I recently was appointed board chair for Tikva Housing Society. When I was asked to join the board three years ago, I knew nothing about Tikva or their invaluable work. However, as a real estate professional, I did have a keen understanding of the housing affordability crisis in the Lower Mainland, and knew that our Jewish community was not immune to the crisis. Hence, I understood the importance of Tikva Housing, which is why I joined the board.
Tikva is a charitable, nonprofit society providing access to affordable housing for low- to moderate-income Jewish individuals and families. Every year, in March, the society turns to the generosity of the community to support its mission and now, more than ever, Tikva needs that help.
The widespread effects of COVID-related job loss have placed many members of our Jewish community at risk of homelessness. Tikva offers short-term rent subsidies for those living in market rental housing who are facing a temporary crunch and are unable to afford their rent. The demand for this kind of assistance has increased greatly in the last 12 months. The amount of subsidies that we can provide is directly in correlation to the amount that we can raise from private donations and foundations, and donations are urgently needed to help people stay in their homes. There are already more than 200 Jewish people on a waitlist for affordable housing, and the demand is only growing.
With all levels of government focused on affordable housing in general, we are seeing numerous initiatives being considered and Tikva is in conversation with government agencies and housing developers to explore new partnerships. Currently, Tikva owns and/or operates 61 affordable housing units in the Lower Mainland: 11 units at Dany Guincher House in Marpole; 18 units at the Diamond Residences (Storeys) in Richmond; and, thanks to the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation, 32 townhomes were added last summer. The Ben and Esther Dayson Residences in Vancouver’s River District form a family-oriented community with more than 60 children.
This coming summer will see Tikva tenants occupying 37 units at the Arbutus Centre on Yew Street. The cost to Tikva will be a nominal $1,500 per unit annually, and the Diamond Foundation has pledged to cover this expense for all 37 units for the first five years.
In 2022, 20 units on the third floor of a five-storey building will be home to Susana Cogan Place. In partnership with Polygon, BC Housing will provide full financial support for this project, which is named in memory of Tikva’s founder and affordable-housing trailblazer, Susana Cogan, z’l.
Expanding Tikva’s affordable housing portfolio means that more low- to moderate-income Jews can stay close to their synagogues, schools and the multitude of Jewish community amenities. While Tikva Housing will operate a total of 98 units by the end of summer 2021 and 148 by the end of 2022, it’s still not enough to meet the needs.
Housing is the cornerstone and foundation of a dignified life. The Hebrew word tikva means hope. Please support Tikva Housing Society’s current campaign, which runs to March 22, and help us bring hope – and housing – to those most in need in our Jewish community.
The Ben and Esther Dayson Residences, located west of the River District, is one of the residences managed by Tikva Housing, which is responsible for long-term housing solutions in the Jewish community, while Jewish Family Services works with those who require immediate assistance in finding a place to live. (photo from Tikva Housing)
On Dec. 2, Jewish Family Services (JFS), in partnership with Tikva Housing, announced the launch of the first-ever Jewish Housing Registry.
There are six agencies involved in the project: JFS, Tikva Housing, Vancouver Jewish Building Society, Yaffa Housing Society, Haro Park Centre Society and Maple Crest Apartments, each playing a role in addressing the issues of homelessness in the Jewish community in a variety of ways, including advocacy, financial aid and subsidies, and housing placement. Each agency has their own application processes, manages their own wait lists, and collects and stores their client data independent of one another even though their work often crosses over. Consequently, housing needs in the community are difficult to determine accurately. For applicants, a lot of time is spent completing similar applications for different housing providers.
The idea for the registry sprouted from a conversation almost 10 years ago among leaders of the Jewish community, including JFS, Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and spearheaded by Tikva’s executive director at the time, Susana Cogan (z’l). With the housing registry in British Columbia not set up to collect data on cultural background, and tenant selection priorities based primarily on the housing needs of applicants, a gap focused on community building was missing. The purpose of this new registry is to improve operational efficiencies and also fill that gap – addressing specific cultural needs of our community, which can be fostered within Jewish housing developments; a priority not currently being addressed through any other agencies in the province.
“It’s exciting to see the partnership between different agencies come to fruition,” said Tanja Demajo, JFS chief executive officer. “This is a unique opportunity for us to use the database as a tool to integrate data, help us meet clients’ specific needs and have a better understanding of the issues of homelessness in our community. Having an opportunity not just to house clients, but also support them by building a Jewish community, is what it means for people to ‘create a home.’”
Tikva’s director of operations and housing development, Alice Sundberg, added, “It is commonplace for applicants to register with multiple housing agencies in the Jewish community, resulting in duplicate records, leaving the JFS housing coordinator having to complete a number of similar application forms from each agency. By having this centralized database, that step only has to be completed one time. We look forward to having up-to-date information available in real-time. It will be a huge improvement administratively and will help us better meet the housing needs of applicants.”
Phase I of the registry launched on Dec. 1 for JFS and Tikva to use, and Phase II will launch shortly for Yaffa Housing, Haro Park Centre Society, Maple Crest Apartments and the Vancouver Jewish Building Society.
“We also want to acknowledge that this registry was made possible because of a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation. With their support, JFS and all the other agencies using this software will be better positioned to serve those in need in a timelier manner. Having more accurate data will also serve us in future projects related to housing advocacy and assistance,” said Demajo.
Tikva Housing is responsible for long-term housing solutions in the Jewish community, while JFS works with those who require immediate assistance in finding a place to live. JFS also provides emotional support and assistance to clients residing in buildings managed by Tikva Housing.
For more information about the registry, contact Maya Dimapilis, JFS director of development and communications, by email at [email protected] or by phone at 604-637-3306.
The Ben and Esther Dayson Residences, on East Kent Avenue North, opened its doors to tenants last month. (photo from Tikva Housing)
The first tenants at the Ben and Esther Dayson Residences started moving into their new homes in late August. Managed by Tikva Housing, the 32 townhomes are located west of the River District, on East Kent Avenue North, a block from Riverfront Park.
The residences comprise four two-bedroom units (1,045 square feet), 24 three-bedroom units (1,175 square feet) and four four-bedroom units (1,305 square feet). The units were open to Vancouver-based families with one to six children, within a range of income levels. The site includes two towers that will be managed by the Fraserview Housing Co-op.
A part of the Vancouver Land Trust project, the residences share a number of amenities, such as green space and a playground. Rent will be targeted to approximately 30% of gross household income to a rent maximum. Tenants are expected to pay for hydro, phone, internet and contents insurance.
Anat Gogo, Tikva Housing’s manager of programs and donor relations, expressed her enthusiasm upon the launch. “I feel so excited for the community,” she said. “It will be a concentrated Jewish community. When you build neighbourhoods, you build community.
“The residences will also provide a home for essential workers, such as teachers, in our community,” she added.
The Dayson Residences are situated close to several daycares, elementary and high schools, as well as banks, shopping centres, grocery stores, libraries and hospitals.
The strong need for affordable housing in the region has been a prevalent concern for many years. A 2011 survey of the Greater Vancouver Jewish community identified more than 4,000 people (or 16% of the total community) who were low-income; the number included 600 children and 550 single-parent families.
To many local renters, Vancouver holds the unenviable distinctions of having the highest rents and the lowest vacancy rates in the country. At the start of the year, the rent for an average one-bedroom apartment in the city was more than $1,500 per month, while vacancy levels hovered around one percent.
Tikva Housing helps those who would be deemed “working poor” and cites the limited “life options” available to them in this expensive city. For example, to a person earning $2,000 a month, the affordable level for their rent should be a maximum of $600 per month. For the past decade especially, rents in the Lower Mainland have risen far beyond that level – thus leaving little money to set aside for food, medicine, utilities, transport or education to improve job skills.
“They save people from being on the streets. They save people from unsafe situations,” said Steve, a tenant at Tikva Housing’s Diamond Residences in Richmond. “It’s given me security. I don’t have to worry about making rent. It’s affordable. I buy our groceries. It puts me in a wonderful frame of mind. It allows me to be a good father. Without Tivka, I would not have been able to give proper care to my children.”
Tikva Housing’s stated mission is to provide a safe, stable and affordable home to every Jewish person in Metro Vancouver who needs one. Its services are geared primarily at low- and moderate-income adults and families.
It also operates the 11-unit Dany Guincher House apartments in Marpole and the 18-unit Diamond Residences cited above. Opening in early 2021 is the Arbutus Centre on the West Side – as part of a partnership with the City of Vancouver, the YWCA and the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of British Columbia – which will bring another 18 studios and 19 one-bedroom units to low- and moderate-income members of the community.
As might be expected, the number of people turning to Tikva Housing has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In July alone, it approved a record number of eight recipients for the Tikva Housing Rent Subsidy Program.
“The subsidy allocation for the past five months amounted to just shy of $27,000 in addition to the existing allocations, and the need continues to grow,” Gogo said.
In August, Alice Sundberg, Tikva’s director of operations and housing, announced, “I am in conversation with a few private developers and nonprofit housing providers regarding potential projects in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey. I can’t say more about these opportunities at this time.”
Ben Dayson was a prominent figure in Vancouver and Richmond real estate and a philanthropist. Together with his wife Esther, they worked to help many charitable causes. Helping those in need find affordable housing was one of their primary objectives, through funds provided by the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation.
“Our family is focused on providing funding to areas of basic needs,” said their daughter, Shirley Barnett. “Obviously, housing is one of these areas we choose to support. As my parents, Ben and Esther Dayson, were in real estate development, it seemed natural to fund a complex such as this in their memory.”
The next decade is going to see an evolution in how Canadians obtain mortgages. These shifts will transform the experience for both the mortgage professional and, more importantly, the borrower. Here’s where things are now and what I foresee.
The mortgage industry
A borrower can go to three sources to get their mortgage: account managers at banks, mortgage specialists at banks and mortgage brokers. (I use “bank” as a catchall for financial institutions, including credit unions and trust companies. Financial planners are not included because they represent such a small slice of the pie and refer files to mortgage specialists.)
Employees, particularly account managers, are a bank’s frontline team for mortgages. These salaried employees get incentives if they hit sales targets, but they are, by definition, jacks-of-all-trades. They help with a client’s routine banking needs, open investment accounts, provide general advice and also write mortgages.
Because mortgages are complex, account managers are encouraged (and often required) to send their mortgage applications to a mortgage specialist. This is good policy, because it is best to have an expert eye review something as significant as an average family’s most significant investment and the average bank’s bread-and-butter. Also, because there have rightly been many – one expert told me there was a total of 168 – new rules since the 2008 financial crisis, it has become increasingly difficult to “dabble” in mortgages.
Given these developments, a consumer would be wise to trust the most important financial transaction in their life to a professional who has expertise in a single field, rather than a generalist who is doing mortgages off the side of their desk.
Of course, every bank employs a network of mortgage specialists, with each bank investing varying amounts of resources into training. Still, a mortgage specialist is just that: a bank employee who specializes in mortgages.
Most banks’ mortgage specialists are commission-based and can make a good living from their work. But remember: bank specialists work for the bank, not for you. (They also don’t require a licence or any accreditation to write up your mortgage application.)
Mortgage brokers are independent professionals whose unique responsibility is finding the ideal financial solution for each client, not whatever rate or product their bank is pushing on any given day.
A mortgage broker is a professional who has successfully completed an educational process, passed an exam and undergone comprehensive assessments, including biannual criminal background checks. Additionally, continuing education is required to ensure that mortgage brokers remain informed of the latest developments in this ever-changing industry. Mortgage professionals at the banks, however well-intentioned or however closely they follow the business pages, have no such requirements.
It is commonly said that a mortgage broker “shops around” for the best rate. This is partly true, but there’s more. Brokers know the rates and conditions of every lender. What we do with that information is tailor each client’s need with rate and product choices, allowing them, with their mortgage broker’s guidance, to make the most informed, appropriate decision for what best suits them.
For example, a broker might recommend a more flexible mortgage product with a slightly higher-than-base rate versus a lower rate with restrictions. This is crucial because, again, everyone’s case is unique. Circumstances change. Relocation is sometimes unavoidable.
Even better: for most mortgages, a mortgage broker’s service is provided at no cost to the borrower. Brokers earn their keep from the lender that finances the borrower’s mortgage.
Where is industry headed?
Account managers at banks will continue to write mortgage applications because this remains an efficient use of the bank’s resources. The banks have been building increasingly sophisticated mortgage application platforms for their mortgage specialists and account managers to use. These easy-to-use apps are straightforward and allow their employees to quickly and efficiently pull together all of the necessary information to verify credit data and employment, assess risk and review the property, all at the click of a few buttons.
The banks built these systems so that employees with less expertise (and lower salaries) can replicate or reduce the work of more highly trained professional staff. And, since mortgage specialists are largely commission-based, it seems to me that banks will increasingly depend on salaried individuals who read from their computer screen while dealing with mortgage-seekers.
The obvious issue with an account manager reading off a screen is that, at any point in time where real advice is required, the bank employee will not have the training or experience to provide it.
There is, of course, still currently a place for bank specialists. The best of them can and do give the best service possible to their clients.
My prediction is that the mortgage specialist role will be curtailed until only a few high producers remain. Banks will probably continue to make it easier for mortgage specialists to do their jobs, allowing them to take on more files and the best will grow and the worst will drop off.
Don’t misunderstand me. There is a place for technology, obviously, in the process. In fact, mortgage brokers, by necessity, are entrepreneurial
and resourceful, and have created economies of scale, processing documentation and applications more efficiently than ever. For instance, my team and I have automated the process of 70-plus internal steps per client throughout the mortgage process, streamlining everything for ourselves so that our clients can benefit from the most comprehensive and individualized experience we can offer. This involved a lot of time up-front, but it means that our clients receive the service they want, tailor-fit to their specific needs.
My prediction for mortgage brokers is that there will be a culling of the herd, just like with mortgage specialists. A broker, and any consultant in this day and age, needs to innovate and use the newest technologies to stay relevant in the eyes of borrowers. Not just that, the brokers themselves need to know each lender’s products and how to get files approved.
Superb knowledge, a fast and efficient process, and amazing customer service will become the bare minimum in the future, and the specialists and brokers who “dabble” or aren’t 100% committed to improving their craft will get left in the dust.
Eitan Pinskyis principal of Pinsky Mortgages, a Vancouver-based mortgage broker.
אף על פי שהמחירים והמכירות ירדו ברוב הערים אשתקד, המחירים עדיין עלו בכשישים וארבעה אחוזים בוונקובר – בחמש השנים האחרונות.
החל מחודש ספטמבר הקרוב תופעל לראשונה תוכנית מימון לרוכשי נדל”ן בפעם הראשונה, שהכנסותיהם מגיעות מקסימום למאה ועשרים אלף דולר בשנה. סכום המשכנתא המובטחת יגיע למקסימום של ארבע מאות ושמונים אלף דולר.
סוכנות הדיור של קנדה תשקיע כמיליארד ורבע מיליארד דולר קנדי, במשך שלוש שנים, כדי לקנות בתים שמיועדים לרוכשי דירות בפעם הראשונה. וזאת כחלק מתוכניתה של ממשלה הליברלית בראשות, ג’סטין טרודו, להפוך את הדיור לזול יותר עבור הבוחרים הצעירים יותר במדינה.
על פי מסמכי התקציב הפדרלי שפורסמו בשבוע שעבר, רשות המשכנתאות והדיור הקנדית תעניק עד עשרה אחוז למימון בתים חדשים, ועד חמישה עשר אחוזים עבור בתים קיימים, כדי להפחית את עלויות המשכנתאות עבור רוכשים, בעלי הכנסה נמוכה עד בינונית. המימון יחול על המשכנתאות המבוטחות, אשר נדרשות אם הקונה מסוגל לשלם מקדמה על הנכס בשיעור של לפחות עשרים, שהוא מעוניין לרכוש.
במהלך זה שר האוצר ביל מורנאו, מבקש בעצם להרגיע את החששות בשוק הדיור הקנדי, לאחר עליית המחירים והשינויים בשנים האחרונות, שדחף את האופציה של בעלות על נדל”ן אל מחוץ להישג ידם של קנדים רבים, במיוחד הצעירים אשר עושים את צעדיהם הראשונים בשוק העבודה. אף על פי שהמחירים והמכירות ירדו ברוב הערים אשתקד, המחירים עדיין עלו בכשישים וארבעה אחוזים בוונקובר – בחמש השנים האחרונות (והגיעו אל מעל מיליון דולר בממוצע לבית), ואילו בטורונטו הם עלו בכחמישים ושישה אחוז באותה תקופה. כך עולה מנתוני אגודת הנדל”ן של קנדה.
תוכנית חדשה זו של הממשלה שמעריכה כי כמאה אלף רוכשים נדל”ן חדשים ינצלו אותה, במשך שלוש שנים, עשויה לשמש נתון חיובי לשוק הנדל”ן, דבר הנחוץ כך כך צמיחה, כיוון שמורגשים סימנים ברורים שהכלכלה הקנדית נמצאת בתקופה של האטה.
תוכנית ההלוואות מבוססת למעשה על הרעיון של קבוצות קטנות שלא מטרות רווח בקנדה, שכבר היום מציעות הלוואות דומות עבור אנשים בעלי הכנסה נמוכה. התוכנית החדשה, שתקרא “תמריץ לקונה הבית בפעם הראשונה”, תושפעל בחודש ספטמבר ותהיה זמינה לקונים בפעם הראשונה, בעלי הכנסות שנתיות של עד מאה ועשרים אלף דולרי. סכום המשכנתא המבוטחת יגיע עד לארבע מאות שמונים אלף דולר.
כך למעשה רוכש בית חדש בסכום של ארבע מאות אלף דולרי שיעביר תשלום של עשרים אלף דולר כמקדמה (המהווה חמישה אחוז מסכום הרכישה), עשוי לקבל ארבעים אלף דולר (עשרה אחוז), כתרומה מסוכנות הדיור. לפיכך התשלום החודשי שלו עבור המשכתנא, יקטן מכאלפים דולר בחודש, לכאלף שבוע מאות וחמישים דולר לחודש, בהתבסס על משכנתא לעשרים וחמש שנים, כשאר הריבית של המשכנתא עומדת על שלושה וחצי אחוזים, לפי הדוגמה בתקציב.
“המהלך מטורף ויגרום לביקוש גדול יותר בשוק הנדל”ן שגם כך הוא תחרותי ביותר”, אומר אחד מבעלי חברות הנדל”ן המקומיות. הוא מוסיף: “מדוע הממשלה משחקת את תפקיד של אמאו ואבא ורוכשת בתים לכולם? זה לא הפתרון למחירי הבתים הגבוהים, אלה ניסיון לטפל בסימפטום פשוט על ידי זריקת כסף למשלמי המיסים כדי שירכשו בתים”.
בשלב זה זה ידוע כי אגודת הדיור הקנדית תיהנה מכל רווח במחיר הבית, או לחלופין פוטנציאלית תספוג חלק של מכל הפסד. נכון לעכשיו, לא ברור אם על בעל הדירה להחזיר את סכום ההלוואה במולאה, או את נתח ההון על בסיס הערך של הבית כאשר הנכס נמכר. פרטים אלה יפורסמו בחודשים הקרובים, אומרים גורמים במשרד האוצר הקנדי.
Storeys, the Diamond Residences, is among the affordable housing sites where the new TCL will be working. (photo from jfsvancouver.ca)
Jewish Family Services has launched a new tenant community liaison (TCL) position to provide stability and support for JFS clients receiving a Tikva Housing subsidy or who are housed in one of Tikva’s rental buildings for low- and moderate-income Jewish adults and families.
The purpose of the TCL position, which is funded by the Ben and Esther Dayson Foundation and a grant from the federal government, is to increase the long-term success of housing vulnerable and at-risk Jewish community members.
“Once JFS clients are settled in as new tenants, they often struggle to adjust to living in a permanent housing situation,” said Tanja Demajo, director of family and adult resources at JFS. “Many of our clients have a history of addiction, mental illness, a physical disability, and/or family abuse, so adapting to life in a new community is a challenge for them.”
The new TCL will act as a link between JFS and Tikva Housing to ensure that tenants who need support are settled in successfully and to help them understand their roles, rights and responsibilities. In addition, the TCL will provide workshops and counseling, as well as community-building activities, such as holiday celebrations and networking events. Tenants will also learn about appropriate services or resources.
Alice Sundberg, director of operations and housing development at Tikva Housing, said, “We value the collaborative relationship we have with JFS to make sure that those most in need in our community get access to affordable housing. The tenant community liaison will help to ensure that the people we serve have more than just a roof over their heads. We plan to work closely with the TCL to connect our more vulnerable tenants to support services, job and educational resources, as well as enhanced links to the Jewish community and culture.”
Affordable and social housing has become a critical issue in the Lower Mainland for almost all income levels. Following the trend in the general population, the part-time JFS housing coordinator has seen more than a 20% increase in the number of people asking for assistance, with an average of 55 new calls a week.
In the city of Vancouver, monthly rent of $1,730 for a one-bedroom unit is considered affordable. When a person on disability makes a yearly income below $18,000 per year and the minimum wage is $12.65 an hour, it is not surprising that the percentage of homelessness has increased by 30% since 2014. The 2017 Homelessness Count in Metro Vancouver confirmed that some of the main barriers to finding housing are the high cost of rent and the lack of income and shortage of units that suit clients’ needs.
As the Jewish community responds to the issue of affordable housing, the tenant community liaison is a step forward. “Lack of support for affordable and social housing damages clients lives and affects all of us directly or indirectly,” said Demajo. “Having a home is not a luxury, it is a basic need.”
Left to right: Anat Gogo, Tikva Housing administrator; Philip Dayson, donor; Shirley Barnett, donor; Heather Kenny, Tikva board member; Alice Sundberg, Tikva director of operations; Eric Fefer, Tikva development committee member; Shelley Karrel, Tikva board chair; and Kasimir Kish, Tikva board member. (photo from Tikva Housing)
There is so much in the news about Vancouver’s housing crisis – unaffordable rents, no vacancies and reno-viction notices. Having a safe, secure and affordable home is one of the most basic needs, which helps people to feel a sense of belonging and well-being. Many in our community lack this basic right.
On a daily basis, Tikva administrator Anat Gogo hears about people looking for affordable housing.
“It might be because they are in an abusive situation and need to make a change, or they are paying almost 50% of their monthly income on housing,” she said. “Whatever the reason, we do what we can.”
Thanks to the generosity of donors, Tikva has two residences that are fully occupied – Dany Guincher House and the Diamond Residences – and soon to open is the Ben and Esther Dayson Residences in the Fraserview district. These 32 new townhomes include two-, three- and four-bedroom units and, in adjacent towers, there is a common room where tenants will be able to gather for special events like Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations.
In addition, more than 35 individuals and families are supported through the Esther Dayson Rent Subsidy Program.
Alice Sundberg, director of operations and housing development at Tikva, said the need to continue to increase “inventory” is constant.
For more information and to find out how you can help, contact Tikva Housing at 778-998-4582 or visit tikvahousing.org.
On Sept. 5, Vancouver City Council will hold a public hearing to help determine the next steps of the planned redevelopment of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCC).
Serving more than 40,000 community members each year, the JCC has been bursting at the seams for years and needs a significant upgrade. “Our community centre, which is Jewish at heart and, therefore, open to and used by everyone, is aging,” said JCC executive director Eldad Goldfarb. “We’re a not-for-profit that’s been serving the Oakridge area and beyond for 60 years and we are determined to continue this tradition.”
The new facility, planned to be built over two phases, will feature expanded aquatic, gymnasium, fitness and studio space, new cultural arts facilities, a theatre, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, office space for more than 15 other nonprofit community organizations, expanded licensed early childhood education facilities and significantly enhanced outdoor spaces.
“We just don’t have enough room for all of our activities, so I would love to see the JCC expand and continue to be inclusive for everyone,” said JCC Seniors committee member Cori Friedman.
The City of Vancouver anticipates the population of the Cambie Corridor will double by 2041.
“With all the growth and changes occurring to the community around our centre, it is important for the JCC to grow and change as well – to be prepared for the future and all that it is bringing to our surroundings,” said JCC board president Salomon Casseres.
When the project is complete, the JCC site will also include 299 family-oriented rental homes. “We are going to put the land into a community land trust, so we can create long-term affordable housing and community amenities,” Goldfarb explained.
The proposal has undergone an extensive rezoning process, including a number of different designs, three community open houses and outreach to partner organizations within the Jewish community. For more information on the project, contact Susan Tonn ([email protected]). For details on how to share your thoughts directly with city council, visit rezoning.vancouver.ca/applications/950w41stave/feedback.htm.
Jordan Billinkoff, left, and Josh Glow started the company Gryd, winner of the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations’ New Product or Service of the Year Award. (photo from Gryd)
The Toronto-based start-up Gryd is reinventing the look and feel of finding a place to rent.
Created by Winnipeg Jewish community members Jordan Billinkoff and Josh Glow – who started their careers as b’nai mitzvah photographers/videographers – Gryd provides property management companies with a virtual reality (VR) video of the place they want to rent out.
The idea is sometimes a hard sell to management companies, Billinkoff told the Independent, but renters are lining up to use it. The Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations has recognized Gryd as the best new product on the market.
“I’ve always been very interested in technology and digital media,” said Billinkoff. “And, when I was younger, I was making a lot of videos for fun, and people started saying I could make money shooting videos. So, I started shooting bar mitzvah videos.”
At 24, he started doing more commercial work, mainly in real estate, which led him to start a company called Property Reel, which produced photos and videos for real estate properties.
“And then,” he said, “I realized there are a lot more opportunities for new technologies and enhancing the user experience … the way people search for properties online. So, I decided to change the name to Gryd and we got involved with VR [virtual reality], augmented reality (AR), technologies.”
Billinkoff went to Gray Academy of Jewish Education until Grade 7 before transferring to Grant Park High School and then finishing high school at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate.
“I was always curious about what was coming up next and I wanted to experiment with new technologies that I thought would be promising,” said Billinkoff. “I saw a lot of promise and potential in 3-D technology.
“When I say 3-D technology, I think of VR and AR. Both of these technologies are built on video game engines. The same tools that developers use to make video games are what our developers use to create 3-D models for VR and AR apps.”
So, they bought a 3-D camera and started filming some properties and some 3-D models of properties to gauge public interest. It was a hit with some of their already existing clients.
The product takes a couple of different forms.
“There are the 3-D tours,” said Billinkoff. “With the 3-D tours, you can view them with the headset on. So, the 3-D tours you can put online and you can use them on a desktop, tablet or phone.
“Taking it to the next level, you have a virtual reality headset and can view it in VR. So, you’re immersed in the property, which creates a dimensionally accurate 3-D model.”
To achieve this, Gryd uses a 3-D scanning camera that creates a wire frame of the environment it’s in. It places each VR photograph on top of the wire frame to make a 3-D model of the property. It is not a mere rendering, but a 3-D model that is dimensionally accurate.
On top of this, there is the floor plan, which users can view by clicking that option. “You can move it around in 3-D, so you can see different vantage points of the floor plan,” said Billinkoff. “The traditional virtual tours were 360-degree panoramic photos, where you click on one, wait for it to load, then click on another. But, with these 3-D models, you can actually walk around with a full range of motion … and, there are no loading wait times.”
VR goggles are a new technology and most companies are just starting to use them in their leasing centres or corporate offices. The technology allows a potential lessee or buyer to be immersed in a place that is not yet built.
Because the technology is so new, Billinkoff has been holding off on releasing his 3-D videos for the past few years in order to build up a content library of tours before they launch.
While the 3-D headsets cost close to $300, Gryd is selling ones that are only $15 and allow anyone to use their own smartphone as the 3-D screen.
The biggest challenge has been convincing property managers to invest $250 on a property that typically rents in a couple of weeks during a slow period.
“So, we’re kind of fighting for the renters, to create a better user experience even in these markets where everything is leasing anyways,” said Billinkoff.
While most property managers are open to the idea of shooting 3-D tours, he said, “They just have such low vacancies that, a lot of times, they won’t even have a vacancy available, to be able to shoot the unit, for another half a year. So, there are a lot of logistical issues with that, because of the low vacancy.
“Also, property management isn’t known for being the most innovative industry. So, a lot of property managers are comfortable with their old-school routines and processes. This is something very new and high-tech.”
When Gryd first started shooting VR in 2015-2016, they would not mention it in the sales pitch, knowing it would likely cause resistance. Instead, they shot as many 3-D tours as they could over two to three years. Then, they launched a VR app, which has a library of 3-D tours, and property managers receive this bonus.
“We sold them the 3-D tours,” said Billinkoff. “Then, one day, which was a couple months ago, we put the switch on, and all the tours turned VR. And we informed all our clients that they now have this new and awesome bonus.”
At first, Billinkoff did all the shooting, but now Gryd has a network of trained photographers all over the country. Both Billinkoff and Glow have relocated from Winnipeg to Toronto to expand their business.
If someone visits gryd.com now, they will not yet be able to search for a place in Vancouver. But, that addition is currently in the works. Billinkoff anticipates that it will come into effect as of spring 2019.
“The number one thing we hear from all the property managers is that having the 3-D tours pre-qualifies the renters,” said Billinkoff. “So, if a renter is coming in to see the unit in person, they’re already very well-informed. They’ve already seen everything they need to know online. So, if they are coming in, they are already ready to put down a deposit on the property. They are just confirming everything is what it looks like online.
“It just makes the process more efficient, as they [the property managers] are weeding out tire kickers from coming in and taking a look at the apartment. Then, on the opposite end, it works great for renters, as they don’t need to waste time going to apartments they aren’t interested in. When they go to an apartment, they already know they like it, as they’ve seen everything online.”
Avie Estrin at Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society’s new laneway house. (photo by Pat Johnson)
Fred Dexall used to live in a group home in Kerrisdale. “I didn’t like it there,” he recalls. “The problem is they were very unfriendly. Everybody [kept] to themselves.”
When the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society opened the first home for members of the Jewish community with mental health issues, in 2001, Dexall was the first resident. He remains there today.
“I’m happy here,” he said. There is more freedom to do one’s own thing than in the “dictatorial” group home he left, he said. Plus, the residents enjoy a Jewish lifestyle, celebrate the holidays, have Shabbat dinners on Fridays, attend the Bagel Club on Mondays and participate in other aspects of Jewish communal life. Every day, volunteers shuttle kosher meals from the kitchen at the Louis Brier Home and Hospital for Yaffa residents.
“Some of us have other disabilities besides mental illness,” said Drexall. “I have epilepsy and it’s all looked after.”
The organization is in the midst of a significant expansion. The house where Dexall has lived for 17 years is operated by Yaffa under a lease from the Vancouver Resource Society, a nonprofit providing accessible housing to people with disabilities, which owns the home in a quiet south Vancouver residential neighbourhood.
In 2010, Yaffa bought the house next door, welcoming more residents. Now, a sparkling new two-storey laneway house has just been completed behind the second home and renovations are taking place on the two houses to further increase capacity. Yaffa also has five units in a 51-unit building in Dunbar, which offers more intensive 24/7 care for residents. In an agreement with the Coast Foundation, B.C. Housing and the City of Vancouver, Yaffa has perpetual lease of these five spaces in return for funding a kosher kitchen in the facility.
Avie Estrin, the president of the society, is carrying on a family tradition. His parents, Aaron and Tzvia Estrin, were among the founding members of the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society and Aaron was pivotal in raising the capital to launch the residential facility and purchase the second home. Their collective passion comes from firsthand recognition of the need. Avie Estrin’s brother, Marc, is a resident.
“I think it was front and centre for us because we had the awareness that many people – most people – simply aren’t privy to,” said Avie Estrin. “You see what people go through and the reality is, there was no other option. Remarkably, even though mental illness has been around forever, there was simply nothing in the Vancouver Jewish community to address it. Montreal had Jewish mental health housing facilities, Toronto had facilities. Vancouver had nothing.”
An ad hoc group of families came together to form the Vancouver Yaffa Housing Society, with no organizational support at the outset.
“We had to do something and it was meeting after meeting after meeting in somebody’s private home and, ultimately, they did make it happen,” said Estrin. “Once it got a little bit of momentum, then there was a little bit more attention. It got the ball rolling, but those first few years were very much uphill.”
Now, the facilities house 13 people. With the completed laneway house and upcoming renovations to the unfinished basement in the second house, the organization will welcome five more residents.
With 13 people in the south Vancouver homes, plus five in Dunbar, that makes 18, Estrin noted, “which is chai, which, again, is quite significant to us.”
Estrin said that, even with this expansion, the organization is only making a dent in the demand. With a rule of thumb that 10% of the population has a mental illness and half of those are acute, the Vancouver Jewish community, he estimates, probably has about 1,200 people who would meet Yaffa’s criteria for residency, which is based on DSM-IV Axis 1: “Schizophrenia, manic-depressive, things like that,” Estrin said.
He acknowledges the organization’s limits.
“We are doing what little we can,” he said, “and you might say, ‘well, it’s a little,’ but I would respond by saying something is better than nothing.” With the increase in capacity to 18, he reframed his response: “At this point, I would suggest to you that more is better than something.”
One of the other things the renovation project will ameliorate, Estrin hopes, is the gender imbalance. Because the nature of Yaffa House is a collective living model, there have been logistical challenges in mixing genders.
“By happenstance, we’ve become kind of an all-guys facility as things stand right now and it’s not because there are less women out there who are affected. There is an equal number of them,” he said. As the redevelopment continues, plans will incorporate accommodations for women, adjacent to the men’s accommodations, but with added privacy.
To complete the development and to support daily operations, Estrin is making a call for support, not only financial – though he stresses that is most welcome – but also for volunteers who can fill various capacities either as members of the board or in helping out at the homes.