Virginia Weiler Answers
1. What could Vancity do to create more affordable housing for both low- and middle-income Vancouverites?
2. How can Vancity use financial products or services to support the creation of more rental housing units in Vancouver?
Vancity's business was built on selling mortgages to people in this region. Vancity was founded 64 years ago because people who lived east of Main Street couldn't get mortgages from the established lenders who thought borrowers from working class neighbourhoods were too risky. They got together and formed a financial co-op and began Vancity's long history of financing people who are otherwise under-served.
A few years ago Vancity created the mixer mortgage that makes it easier for small groups (friends etc) to purchase a residence together and divide the mortgage responsibility accordingly. Vancity created a springboard mortgage to help people who have a strong rental payment history living in housing societies, co-ops or subsidized housing to purchase a residence.
Doing this has the added advantage of freeing up another affordable rental housing space. Vancity needs to examine products that make home ownership more accessible and expand those that work. Vancity also finances commercial construction projects that develop multi-family residential homes, often condos and town houses.
Our new Social Finance division at Vancity integrates all our commercial lending services and sustainability experience. By blending this expertise and drawing on various types of capital (grants, guaranteed loans, traditional loans, patient venture capital), Vancity will become a bigger player in affordable housing.
We are creating suitable mortgage products for co-op housing societies looking to refurbish or expand their number of housing units. We seek partners (e.g. CMHC, BC Housing, local government, developers, foundations etc) to help us deliver financing solutions that incent property developers to build more rental housing.
Vancity will advocate even more on priority social issues such as affordable housing and the related homelessness crisis. This means growing our support for civil society groups (non-profits) that are working to solve homelessness and affordable housing with grants and other services. And it means bringing Vancity's leadership voice to tables that are working on solutions, calling for more leadership and resources from federal and provincial governments, and working with local governments to help create more units.
1. What can Vancity do to provide incentives to its members to use alternatives to private vehicles in the same way it has facilitated alternative transportation programs for its 2,400 staff?
2. How can Vancity use financial products or services to support the widespread adoption of alternatives to private vehicle use in Vancouver?
Vancity and its staff have displayed incredible leadership in reducing our carbon footprint by changing our own commuting and workplace transportation practises. This initiative has been growing and deepening for more than 15 years.
I remember programs when I was on staff at Vancity and B.E.S.T. (Better Environmentally Sound Transportation) was assisted to locate next to Vancity head office under the Skytrain station. The culture change didn't happen overnight but is a result of many years of strategic and intentional support to help Vancity staff adapt their values, behaviours and priorities around transportation.
When Vancity put a group of red bikes into free circulation in Vancouver two years ago, it was a natural step given our deep history promoting healthy transportation choices. We can design our branches to support alternative transportation - everything from accessible secure bike racks to designating car co-op parking spaces.
We can inform our members about transportation options (including C.A.N. Cooperative Auto Network) and focus our marketing efforts on carbon reducing transportation. We can continue to promote social and environmental change organizations, such as Climate Smart which helps small businesses measure and reduce their carbon footprint - of which employee transportation is a major component.
Vancity delivers financial literacy training widely through community organizations which can educate people about how reducing car ownership can result in more personal savings and greater mortgage access. The purchasing power of our 430,000 members is an asset Vancity wants to further develop.
Vancity was a founding sponsor of the U-Pass program which offers heavily discounted transit passes for all university students. U-Pass resulted in major declines in single car traffic to U.B.C. and was later expanded to other colleges and universities. If a critical mass of Vancity members wanted monthly or annual transit passes, the U-Pass model could be adapted for Vancity members. The idea of "bulk purchase" or "preferred pricing" could be extended to commuter bicycles, electric bikes and larger ticket items.
We offer preferential loans for hybrid car purchases and this product would benefit from expanded criteria and more favourable terms. And, we must continue to support non-profits that advocate for sustainable transportation and healthy communities.
Citizen Engagement and Involvement
1. What could Vancity do to include more citizen engagement in its decision-making processes?2. How can local branches engage citizens more directly in Vancouver's 23 neighbourhoods?
If you are a Vancity member, please vote in our board elections which run until March 27th. Effective board leadership is critical to making Vancity a better credit union so please learn more about the candidates and our leadership style and values. Come to our Annual General Meeting on April 20, 2010 at the Italian Cultural Centre.
At Vancity the marketing, communications and research services were combined to form a Member Engagement Division - and deeper member engagement is the way of our future. Vancity has an online member panel called My2cents where thousands of members provide feedback on products, services and other issues. Please join this member forum and help it grow into a more robust citizen engagement tool.
Vancity also hosts an online community called Change Everything which moves well beyond the world of banking into inspiring personal and community change.
When it comes to our 60 plus branches in lower mainland, Victoria and Squamish, our vision is that these places become a true extension of their communities – a living room of sorts. You will see more locally relevant information including which non-profits and community initiatives in your neighbourhood are making good things happen and how you can get connected. You will see our branches designed with an eye to creating accessible community space.
You will see more of Vancity’s grant decisions made at the regional level and benefiting from more local knowledge and leadership. Vancity is a financial institution, but at its heart is also an asset owned by its community and its 430,000 members.
Vancity is working hard right now to make it easier and faster for members to do your banking business in the branches (more staff training, better and faster processes, and upgrading our IT system which will make a big difference for members). As this work is completed, it will give Vancity staff more time to connect with members about their interests and how they would like to see Vancity show up in their community.
1. What else would you like to tell Think City supporters about your candidacy?
Board leadership is so important to Vancity’s success. I am running together with candidates Heather Tremain and Allen Garr who each bring progressive values, a collaborative and respectful leadership style, and diverse experience (Heather is a green developer and Allen a trained accountant and labour/economics/politics journalist) that we need on the Vancity board.
We are part of a twenty-five year history of Vancity board leadership called the Action team which has championed Vancity’s role not only as a banker but also as a social, environmental and community change agent. The Vancity we know today grows out of that legacy.
You can connect with us through our Vote Action website or by joining our Vancity Action Team facebook group.
And a bit about me - I am currently the Vice Chair of the Vancity board and am seeking re-election after serving for three years. I run an economic development consultancy and parent our preschooler.
I have an MBA and previously worked in East Africa for CIDA, USAID, UN Global Fund and World Bank preparing financing ($200 million) to tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis.
In 1996, I joined Vancity as an employee and I helped Vancity become the first North American financial institution to operate a “peer loan fund” investing in new immigrant and women entrepreneurs. I helped create Vancity Capital Corporation which finances growing businesses.
As Ecotrust Canada’s founding director of economic development, I established B.C.'s first conservation loan fund for small business with ShoreBank (1999).
Thanks for your support. You can vote now using your mailed ballot or in Vancity branches between March 19 and 27, 2010.