Kaye Melliship, Executive Director at Greater Victoria Housing Society
|For our March 2020 Newsletter, we asked Kaye about the work the GVHS does, the hurdles to create affordable housing in the Capital Region, and a bit about her life outside of work.
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Can you briefly introduce yourself and the Greater Victoria Housing Society?
Before joining Greater Victoria Housing Society I had a very varied background including working for Lavalin, the University of British Columbia, the Capital Regional District and the Province of BC. Greater Victoria Housing Society has been operating since 1956, but when I started in 2005 it was still relatively small and only provided housing for seniors. The Board took the decision to really grow and expand to meet a broader range of housing needs. That is when I was recruited and I believe I have meet their aspirations. GVHS has 15 properties and provides homes for 766 households. We have an additional two properties under construction that will add another 164 homes by the end of 2020. We provide homes for seniors, families, adults with disabilities and those in the low wage workforce.
You have been with the GVHS for a long time. What keeps you there, and how do you stay passionate about what you do?
Yes, I have been at GVHS for a long time, but the time has flown by because there have been so many opportunities to improve and expand our operations. Sadly, the need for affordable housing has not abated over the years, so there is much more to do. I work with a fantastic volunteer Board of Directors and a very professional staff. In addition, I enjoy the support, knowledge and inspiration of and other housing organizations. Non-profit organizations in Victoria are very generous and I benefit from that culture of sharing.
There is no question that we need more affordable housing in Victoria. What do you believe to be the largest roadblocks to creating it?
As an affordable housing provider we simply need money. There is no magic to it. If we raise enough funds (typically from senior levels of government) then we can build homes that are affordable now and in perpetuity. Long municipal approvals processes and construction costs make it challenging – it means we need more funds up front to deliver an affordable home. At GVHS we have land assets that we have been using and redeveloping and there is more we can do with what we already have… we just need the equity to create an affordable operating budget resulting in affordable rents.
The municipal process for the development industry can be a challenge. As a non-profit, do the municipalities provide concessions to advance your applications through their process?
On the whole, municipalities try to do the right thing and move our projects along – however, we often get caught when the policy discussion goes beyond affordable housing – for example, some municipalities have ambitious goals around tree replacement, civil works, high environmental standards and so on. All very important things, but they delay the process and add costs to the essential ask we have which is to provide affordable housing. In addition, we get caught when a municipality does not have a good internal review process and all departments are not all aligned around the goal of affordable housing. And like most businesses, we find the staff turnover at Municipal Hall slows things down.
What role do you believe the non-profit sector has in addressing the housing crisis?
The non-profit sector has a very important role in addressing the housing crisis. While we need large public investments to create housing, it is important to remember that our housing stays affordable in perpetuity. Anything we build today, will be meeting housing needs for decades. We are a very entrepreneurial and innovative sector and these attributes are needed to keep adding to the supply of affordable housing. We also work very hard to keep our tenants housed – we know they don’t have a lot of choices and with some good mediation and/or intervention we can create long term solutions for the few that really struggle.
What are the most common myths about affordable housing?
I sometimes hear the assumption that renters who need affordable housing will make a negative contribution to the community – they are more likely to create police incidents and be disruptive and have lifestyles that do not meet community values. Having met hundreds of our tenants over the years, I know this is not true – they are seniors who simply did not have jobs that resulted in enough retirement income, they are families who are trying to get ahead and they are the people who serve your meals in restaurants, provide health care supports or who are working in your office. They are frequently very invested in the community in which they live and care about it as much as any home owner.
What do you believe is the most important thing for a young professional to consider when deciding whether to go into the not for profit side of the industry?
I think young people should map out their careers so that they work in government and the for profit and nonprofit sectors. That way, they will find the environment that suits them best AND they will understand the realities of the other sectors – it can do nothing but good to know all these different perspectives. In addition, they may learn very different skills in each sector, making them more marketable along the way. But of course, “there is no life like it” in the non-profit sector! We are very action and solution orientated which sets us apart from government which tends to focus on policy and while we need to operate in business like ways and the bottom line is still very important, our decision making is focused on good community outcomes and not on shareholder profits.
What do you love most about living in Victoria?
The scale of Victoria really works for me… you can know a lot of people without it feeling too claustrophobic. The arts scene is very lively – I have been a supporter of Dance Victoria for nearly 20 years. You can go out on your bike or go for a run nearly every day of the year. I was just in Ottawa in the middle of a winter storm…. Say no more.
When you’re not working, what are your favorite activities?
Travel, travel, travel, and cycling, being with family and friends.
Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
Well… I have lived in more places than most people: I was born at Mont Tremblant, Quebec, lived in Montreal, Gander, Newfoundland, Brampton and Mississauga, Ontario, Winnipeg, Edmonton, London, England and Vancouver before settling in Victoria 27 years ago. I am done with moving!