Steffan JonesVice-President of Innovation
The word Innovation has become another dreaded buzzword. This may sound strange coming from me, as Vice-President of Innovation at CMHC. It means everything and nothing, depending who you’re talking to. So I try to use it to describe only the most unique or progressive opportunities to think differently.
For me, innovation is not a technology or a tool. It is not defining a problem -- or even a solution. For me, it is 100% a mindset. It is a way of thinking and looking at the environment. It is a willingness to try things and experience learning that ultimately, through experimentation, delivers some kind of positive impact. Ultimately, it’s about maintaining a progressive stance and making things happen, rather than waiting for them to happen.
At CMHC, we have set for ourselves one heck of an aspirational goal:
“By 2030, everyone in Canada has a home they can afford and that meets their needs.”
We know we face significant barriers to achieving this goal. But in my opinion, if this isn’t the goal of the national housing agency, then what’s the point? We will have failed before we have even started.
Yes, we can make progress through leading the National Housing Strategy. This $70B+ and growing plan represents a sizable investment. But achieving adequate, affordable housing for everyone in Canada is a daunting task. The federal government cannot afford to act alone.
In fact, I firmly believe the answer to our aspiration rests squarely outside the proverbial walls of CMHC. Our role is to mobilize the non-profit and co-operative housing sectors, and focus our combined energies with all orders of government, philanthropists, lenders, developers and social entrepreneurs on the future of housing.
During my first two years in this position, I have spent hundreds of hours swimming in the housing innovation waters. The untapped capacity and desire to contribute to our aspiration is jaw dropping. It’s certainly not a question of having enough opportunities to pursue. Rather it’s about identifying which opportunities have the greatest potential.
Our recent $2.5M investment in the HelpSeeker app is a great example of this. Using CMHC’s funding and brand clout, we are able to help this private company with a social purpose to accelerate the national scaling of its services.
Our urgency to act and think differently are also echoed by our partners. In response to the lack of available affordable housing across the country, Scotiabank has announced plans to provide $10 billion over the next ten years to support CMHC's aspiration through innovative lending, investing and underwriting solutions. And we can expect to see other players join the movement.
One last example: In late 2020, we introduced the Housing Supply Challenge. This is a $300M, five-year program that will introduce a series of challenges designed to incent the market find new ways to reduce or eliminate barriers to housing supply. The first challenge focused on closing housing-related data gaps. The second challenge, “Getting Started,” focuses on reducing barriers during the early stages of housing development, and launches in June.
The housing initiatives I’ve just mentioned are all firsts for CMHC. Each was made possible, not because they were new, “innovative” ideas. Rather because we were willing to think differently, try things outside the norm, and most importantly, go after them. This is what innovation means to me -- and our 2030 goal demands it.
Steffan Jones is Vice-President of Innovation at CMHC