen Casorso.
And the winners are…
In the Active Innovation category, an initiative between Westcoast Outbuildings and Yale First Nation’s (Squamish and Yale, BC) took first place, a prize of $10,000. Through an innovative partnership, Westcoast Outbuildings and the Yale First Nation are working together to build more effective, durable, and energy efficient housing on the Yale Reserve. Second place in the Active Innovation Category went to Nexbuild Construction, a Kamloops-based company working to reduce the environmental impact of housing by building net-zero, long lasting, affordable homes. Nexbuild took home a $5,000 prize.
ExpanDwell Homes Inc., and Dwell In were co-winners in the Idea/Creation category and each organization took home a prize of $2,500. ExpanDwell is building a prototype for a portable pop-up house. The pop-ups have recreation functionality and emergency-response potential. The co-winner, Dwell In, has created a digital platform that aims to improve connections between landlords and renters by simplifying the application and selection processes, enhancing transparency, and building trust. The platform is currently in the market-validation stage.
Winners from both categories were chosen for their ability to demonstrate innovation, viability, scalability, and a willingness to foster meaningful social outcomes.
Going forward, Urban Matters CCC will help the winning groups accelerate and/or scale their housing innovations. As the inaugural year of the Reframe Competition draws to a close, the teams at Urban Matters CCC and BCNHPA are excited to see the types of conversations the competition sparked and are looking forward to seeing the direct impact the winners will have on housing in Western Canada and the Territories. Check in soon for follow up stories on each of the Reframe Competition winners.
Learn more about Reframe Competition winners
Westcoast Outbuildings and Yale First Nation | Squamish and Yale, BC (1st place: Active Innovation)
Yale First Nation has faced a range of housing challenges and has responded by developing affordable housing units for its community members. Westcoast Outbuildings is one of Canada’s fastest growing builders of small modular buildings and, through a partnership with Yale First Nation, they are creating on-reserve housing units that are affordable, durable, energy efficient, and innovative. However, the need for housing outpaces the supply of available, on-reserve funds for housing. To respond to this, Westcoast and Yale First Nation have created a model in which the homes will be 100% financed without a need for government grants.
The combination of Westcoast and Yale First Nation’s proven design model, replicable financing model, and their focus on delivering products for communities is commendable.
What’s next for Westcoast and Yale First Nation?
Westcoast and Yale will use the $10,000 Reframe prize to support the ongoing Housing Manager position at Yale First Nation so this important work can continue. The Urban Matters team will work with both partners to determine future opportunities and to scale this model into other communities.
Nexbuild | Kamloops, BC (2nd place: Active Innovation)
Nexbuild is a small, relatively new developer based in Kamloops. After noticing that design and construction decisions were often being made to benefit the developer over the buyer and the community, Nexbuild developed a model for a net-zero, low maintenance, long-lasting, multi-family fourplex.
Through this model, Nexbuild wants to tackle a number of important issues. Most notably, to reduce the carbon footprint of homes and create more affordable options for middle class residents. Through their design of this innovative housing unit, Nexbuild is developing energy efficient units at a competitive price point and dramatically reducing the costs of ownership.
What’s next for Nexbuild?
Nexbuild is currently learning from its first prototype, adjusting its designs, and will continue to build efficient, low-cost homes for middle class residents. Their $5,000 prize will go toward updating the design architectural drawings and refining the modelling. Urban Matters will work with Nexbuild to support opportunities for growth.
ExpanDwell | Kamloops, BC (Co-Winner: Idea/Creation)
ExpanDwell builds pop-up houses with recreation functionality and emergency-response potential. The pop-up units are designed to be small enough to be towed behind a pickup and, once expanded, their interior volume doubles. The ExpanDwell units contain a living space, a kitchen, a washroom, and a sleeping-loft. They have a four-person capacity.
Portability is ExpanDwell’s focus. These units have great potential to create alternative, temporary housing in emergency contexts. Notably, the ExpanDwell units closely resemble conventional homes, meaning they can provide shelter akin to a traditional home, which can provide important comfort in stressful, emergency situations. ExpanDwell is currently prototyping its first model and exploring business opportunities.
Explore this video of an ExpanDwell structure:
What’s next for ExpanDwell?
Urban Matters will explore the disaster relief housing model with them as they complete their prototype. ExpanDwell will then focus on developing a disaster relief business model for communities.
Dwell In | Kelowna, BC (Co-winner: Idea/Creation)
Dwell In is a digital platform designed to improve connections between landlords and renters by simplifying the application and selection process, enhancing transparency, and building trust. Dwell In aims to give tenants access to affordable housing and resources while giving landlords and property managers peace of mind for the duration of the tenancies they manage.
Dwell In is being designed in response a broken rental market in British Columbia. Not only is there a rental shortage, renters do not know where to find affordable housing. Consequently, they spend many hours searching and applying for rentals that may or may not be a good fit. One of the goals of Dwell In is to maintain fairness and support for renters by providing important information about available services and supports. Dwell In was inspired by the success of Oneapp Oregon and is currently in a market-validation stage.
What’s next for Dwell In?
Dwell In will use their prize money to validate their idea in the market place. Urban Matters will help Dwell In connect with potential partners to support the development of knowledge before moving to the application/software development stage.