Episode 9: Jesse Thistle – A Conversation About Homelessness in Canada

Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME. A podcast for REALTORS® brought to you by CREA, the Canadian Real Estate Association. We’re all about sparking conversations with inspiring, informative people about all things Canadian Real Estate and topics that impact REALTORS® and really, all of us. I’m your host Erin Davis for what I hope will be a memorable episode nine. CREA’s annual REALTORS® Care Week is a chance to double down on all of our efforts to make a bigger collective impact on the homelessness situation in Canada.

Here in this country, more than 35,000 people experience homelessness every night. In recognition of this CREA’s annual REALTORS® Care Week 2020 this year, aims to raise awareness, initiate meaningful conversations, and advocate for change to help end and prevent homelessness once and for all on a national level. To support these efforts, episode nine of REAL TIME features Métis-Cree, best-selling author of From the Ashes and PhD candidate Jesse Thistle, who sheds light on his personal experience in and out of homelessness and what he hopes to accomplish through his work as a scholar.

Additionally, a little later, we’re joined by the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, liberal minister of families, children and social development to gain insight into the Canadian government’s position on helping ensure every Canadian has a safe, affordable place to live. First, though, Jessie Thistle. What an honour it is to have you sharing our REAL TIME podcast today. Thank you. Thank you so much, Jesse, it means a lot to us.

Jesse Thistle: It’s a pleasure to be here with you, Erin.

Erin: You’ve shed light on your personal experience in and out of homelessness. Now, you’re looking to the future at what you hope to accomplish through your work as a scholar for someone who has literally been there and done that. I know there’s no singular reason for why people experience homelessness. It is such a complex issue affecting everybody differently, Jesse. Let’s talk about you. Can you tell us about your own experience? And how you got to where you are today?

Jesse: Sure, yes. I guess I would say I’m a consumer-survivor of the streets. I lived off and on the streets from ’97 till I got off them in 2011. My homelessness was cyclical. I stayed in emergency shelters, slept on the streets. I had apartments in that time too for brief periods of time. What happened with me really was trauma from my early childhood experiences. I’m an indigenous person who comes from Northern Saskatchewan. I’m Métis-Cree and my family fell apart because of this something called intergenerational trauma.

We were lost to CAS through actions from my father. I ended up being raised in Brampton without any sense of myself as an indigenous person always searching around, getting in lots of fistfights as a frustrated young man. I eventually started using drugs and alcohol and then I ended up on the streets. My book really tracks my life from my earliest memory on the road allowances in northern Saskatchewan through to when I come out the other side, out of my cyclical homelessness in 2008, then I become a scholar, by going to university. That’s what I am now. I’m an assistant professor.

Erin: That’s a huge leap from where you go…and then I became a scholar by going to university. How did that happen?

Jesse: I had a wonderful wife that kicked my butt every day, that took me out of the– When I was finishing my rehab, when I went through the program, it was a year-long program called Harvest House. After I was court-ordered, I got in quite a bit of trouble with the law. My sentence was to go to this rehab and do one year instead of in lieu of my sentence, and at the end of it, my wife was there and she took me in and gave me a place to stay in Toronto.

She got me my first job cutting French fries, which I’m still very proud. I was the best French fry-cutter they ever had. Then I went on to work construction for a couple of years and all the while, I had made a promise to my grandmother that I would go to university and give it a shot and really, really learn to read and write properly at an academic level.

While I was there, I figured out I was pretty good at it. I just got really good grades.

I just continued doing what felt natural to me. The end of it was me winning a bunch of academic awards, then being asked to tender my application in for this assistant professorship which I got the job. I got the job in 2018.

Erin: Now, you taught Jesse about a promise you made to your grandmother that you were going to university. Were there other people in your family who had gone on to post-secondary learning?

Jesse: Not in my direct nuclear family. My grandparents never went. My mom didn’t go. My dad disappeared in 1982, he’s presumed to be murdered. He didn’t go. He had drug issues. My brother Josh was an RCMP. He didn’t go. I think he went to some sort of community college for work. My other brother Jerry, I think he dabbled in art school, but he never completed. I’m the first one to go and complete my degree.

Erin: How does one get from university to writing a book that ends up on a bestsellers’ list? For many authors, it’s a matter of writing a story and then shopping and having it rejected and rejected and rejected. I was one of the very fortunate few when Harper Collins came to me and said you’ve got a story. I was in my own experience, kissed by God. Did you also have that celestial kiss? How did you come to write a book, Jesse?

Jesse: I did. That’s a great way to put it, celestial kiss is how I would say it too. What happened was I was in university. First couple years are difficult, because I was just out of rehab, and I was just a blue-collar construction worker, I couldn’t read very well. I had to really put in a lot of work and effort. I get up at 4:30 like I was working construction and force the words in the journals that I was reading to make sense, that I’d have to read four and five times sometimes over and over and over.

I did this for the first two years of school and because I was so dedicated, and I put in the time, around the third year of university, I started to outclass the people that I was in school with who had always been in school because I just had a better work ethic, I guess. By the fourth year, I never got below an A. Most of my marks are A pluses. That qualified me for the Governor General’s Award in academics, finished the top student out of 50,000 at York University.

Then I applied for these two major doctoral awards. The Trudeau and the Vanier doctoral awards, they are the most prestigious in Canada. They’re like the Rhodes Scholarship for Canada. The way I won all three of these things, no one at York University had ever done that before so the Toronto Star came to do a story on my life. When I was talking with a reporter, he’s like, ” You’re a little bit older to be at school, and I know you have a life story. How did you get here?”

I said, “If you really want to know, my journey off the streets starts with me robbing a 7-Eleven. That’s really where my education starts in the prison system.” He’s just like, “That’s the story, Jesse.” He wrote the story about how I got off the streets and the awards. A couple of weeks later, I got a call from Simon & Schuster. They said, “We’re interested in publishing your story.”

When I went into that meeting, they asked me, “Do you have anything written about your life?” I said, “I kind of do.” I’ve been doing my AA steps since I got out of treatment in 2009. This is 2017 when they asked me. I sent that to them and they called me back right away and offered me a major book contract. I didn’t even have a book when I was offered a contract.

Erin: Wow. Now, Jesse, why do you think From the Ashes has resonated so loudly and been so successful?

Jesse: I think it has to do with that it’s a universal theme. I deal with homelessness is the primary theme. There’s also family dysfunction, there’s trauma, there’s addiction, there’s a lot of issues that resonate in the national consciousness around colonialism and indigenous peoples. All of these mashed together. I also wrote the book in a non-accusatory way. I wasn’t lecturing at people about these issues. I just presented my life as it happened.

That gives people a safe way to interact with these issues, then it’s relatable because I’m not lecturing at them. They’re like, “I can see my uncle’s story, or my father’s, or this is what our family went through.” In the way I told it, it’s got a broad reach. That’s not just for people who are interested in indigenous issues or even homeless issues. There’s broader issues like love, family love, brotherhood that are at play here.

Erin: Those are all issues that we’re going to be talking about in today’s very special episode with you, Jesse. When we return, Jesse Thistle is going to read from From the Ashes. 

This year, we’re encouraging REALTORS® to learn about homelessness in Canada, efforts to prevent it and to end it, and what the REALTOR® community is all about. Most of you already know by volunteering and raising funds, REALTORS® across this country of ours are playing meaningful roles in the communities where you work and live. 

Jesse, would you honour us with a reading from From the Ashes, and before you do, please set up the surrounding story to what you’re about to read. Would you?

Jesse: Sure. Yes. This is a story, dear, dear, to my heart. It’s about one of my friends who are one of the only people out there that looked out for me. “I’d been on the streets off and on for a few years at this point and I’m in a shelter in Brampton called Wilkinson Road. I had a friend there named Abdi and he was like a 65, 70-year-old Somalian man who developed an alcoholic problem when he came to this country because he didn’t fit in.

Every night before bed, he would look out for me and just protect me and make sure that nobody hurt me. I missed my friend and I think of him all the time. Abdi, if you’re out there listening, this is for you, buddy. The King of Somalia, “Goodnight, Abdi. You crusty, old bastard,” I said and rested my head on my pillow. “Abdi was a Somalian man of about 65. He was my buddy and always slept in the bed next to me at the homeless shelter. Samantha was off on the woman’s side.” That was my girlfriend then.

“Hey,” I said a minute later, “I’ve been meaning to ask you. You said you were the King of Somalia. Is that true?” As expected, Abdi’s face flushed and his eyes bulged. “Would I lie peasant, of course, I am the King of Somalia? How dare you question my royal blood?” Obviously, I knew he wasn’t Somali royalty. I like joking with Abdi to get them going and he’d do the same with me. It was our only form of entertainment in this horrible yet hospitable place.

Life hadn’t been good to Abdi. He’d fled Somalia with his family when civil war broke out in the early ’90s. Soon after, he’d become an alcoholic and his wife had left him for another man. Abdi would reminisce about his homeland, telling me how he used to shepherd massive herds of cattle between Kenya and Somalia and how he’d sit every night watching the orange-red African sunset.

By the way his eyes lit up, I could see it was something he missed dearly. I try to imagine how hard it must’ve been for him to be forced out of his homeland only to end up in a homeless shelter in a foreign country that seemingly didn’t want him or his problems. Hey, “Thistle,” Abdi said, as he leaned over, “You know how I know you’re a real Streeter like me?” “I don’t know. Maybe it’s in the way I drink the rest of the old English piss water.

He cringed. “No, that’s just disgusting. Dirty Canadian drinking dirty American beer. No, young blood. It’s in the way you sleep.” “How do you mean, and why are you watching me while I sleep?” “I always watch out for you,” he said, “when you sleep to make sure no one steals your stuff.” I thought about it and he was right. I watched out for him too. It was just what friends did in this place.

“Indian, you’ve had your shoes stolen so many times,” he said, “you sleep with them on. See,” he pulled up his blanket, exposing his grungy, muddy, black boots and smiled. “You see those other young guys?” Abdi pointed at two young men with their shoes placed under their cots, “They’re little puppies, down on their luck momentarily. One day, if they’re at it long enough, they’ll learn like we did, never take your shoes off.”

Having no shoes and homeless was the worst. It could take a day or two to find a new pair that fit from the donation box and that was if you were lucky. Other times you’d have to leave the shelter shoeless at 7:00 AM to go and wait at the chaplain’s office at 8:00 AM to get a voucher to take up to the Sally Ann up the street so they could outfit you with a new pair, or you had to go without for a few days or steal a pair from Zellers and risk your freedom.

When you were shoeless in winter, it was almost unbearable. I surveyed the shelter beds, only about a third of the guys had their shoes on like we did. I never noticed that about myself, but every night I tied my shoes on with triple even quadruple knots, just to give myself a chance of keeping thieves from stealing the shoes right off my feet, and even then, they even got them sometimes. “I guess I do sleep with my shoes on, Abdi,” I said and laughed.” That’s a story about my buddy, Abdi.

Erin: Ooh, wow. There is so much there. It’s heartbreaking, it’s heartwarming, it’s eye-opening. Shoes, it’s all it comes down to. We’re talking in such broad terms about homelessness and shelters and REALTORS® Care Week and all of these things that are such big picture things, but it comes down to shoes, to safety, to friendship, to dignity.

In a way, Jesse, I think so much of your story is about the importance of family and relationships and home. What has the family of a friend like Abdi or with your wife and where you are now, what has family come to mean to you and what should it mean to those of us looking in?

Jesse: Well, I learned on the streets through people like Abdi and my own experiences that we ultimately, newcomer, native, and Canadians, we walk in the same moccasins and that’s the moccasins of our families and our homes and our love. That’s everything, that’s who we are as people and that’s so important to recognize, to humanize, to understand. By telling my story and sharing a little bit of my friend Abdi, I have brought the reader to walk with me, to see how it actually feels to be homeless, to have a friend to watch out for you, to watch out for your shoes. My hope is that it humanizes the experience and gets people to care.

Erin: Yet, the dichotomy of you coming from the original inhabitants of this country and Abdi being here new to Canada, and yet being metaphorically in the same boat, wearing the same moccasins, as you say, and holding on to those for dear life every night as you sleep. It’s just, it’s dark.

Jesse: If you think about our paths though, we’re both impacted by colonialism. Ethiopia has a history of repelling colonial invasions and destabilization by invading Italians in the 1940s. My people have a history of colonial trauma because of the way we were displaced from our lands. We actually do walk very similar paths.

Erin: Jesse, what do you think Canadians need to know about homelessness? I’m sure there are just as many wrong ideas and false beliefs surrounding it as there are realities. Cutting through to what is true, what do you want us to know?

Jesse: I want Canadians to know that homelessness is not an individual choice and it’s not a product of addiction or mental health or bad choices. It’s really a policy choice of bad governance over time. We’re not building the right amount of housing, public housing on par with the way that the population has grown for the last 40 years. The lower rungs of society who don’t own homes, who have been renting at high cost are now being pushed into homelessness.

That’s really, really important to understand because you see things like tent cities all across the country now where this didn’t exist 10 years ago. The problem, through this lens, you have to understand all those people didn’t make that choice. There’s larger socioeconomic pushes from bad governance over time that are creating this problem. We need to change our policy, vote in people that are going to change some of these things and start looking to creative solutions in governance to fix the issues.

Erin: Jesse, what would you say to those who say that the– let’s say the tent cities and parks. This is a situation that has ramped up, as you say, exponentially here in my home city of Victoria, British Columbia. I’m hearing and reading a lot of thoughts on this. Address this one for me, if you would, those who say that the bad governance is the governance that has allowed this to happen. What bad governance are you talking about?

Jesse: I’m talking about 30, 40 years of successive parties, kind of doing the same thing over time. This is municipal governments. This is provincial, federal and they’re of all different stripes. They’ve all not focused on homelessness and housing and made it a priority. A culmination of their decisions has created this. You can’t really place it on one particular party or our strata of government. All levels of governance have created this issue. It’s going to take all of them to get out of this.

Erin: Jesse, tell me what are some of the biggest obstacles preventing Canadians who really desperately want to …with overcoming homelessness?

Jesse: I think that we need to realize that we need to have a government, a federal government that works with the provinces and cities to commit to ending homelessness. I think a critical first step is found in that federal leadership. I’m on the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness and they’ve developed a six-point plan called Recovery for All. I’ll just go through a little bit of that because I think people need to understand what this program is and then start to maybe put a little pressure on the governments to try and implement it.

We need a federal commitment with timelines and targets to the prevention and elimination of homelessness and this has to be a priority. With expanded federal investments in community-based homelessness responses. 

Number two, a national guaranteed minimum income to ensure those in greatest need have minimum financial resources to help them meet their basic needs and prevent homelessness when times are tough like we’re seeing all around us now.

Number three, construction of 300,000 new permanently affordable and supportive housing units and enhance rental supports for low-income Canadians to address Canada’s housing and homelessness crisis. 

Number four, meaningful implementation of the right to housing. This is to resolve surface inequalities and systemic structural breakdowns that contribute to homelessness and housing needs. 

Number five, an implementation to curtail the impacts of financialization of rental housing markets. The building of condominiums, we got to start re-zoning and building co-op housing all across our major cities.

Lastly, we need a realistic implementation of an urban and rural indigenous housing and homelessness strategy. This was supposed to come in June 2017. It just wasn’t launched. 

This strategy, indigenous housing strategy, I believe must be developed and implemented by urban, rural, and Northern indigenous peoples themselves and their housing and service providers. That’s a Recovery for All and this is a really clear path that I think Canadians should be made aware of to start pressuring our governments to implement.

Erin: Where can people find that list, Recovery for All?

Jesse: That’s at www.caeh.ca.

Erin: As far as you know, has that been seen by anyone in Ottawa or in provincial government or even in city councils? Do you know if this message is landing in the right laps these days?

Jesse: Yes, there are places like Edmonton, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray, Guelph, Chatham, Dufferin County that are moving towards making this a reality. You can see their numbers in homelessness already starting to drop by this positive action towards ending homelessness.

Erin: How much has COVID mitigated steps forward? Just before we sat down for our interview today, I read an article on cbc.ca, about a man in Toronto who is now starting to build little houses on caster wheels that have insulation and he’s doing what he can with meager resources to try and help those who are facing a winter where shelters may not even be available because of COVID. The numbers are just overwhelming everyone and everything in the system. What do you think COVID has done in terms of 2020 and helping the homelessness situation, Jesse?

Jesse: It’s certainly made it more visible. We were seeing tent cities in places like here in Hamilton, Toronto, Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton is another one. These places, the homelessness has become so visible all of a sudden. We’re not really sure if it’s an increase in homelessness or if it’s a decrease in rentable space. It’s too early to say definitively. I would say personally, yes. Definitely, COVID has exposed the cracks and there’s a lot more people falling in between them. Addictions have gone up, rates of overdose have gone up. Certainly, I believe housing has become more of an issue, but we just don’t know if that’s really actually increased homelessness.

Erin: Okay. As you know Jesse, this episode complements REALTORS® Care Week 2020, which aims to raise awareness of homelessness in Canada. Even as we are seeing it with our own eyes as you mention, the proliferation of tent cities and people being forced out now who were just living on the financial edge and have lost their jobs because of shutdowns and because of the pandemic. We’re talking about the REALTORS® who are listening right now, what can Canadians do to make a difference?

Jesse: Donate. I think donation to orgs where you live is critical. Volunteer. These places are always short-staffed. There’s nothing that can replace human power, human caring, just like that guy who’s building those shelters. Then on the political side, I would say talk to your officials and find out if they’re committed to something like Recovery for All, or Housing First, or any of these programs that have been proven to work. What are they actually doing about the issue?

Erin: From the individual to the large organizations, how can they use their voice and influence to help, Jesse?

Jesse: I would say vote. Voting for who has a platform on housing is critical and who’s made it a center-stage issue because it is one of the most critical issues in Canada today. It doesn’t get the platform that it deserves. Then beyond that, as an indigenous person, I would always ask voters to look and see if the people that they’re voting for who have these housing platforms are they making the truth and reconciliation recommendations or the murdered and missing indigenous women and girls calls to action.

Are they making those important issues because they’re interlinked, the homelessness and these issues are interlinked. They go back through our colonial history and they need to be addressed. If we just leave them, they’re going to keep getting worse and worse.

Erin: Certainly, before we sat down for this conversation, it probably crossed your mind you were going to be talking to Canadian Real Estate Association members. What went through your mind? If there was one message you could just say, “Hey, listen, this is what we need from you.” You’ve got the microphone, you’ve got the podium, Jesse, what do you want our members to hear?

Jesse: Well, you guys are part of the apparatus that gets families into homes, and so help the orgs that you see out there that are working on the ground with people that are coming out of homelessness and try to make housing accessible for them. Be that by donating, be that by helping people into their first homes or volunteering at soup kitchens or whatever, just like help out. You guys are like an army of people that have the power to do this. For me to you guys, we need help and we’d love it if you threw in a hand.

Erin: We started out talking today about family, about Abdi in the shelter watching over you, about the importance of family to us all, as individuals, as a society. What does that come down to for you as we wrap up, what is your family to you now, and what are you trying to show them, to surround them with as you live out the rest of your life, Jesse, this meaningful life that you have taken on?

Jesse: What I realized most is that home is love. Home is love, and you get that love from your family and from those around you. That’s the most important message, and so getting people housed is also about making people feel loved. To me, those two issues are intertwined. They’re braided together. That’s what I want people to know most.

Erin: We will be watching you, Jesse. We’ll be listening for you, but more importantly, I think we will be helping to spread your word for you. Thank you so much for your time today, for sharing your message, and hopefully, opening some eyes and some ears to what the homeless in Canada really truly want.

Jesse: Thank you, Erin. This has been a dream of mine. I listened to you growing up and here I am on the podcast. The world is a wild place sometimes. Thank you very much.

Erin: Amen to that, brother. Thank you. Thank you for sharing your story with us today, allowing us to untie those triple knots and walk in your shoes just for a little bit. It’s such an honour, it really truly is. Congratulations.

Jesse: Thank you. My pleasure. Thank you.

Erin: That is award-winning scholar, best-selling author, Jesse Thistle, From the Ashes is an amazing read. We’re so lucky to have had him here with us today to tell his story. You heard Jesse speak in this episode of REAL TIME about the role and responsibility of government at all levels for ending homelessness in Canada. 

Recently, CREA CEO, Michael Bourque sat down with Canada’s Minister of Families, Children and Social Development. The Honourable Ahmed Hussen shared with Michael his government’s plan to address homelessness, including targets for eliminating it, increasing the supply of different types of housing, supporting the National Housing Strategy and funding.

We’d like to share some of that discussion with you now. Michael asked the minister about something that really caught all of our attention back in September, the Speech from the Throne, which laid out an ambitious plan to tackle homelessness and affordable housing. The Honourable Ahmed Hussen was asked how the government plans to deliver on those committees?

Ahmed Hussen: The Speech from the Throne is a statement of intent, it’s broad outlines. Of course, in the late fall we will have a fiscal update that will provide a little bit more detail in terms of the money and then fiscal projections into the future. A couple of things I’ll say about that. Speech from the Throne recognized as a government, because of the National Housing Strategy, we’ve made a lot of progress in reducing chronic homelessness.

The previous target that we had was to reduce chronic homelessness by 50%. The Speech from the Throne has now indicated that as a government, our government, the Trudeau government will eliminate chronic homelessness entirely. I think we can do that. We have the resources; we have the political will. We have the collaboration with provinces and territories and municipal leaders that can be seen as a result of our national response to COVID-19. Now’s the time to do it. We will do whatever we can in terms of providing the leadership and the resources to eliminate chronic homelessness from Canada. We can do it, it’s long overdue and we will be the government that does that. 

The second thing we committed to doing is to reinforce the elements of the National Housing Strategy that are working very well. The Rental Construction Financing initiative, The National Housing Strategy Co-Investment Fund. Those housing streams of funding are working really, really well. They’re very good government policy because we get the money back, most of it anyway. We’re providing high-quality housing with energy efficiency standards, as well as accessibility standards.

Erin: For REALTORS®, increasing the supply of housing is a top priority. To that end, CREA has been encouraging the federal government to use its infrastructure agreements with provinces and municipalities to reduce the barriers in the supply of housing. Minister Hussen was asked for insight into his discussions with minister of infrastructure and communities, Catherine McKenna, and other colleagues in this regard.

Ahmed: Minister McKenna and I work really, really closely. There’s hardly a week that goes by without us having a very in-depth conversation of either her file or my file. We are intimately involved in making sure that housing and infrastructure go hand in hand. As your members would know, the more we invest in infrastructure, the more housing becomes available. Transport infrastructure, other forms of community infrastructure, enables housing, we all know that.

You’ll be excited to know that our government’s commitment to investing in infrastructure in communities, in transit, in other regional transportation links, as well as green infrastructure. All of those things, water, wastewater, green initiatives, all of that is there, in fact, we’re increasing those investments. I strongly believe that there is a very strong link between the two. The more we invest in infrastructure, the more housing we can build in this country and the more available housing stock becomes available to Canadians.

You’ve seen that during COVID-19, for example, what is raising the prices in some urban centers in Canada is not so much the market in terms of the demand, it’s the supply. The supply is tightening because of the disruption of COVID-19. When you have limited supply, you also have price appreciation, and so less and less people can afford a home.

We’re very concerned about the supply, but you can unlock more supply and incentivize more supply when you build more transit, when you invest in more regional transportation infrastructure, and so on.

Minister Mckenna and I work very hard, together we collaborate closely. I am one of her biggest supporters in cabinet when it comes to investing more in infrastructure. 

The second point I wanted to make is leadership from the municipal leaders. For us to get housing right, it can just be federal leadership. Yes, we will bring the lion’s share of the resources under the National Housing Strategy. We’ll bring the leadership back into the housing game, which we have since 2017 but municipal leaders can do a lot.

They can provide more land for housing; they can speed up the permitting and approvals process. They can also do a lot to unlock money as part of the National Housing Strategy. I’ve been one of the biggest champions of the National Housing Strategy when it comes to municipal leaders. I engage with them almost on a weekly basis to really encourage them to move forward on housing innovation, on being more ambitious in terms of increasing the housing stock.

There is some tools in their hands that they can exercise, and I’ve been working with them to exercise those tools more. Last but not least, just two days before the Speech from the Throne, I announced a very interesting new funding stream called the Rapid Housing Initiative, $1 billion to permanently house the most vulnerable people in our communities. When I say rapid housing, it is only for modular housing and other forms of housing that can be built really quickly in months not years, and enabling municipal leaders to purchase hotels and motels and convert it into housing.

It’s a very unique funding stream to house people who are now housed temporarily or who are on the street to house them permanently. That fund will at the minimum build 3,000 new affordable housing units, and hopefully more if there’s other contributions.

Erin: CREA CEO, Michael Bourque asked in their discussion, how the minister’s thoughts on housing have changed in the amount of time he spent with the portfolio. REALTORS®, he said, are interested in the whole spectrum from rentals through to homeownership.

Ahmed: The Rental Construction Financing Initiative, it’s $13.75 billion fund and it’s 100% financing, so we get all the money back. Through that process, we lend that money to private developers to build rental housing, mixed housing. A portion of it is subsidized but the rest are market rent. By sheer numbers, by putting more rental stock on the market, we’re stabilizing the rental market. We’re enabling more people to have access to high-quality rental units. As part of our CFI, there’s also conditions to access that money.

The developer has to build close to transit, close to workplaces and community centers, and schools and they have to meet minimum energy efficiency and accessibility standards. You have this program, $13.75 billion, 100% financing, so we get all the money back, but we have these great outcomes, we’re building communities. We’re building huge communities. We’re not talking about one building, in some of these projects is like four or five different towers.

One of the projects I unveiled in London, Ontario, is two towers side-by-side, Rental Construction Financing Initiative built that. They will be the two tallest towers between Mississauga and Calgary. We’re building density, we’re building communities. Rent is a huge part. We can’t forget about the rental market. 

The second thing that I’m really excited about is the Canada Housing Benefit. This is a portable rental supplement that goes directly to individuals, it’s not connected to our housing unit. If you receive it and you move, it moves with you. It is cost matched and cost-shared by provinces. We’ve signed that agreement with a number of provinces now. In the case of Ontario, for example, The Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit is up and running and it is to enable people to exit shelters and get rental housing or to go from being under-housed to being adequately housed.

Let me give you an example, like a family of five living in a one-bedroom. They would be able to get the Canada housing benefit to then access a three-bedroom or whatever. 

The Canada Housing Benefit is another one and then more investments as part of the bilateral agreements. We have bilateral agreements with provinces and territories. We’re in a situation where now the government of Canada assigned housing agreements with each and every province and territory and as part of those agreements, billions of dollars are flowing to build and sustain community housing, co-ops, co-op units, subsidized units, and rental supplements.

As I said, since 2017, we’ve really come back into the housing game and we’re providing not only that federal leadership but tremendous amounts of resources but also enabling more Canadians to get their first home.

Erin: That’s the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development in conversation recently with CREA CEO, Michael Bourque. 

Well, this has been what I hope was an enlightening episode of REAL TIME with author of the astounding and unforgettable From the Ashes scholar, Métis-Cree, social activist, Jesse Thistle on his life from high school dropout to rising indigenous scholar and professor of Métis studies at York University. I can’t wait to read the next chapter in his life. Our sincere thanks to Minister Hussen for taking time to talk with our CREA members. 

Hey, speaking of which we love to hear from you, and thanks for calling our line to leave the best advice you’ve received as a REALTOR®. Let’s listen in.

Participant: Hi, this is Georg Boucher from Montreal. My advice is the following. When I first started in sales, my boss told me there were three types of employees. Basically, the ones who didn’t do their job and those were pretty easy to deal with because they were all just sent on their merry way. Then there were the ones who were doing their job, and those were basically the ones who were just staying there and doing the job. Then there were the ones who did their job and more than what the client expected. Those actually got the referrals, they got the promotions, they got more money, they got bonuses.

It was true actually as a sales rep back in the ’80s. Well, guess what? It is the same thing with brokers and real estate agents. The ones who don’t do the job, they’re not referred, and basically, they have no clients. The ones who just do the job but no more, they just go along and get business but they don’t really thrive. The ones that actually deliver more than the order, well, those actually get ahead of everybody and get referrals, they get more business and they actually, I think, have more fun in the business.

Erin: Thank you, merci to Georg Boucher from Montreal and reminding us all to go the extra mile or kilometer. Got some wisdom you want to share? Just call this number and leave us a message. 1888-768-6793. That’s 1888-768-6793. We look forward to hearing from you. 

Hey, just before we go, here’s another reason you’re going to want to subscribe to this podcast because our 10th REAL TIME is a look back at 2020. The twists and turns and why for some, especially REALTORS®, buying that day planner was not a waste of time after all.

Plus, like everyone else, we’ll be looking ahead at the year to come. Thank you for taking some time to listen to episode nine of REAL TIME. Then a lot personally, to get to talk to Jesse and to hear from Minister Hussen himself about what our government is doing as we move into the new year. 

REAL TIME is a Real Family Production produced by Rob Whitehead and Alphabet® Creative. I’m Erin Davis. We’ll talk with you again soon and don’t forget to subscribe.