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Posted July 3, 2024

Let’s not forget about Kyla Sweeney when it comes to fixing Canada’s housing crisis 

"I am here to support my teammates and create community. If you need help, I am here for you!” 

The words placed at the bottom of Kyla Sweeney’s VIDA email signature define her perfectly, as a Team Captain Building Ambassador for the emerging rental real estate company. Wherever there’s Kyla, good things happen. We need to remember Canada needs people with her kind of work ethic, if we are to move forward as a productive nation.  

Kyla typically spends her days as an early-childhood educator in the toddler room at a local Halifax daycare. Yet, she still finds time and energy to support neighbours throughout VIDA’s apartment rental community in Fairview. She’s a prime example of what someone can do with the company’s unique model for the working class, missing middle, caught in today’s national housing shortage. In recent years inflation and an unpredictable economic rollercoaster has stunted dreams throughout this large pocket of society, leaving millions to grapple with affordability concerns. 

The oldest of three children, Kyla was always a doer growing up in the small east coast town of Stewiacke. But she didn’t envision her strong work ethic would become the ethos of what’s needed amid a crisis. Before finding an apartment with VIDA in 2018, Kyla, and her brother Alex, went to school together at Mount Saint Vincent University. At first, they simply became roommates off-campus to save on costs for a period. Kyla also complimented her brother’s Autism, guiding his independence into adulthood. Needing an apartment building that would allow for their dog Baxter, they eventually found a new company with a unique living concept that had availability, VIDA.  

“I remember being one of the first customers to move into our building that summer,” says Kyla. “It was an interesting start, with most people moving in the same weekend. VIDA had just purchased two buildings in Fairview with a bad reputation, but I had faith in what they could do for the community. It was the perfect affordable spot for my brother and me, which was key, because we didn’t have steady jobs yet.” 

Shortly after moving in, Kyla noticed Ron Lovett, VIDA’s Founder & CEO, was on the hunt to fill a new role called the Building Ambassador. Little did she realize, VIDA’s “BAs” would be at the core of an innovative vision that would flip the rental real estate industry on its head, by decentralizing communications and decision-making. 

BAs, like Kyla, have since become the heart and soul of VIDA. They are trained to be frontline customer service supports, managing daily operations within their own buildings in exchange for rent credits. The role handles move-ins and move-outs, cleaning, coordinating repair and maintenance, planning community events, and completing tasks that drive value for VIDA and its customers.  

BAs operate in teams that promote speedy response times, creative cost savings, and real-time information exchange. The result has mitigated bottlenecks in communications, resulting in streamlined activation for the customer and company alike. The overall impact of the role has caused a reaction of confidence, empathy, and skill development throughout the buildings, releasing decisions historically caught in middle management. Decentralization also enables adaptability to complex environments, and strengthens both community and corporate culture to scale. 

“The first thing I did was expedite the resolution of a pest control issue in and around my building,” says Kyla, about rolling up her sleeves and jumping into action as a BA. “I went to supply stores and asked the people who worked there about the best solutions to eliminate mice. They showed me how to mix spray foam and steel wool. That way, the mice couldn’t chew through it or push it out of the way. Then, I went home and searched for the holes around the building. These older buildings settle over time, and new holes can appear. Each resident I went to helped me search for the holes, and we solved the problem together.” 

VIDA’s approach to aging apartment buildings mindfully balances purpose and profit. Today, the Halifax-based rental company has grown from Kyla’s 12-unit building to nearly 2,800 units, and 170 buildings, across four provinces. The decentralized business model has been able to maintain affordability for customers. VIDA’s average rent is $945, with heat and hot water included in most buildings.  

Driven by making a social impact, corporate partnerships with Amazon Business, TELUS Health, and more, have also expanded into VIDA’s model. The strategic relationships offer better access to products that support positive daily, and long-term, outcomes for resident customers.  

There are also plenty of opportunities for customers to benefit and contribute to creating their own affordability. VidaU’s learning and development programs offer skill-building workshops for minor repair and maintenance, helping generate rent credits. Overall, VIDA keeps rents at 10% to 25% below market, and reinvests at least 5% of company profits back into the communities.  

There are also gift incentives, gamified prizes, and an educational bursary to boost aspects of community. For many, the little extra cash rewards VIDA distributes towards bigger life investments, and achievements, are a helpful touch when it comes to getting ahead in life. 

“I’ve had three customers in the last year obtain home ownership, which is a proud moment for all of us,” Kyla notes. “These people were with us for an extended period, and they were able to save their resources to make it happen. They inspire others living in our buildings to avoid losing sight of their dreams. I love it when I see people using VIDA’s platform to help achieve their aspirations. Those type of positive stories let me know we’re doing the right things here.” 

As VIDA’s model continues to gain momentum, the question is what comes next in a housing crisis compounded by lack of stock and affordability. A litany of macro events now has the country in a desperate, and perplexing, situation. With a slowdown in the labour market, younger generations and newer Canadians now face the biggest affordability challenges ahead. Inflation keeps rising year over year, sitting at 6.2% in May. And corporate investments appear to be pulling back, causing affordable housing developments to fade into the abyss.   

The federal government’s new 10-year National Housing Strategy plans to inject over $82 billion into giving more people a place to call home. Within the portfolio is $50.97 billion in funding commitments, the protection of 354,686 community housing units, 146,408 new housing units created or committed to, and 26% of all funding committed towards meeting the housing needs of women and their children. Much of the strategy is focused on building rather than sustaining the existing stock that VIDA concentrates on. While the strategy is a worthy one, it leaves millions like Kyla wondering where they may fit into a plan that has yet to show where private companies like VIDA can gain access to help them. 

The feds know the gap exists, as they race to establish a new Canada Rental Protection Fund. Meanwhile, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC, a crown corporation) also sees the scope of the problem, establishing arms of support like the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund, and the Affordable Housing Fund.  

The hope is that these funds will support new ideas that drive and disrupt the industry, activating the kind of innovative and nimble changes needed to help everyone emerge from the housing hole. That’s why VIDA has launched a new $300 million fund, creating a space where capital can move quickly on the ground to sustain the country’s older, and affordable, housing stock. 

“There are people raising families in our buildings, I see the challenges they face daily,” says Kyla. “Having a live-in Building Ambassador, instead of a standard third-party building manager, means it’s only natural to care about the building because it’s your home. What VIDA does is offer a solution that empowers the residents, creates a sense of community, and helps people establish their lives. We need to support that.” 

When they first decided to live together, Kyla and Alex were curbing the cost of attending school. Years after graduating, they’ve continued to establish themselves within VIDA’s affordable community. Alex works full-time at Costco and supports his sister by helping clean around the building for rent credits. Kyla continues to work with the toddlers, while expanding her BA role by becoming a Community Leader. Canada needs her work ethic, but she needs support too.  

Let’s not forget about Kyla.