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Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, a podcast for REALTORS® brought to you by CREA, the Canadian Real Estate Association, where we’re all about sparking conversations with inspiring people about all things Canadian real estate, and topics that impact REALTORS®, and all of us. I’m your host, Erin Davis, and this is going to be an enlightening, uplifting, and fun edition, this episode 13 of REAL TIME.
As we spend more time at home than we ever have before, what can we learn about the relationship between our homes and our wellbeing? Are there changes we can make to support our physical and mental health without sacrificing resale value, and what’s the best approach to beautifying our homes on a budget? All good questions and we have just the guest to answer them.
Tiffany Pratt is known as the queen of colour, and can’t we all use a little of that in our lives right now. She is a spark, with a passion for interior, commercial, and product design, writing, painting, and lucky for us, speaking. You can see Tiffany Pratt on HGTV on Home to Win and Buy it, Fix It, Sell It, and she’s with us here today on REAL TIME. Well, what a treat to have you on REAL TIME and also to learn that you got your start with REALTORS®, Tiffany. Tell us about that.
Tiffany Pratt: It was when I moved to Toronto. I had closed my art studio and I was just a creative woman on the loose, doing all sorts of wild creative jobs. A local agent came up to me in a panic because his stager had quit on the job. He said, “I think you can make a room look pretty, right? You can do that?” I said, “Yes, sure. Why not?” I started to home-stage without any formal training for interior design. I tell anybody who wants a career in interior design, become a home stager, because you truly learn on the fly, you have a certain amount of time, you work with lots of different houses, different configurations, ages, and you really learn what moves on the market. It was a really valuable experience for me.
Erin: Well, that’s terrific because that synergy is going to come in great over the next little while as we talk here today. Tiffany, how significant is the link between our living spaces and our physical and mental wellbeing, which are just so important, now more than ever.
Tiffany: They’re intrinsically linked with one another, in my opinion. Having worked with homes the way I have, for as long as I have, in the quantity that I have, I can’t see a difference between the person, their choices, how they want to live, and the four walls that they choose to live them in. All the decisions that we make in that process, not just on the home itself but within the home, really make our lives, and that is our wellness effectively. We’re just going to dig into and tear apart all of the choices that we make and maybe some different little tweaks and twists we can do to our existing four walls to make ourselves feel better.
Erin: That really lays the groundwork for what we’re talking about today. Because you have a saying that everything is everything. It’s all interwoven.
Tiffany: That’s right. As a creative person, when you think of everything a human life touches, if it’s your home, if it’s the pets that you choose, the people you surround yourself with, the way that you write, the colours you choose, the car you drive, how you activate yourself in the world is all an expression of the life that you want to lead. When we go to bed, we’re closing our eyes on that life and within these four walls that we’ve chosen. What those four walls can do is serve us and keep us strong to do the service we’re supposed to do. Everything really is everything.
Erin: Now a lot of us have these creative sparks and ideas, but we’re held back by fear that what we want to do to, say, promote wellness might sacrifice the resale value of our home. How do you change that mindset so that we live in the now and where we are, literally and metaphorically, Tiffany?
Tiffany: Erin, you just said it perfectly. You live in the now. We’re always living for that future. What if, when I sell, when I don’t want to live here anymore, when I live somewhere else, or when I knock out this wall, or when this kitchen is redone. We all live in the what-ifs. As a designer, I’ve explored tearing homes down to putting a little lipstick on a pig.
In the end, it’s really not about the future. It’s about creating joy, happiness, and wellbeing in this moment, and there are so many ways to do it. Even if these changes that we make to bring our own joy to the present moment are temporary, it’s essential because to feel happy right now is way better than thinking of a future renovation or alternative place to live. We’re going to dig into why it’s important that, obviously, we don’t taint any resale value of the home, but certainly, we don’t want to devalue joy now.
Erin: Well, let’s look at the shades of the lipstick on that pig, so to speak. As the queen of colour, what can you tell us, Tiffany, about incorporating colour and specific palettes to improve our mood? We’ve all heard the tropes about this colour does this and this colour does that. What can we use to improve our mood, whether it’s to calm us or to inspire us?
Tiffany: I don’t know who coined me, the queen of colour, also many years ago, but I now hold that as a very, very important factor in my work. I always tell people that we live in a culture that’s very colour cautious. To be the queen of colour is sometimes very difficult because I’m teaching people a language that they’re scared to speak. In the end, we all have a palette. We all have a colour or colours that make us feel a certain way. Effectively, our homes should make us feel something. It’s not about the way something may look to an external party so much as the way that something makes us feel.
Everyone looks at colour in a different way because their retinas, the way that they’re made, they all transmute, look at, and understand colour in their own private way. My job as a designer, and the queen of colour, is to really, really, really invite people to be who they really are, to invite colour into their life, not to be different for the sake of being different but to invite colour into their life because it adds to their life energy and it makes them feel more like themselves.
I don’t really subscribe to common culture, blue calms us because it reminds us of the water. I think that everyone looks at colour very privately because of the way that history has made them, with experiences or childhood memories, and really uncovering what people love and what colours sing to them sometimes takes a little bit of investigation, like what colour is your cell phone case? What colour is your underwear? What’s your favourite lipstick colour? What colours are you drawn to?
When you really investigate in your grayish monochromatic world what you really love, sometimes it’s not just black, white, and gray. Sometimes it could be lime green. I implore people to really start to become an investigator to their choices and look at colour not as something that’s scary but as something that could really give something to their life.
Erin: And make us happy. Your colour is pink, right?
Tiffany: My colour, without question, is pink. If you look at my website, if you’re on my Instagram, you will– 100%, my hair is pink. I can’t put pink on enough surfaces. It’s my happy colour, and it always has. I’m unabashed with my just constant use for it, and every shade it comes in, but not everyone’s like me. In the end, I know that colour pink and the rainbow give me joy. For me, I know I have one precious life, and I want to do as many things as I can do to bring joy, and that one of the most powerful ways of doing it to me is through the use of colour.
Erin: Coming up Tiffany Pratt, and feeling colours, and how to put them to work for you. Immerse yourself in a world of colourful content, covering all of your client’s house and home needs, just by visiting REALTOR.ca. From informative articles on key market updates to fun design trends, REALTOR.ca Living Room has it all.
Now back to Tiffany Pratt. I told you she was fun. Do you feel that colours have energies? Is there healing energy in colour, Tiffany?
Tiffany: 100%. I’m not going to get all historical on you right now, Erin, but we know that in the past colour wasn’t used as aesthetic. Colour was used as a message we were sending to the universe, the gods, or the powers that be, of what it is that that colour represents that we want to draw into our lives. You fast forward into families of affluence in the 1800s who had a family crest and family colours, and they would decorate their homes and dress in these colours because it meant something to their heritage to their family.
Colour wasn’t about aesthetic and being different or something to be scared of. You celebrated those colours because you were drawing in what they represented and what you wanted for your life. If you look at colour in that context, you can understand that it really does add healing energy. If you were to put yourself in front of an ever-changing coloured light, and you watch those colours shift in front of your eyes, you can honestly feel your emotions change based off of the colours that your eyes registering at that moment. I challenge anyone out there just to get a Pantone index and flip through it and not feel something.
Erin: If someone doesn’t have access to a colour conduit, or even a medium in a way that you are, of course, what is the best exercise that you could recommend, other than flipping through the Pantone or sitting in front of a changing colour spectrum? Do you just take a look around and say, “Okay, I love that red piece there or aqua makes me happy, or there’s that bit of yellow,” what’s a good exercise that we could do just in our own homes?
Tiffany: You could go through old photos of travel pictures that maybe you’ve blown up, and a picture that really resonates with you and why. Sometimes it could be that blue when you were in Greece, or it could be you you’re in some vineyard and all the green and the grapes or you can think of pictures of places you’ve been or things you’ve collected. People often collect things and colours that they like, but they don’t think to decorate or design in those colours.
You can be an investigator of your own life because often everything that we’re choosing is very subconscious. We’re working on that very deep connective layer when we’re purchasing something, especially if we’re far away, we’re just trying to bring something home with us, it makes us think of a happier time, or we’ve kept something from when we are a child or we always seem to be buying the same thing that is in this colour, or the sun is setting, the sun is rising, and it makes us feel a certain way. When we get really quiet and quite microscopic with how we look at the world and why we feel what we feel, colours attach to those experiences and those are clues.
Erin: Okay, the queen of colour has us talking about changing the colour of where we live to reflect and to imbue us with different energies in our lives. What if somebody is going, “Yes, but I don’t know. I’m not sure about painting my whole kitchen, say green, for example.” We can dip our toes in this, can’t we, Tiffany?
Tiffany: Well, I am also a designer and I want us to make wise purchases. If we’re dealing with a colour cautious person, not someone that’s as colour confident that would be so willing to spend big bucks to paint their kitchen green. I am a huge proponent for white on white on white because there is so much colour possibility when you frost colours on top of a fresh white space. Having worked in real estate, having staged plenty of homes, I know the power of a clean slate, the tabula rasa have a white space. When you frost in accessories, pillows, carpets, art, or even those hue bulbs that you can change the colour of your lamps that therefore can change the colour of the room.
You’ve got a fresh white space, you’ve invested in flooring in a kitchen, and big things in a fresh white that will effectively go with everything but it’s the colour touches for the more colour-conscious people that really can put those feelings in a room without feeling like you’re investing a lot of money or energy in a colour you’re not so sure of. Colour collecting takes time. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s something that we discover through slow entry with certain objects and we let them live with us and then effectively they start to find friends and buddies that they want to work with and those friends and buddies can come in other colours and then before we know it, we have a bit of a technicolour dream all of our own.
Erin: I love that because a lot of people are cost-conscious now more than ever, so it can be just the accessories that it’s not going to break either your heart or your bank if you decide, “No, that didn’t work. That’s not for me. Let’s send that off for someone else to love.”
Tiffany: Yes, with colour, certainly the most inexpensive way to add colour to a space is by paint, but I don’t always subscribe to colours on walls, because that’s quite a commitment in some cases and it does divide a space or a room. If you paint a piece of furniture, if you paint a ceiling, if you paint an object in a room, you really could be adding that colour in a fun interesting way and then to repaint the ceiling or to move that piece of furniture or whatever it is, isn’t a big deal, you could gift it to a friend or send it off to Habitat for Humanity when you want to shift your shades.
There are lots of inexpensive interesting ways to bring colour into our life without feeling like we’ve done it. This is also something that people often do, which is they go to “decorate their space” and then they’ll do it once and think this is it forever. That’s not always the case. It’s an ever-evolving conversation you’re having with your home and your four walls and it’s changing just as you are.
Erin: If you’re enjoying our chat with queen of colour, Tiffany Pratt, and we have a new nickname for her in a sec, while also talking creating cozy through textures, art, and light, why not do a deeper dive? Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts for monthly episodes with guests such as TV icon Sarah Richardson, award-winning author Jessie Thistle, Canadian ad and marketing guru Terry O’Reilly and many more. Back to REAL TIME now with Tiffany Pratt.
Well, if you ever get tired of the moniker queen of colour, shade shifter is also a pretty good one, I think.
Not a shapeshifter, a shade shifter. Let’s talk to Tiffany about textures. We’ve talked about colours so far, and accessories, what about textures to help us?
Tiffany: Textures are essential to coziness and to that feeling of home. I think when we think of the word home, we think of something that envelops us like a hug. Texture often gives us that hug-like feeling. Textures can come in many formats. We’re talking about the ever-popular fabric choice that we’re using. I love using natural fibers in linens, things that can be washed, and things that are functional for an everyday home but you can do something a little bit more elaborate for throw pillows.
I always like doing double-wide draperies to really help with sound and trapping in heat or cold. I’m a big, big fan of art, wallpaper, how we’re layering in those textures in our life, really create those cozy elements but then the icing on the cake is always the little things. By human nature, we’re all effectively for the most part collectors. If it’s that collection of something we’ve inherited from our family, or if we just love collecting old National Geographic, whatever it is, those collections, if you know styled in mass can really add to that coziness as well.
Erin: Yes, and you mentioned art there rather in passing but as an artist, of course, you know more than anyone just how great the energy is to bring something into your home, whether it’s a small ceramic piece or a painting, or a mosaic, whatever that has been made by someone’s two hands and has their whole self in it.
Tiffany: There’s nothing that’s more powerful than that. Erin, you are bang on. I worked with children, I’ve painted my whole life. I’ve worked with artists of all kinds. To this day, I still support the arts here in Toronto and it’s because artists are special humans that spend their days making beautiful things. When you connect to something that an artist has created in whatever format, it speaks to you on a subconscious level, and that level is very healing and it’s joy-inducing. If you can get out to a market, go to a gallery, check out whatever you can where artists are, and it doesn’t have to be big money.
I always tell people this, you know, sometimes there are artists out there that are just happy to paint and want to have their work in the world. Having those beautiful pieces of someone’s soul hanging in your wall, it really adds something that no one else’s space could have. They’re often one of a kind and it’s always got a story to tell and it’s always a wonderful thing when you have someone in the home to share that story with so I can’t speak enough about art, it is truly the best.
Erin: It’s so subjective, like the things that you’re talking about, the National Geographics that are artfully arranged or whatever else it is in your home that brings you joy.
Tiffany: Well, you know what’s interesting too, is that this also becomes subjective too is lighting because how you light the home adds to coziness too and what type of light fixtures you hang and where it distributes light is a really powerful way to create coziness, but also to really make a room feel good. I’m a big fan of lamps everywhere lighting up all four corners. Then if we’re thinking about that centerpiece in the room, we’re thinking about the earrings on a really great outfit. You’re thinking of the room as your wardrobe and then the centerpiece that’s hanging in the middle on top of your dining room is that really great pair of chandelier earrings.
How we’re choosing to assemble things and how we’re implying our own emotional juxtapositions to the things we collect in our lives, based on how we respond to them and feel about them, really makes a home your own. That’s the stuff I always tell my clients. “Stop looking at Pinterest, stop looking at magazines because you really want your home to be an expression of who you are.”
Erin: Once again, you’re talking about something that doesn’t have to cost a mint.
Tiffany: Absolutely not. I’m known for my thriftiness and it’s not because I don’t like to spend on beautiful things. It’s that there are so many important places to spend on a home and with little things that become pretty items, those don’t always have to cost a mint, and we don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a beautiful life. As a designer, you get known that if you do what I do for a living, you have to have a lot of money to work with the designer to live that lifestyle and it’s not the case.
Erin: That always shied me away from calling in a decorator. I thought that I was going to have to buy an $8,000 urn or something to put in the front hall, but you’re saying, no, not so.
Tiffany: I walk into a space and I’m letting the space tell me what it wants to be and what it wants to have within it. We are all people that can’t see the forest from the trees. We hate our own living rooms. We think everything has to go. We have a closet full of clothes and we hate everything that’s in it, but my take on design and art in life is that we need to view what we have with fresh eyes and look at what we have is more of a shape versus something that we’ve sat on for a really long time.
If it can be repainted or reupholstered, or put in a different room and maybe serve a different purpose or have a different use, you can fall back in love with these things again and that’s how effectively as a designer, you start saving money because you’re not buying as much furniture. You’re just shifting it around.
Erin: Coming up, Tiffany Pratt talks working in a circle, clutter and staging, but here’s a reminder that there’s a way to shine a spotlight on the charities and causes closest to you and that’s through two words, REALTORS Care. Those words are a national guiding principles celebrating the great charitable work done by Canada’s realtor community. You help raise awareness by sharing your story using #REALTORSCare on your favourite social media platforms.
As a stager, you probably did have a few key pieces that you absolutely loved. First of all, let me ask you this. When you worked with REALTORS, did you generally stage using the furniture and the pieces that homeowners had, or did you have a couple of go-to pieces that you always brought in, Tiffany? What was your plan or was there never a plan you just went in and intuited it?
Tiffany: Erin, this is a great question because every home was very different and I did have to intuit every space because some homes needed lots of work. Some homes just needed a little sprinkling and some homes needed an overhaul because you’re trying to build a perception of a home. When someone comes in to buy it, they need to envision themselves there.
If things had too much of a particular style, it would deter certain people of a certain other style from buying it. My job was to create a home that spoke of the homes different time frame because it’s not always going to be a new build or an old home. You have to work with what the home actually is. I would keep key pieces. I would bring in some newer ones, but I have to tell you, there was one time I walked into a home, it was an older woman that lived there. She had been living there since the ’50s. She had redone the home between 1950 and 1975 and it had never been touched again. She took such great care of all of the fixtures, furnishings and the space that it looked like you were trapped in a museum and everything was original and it was spectacular. When I was told to stage this home, I said, “I’m absolutely not touching anything.”
Tiffany: You bring someone in and they have to appreciate everything as it is. There’s no way of changing this. Every home has a message to share. I think my job and what I’ve learned over the years as a designer, my job is to listen and then to sometimes add or strip away in order for the space to be of best use for that particular couple, person or family.
Erin: You talk about possibly stripping away and that brings us to something that, of course, Marie Kondo became such a household name of just getting rid of stuff. Does it bring you joy? Pitch it. What impact can clutter have on our mental state, in your experience, Tiffany?
Tiffany: It’s huge. People don’t realize that everything we have, everything is everything, we’re coming back to it. When we have piles of something that just accumulate in certain corners or on our dining room table, it’s holding energy in that space, it’s unattended to energy. When I go over to someone’s house, they’ve feverishly been trying to clean up all the surfaces because guests are coming over and they slam things in drawers and in cupboards, that’s not cleaning.
Cleaning is literally pulling everything out, looking at what you have, witnessing it. If it serves a purpose or not, if it adds to your life or subtracts it, and that is the process of elimination. Then when you go to move back into that space we’ve redone or move to that new home, we’re not bringing old practices of not witnessing our old habits of collecting clutter and not tending to our things. We get really mindful of what comes in and what goes out and where it goes and building homes for the things that we have, because that is effectively the foundation of good design.
Erin: Tell me about the working in a circle that you say you like to do. Explain that for us, would you, Tiffany?
Tiffany: I work both commercially and residentially. When I’m working in a space, especially high-traffic areas in larger homes or homes with families, blended families or in a café or a space that people frequent, I want to make sure that there is very intuitive pathways for anyone who’s coming into the home to do what they need to do naturally. Those pathways often when they’re feeling good, appear in circles for me. An energetic pathway that goes in circles throughout the house means that people can get out in and around any one space or piece of furniture at any time effortlessly.
When I’m thinking of feng shui, we’re thinking of building a room with furniture that isn’t in the middle of doorways, where we’re stubbing toes or walking into the corners of furniture or knocking into things because all that spoils that circular chi that I’m talking about in a room. When I’m talking to my clients about furniture placement, or where things need to go, not only does it look aesthetically pleasing, but it feels good when you’re designing in the round.
Erin: Next up, Tiffany Pratt discusses getting rid of things in a way that’s gentle to the planet and her beef with TV. Spoiler alert it hampers connection. You can stay connected through CREACafe.ca, it’s your reliable source for all things real estate, from the latest news and stats to legal matters and advocacy updates. Stay connected to the world of Canadian real estate on CREACafe.ca.
You’re talking about natural and you mentioned that word there. Let’s go to the next step of natural and talk about green or natural materials and how they can play a role in boosting our well-being.
Tiffany: Natural is not only a big thing and super hype right now, but it actually becomes something when we strip it all down that makes us feel the best because it’s always those silent killers that we’re not thinking about. Killers of energy, killers of joy when we’re smelling things that aren’t making us feel happy, or we’re in an environment that we just can’t put our finger on that one thing that’s not right. When I’m thinking of green, I’m talking about as a designer, when we strip things out, are we doing it mindfully?
Are we mindful of how we’re stripping off wallpaper, old paint, tearing things down, what’s becoming airborne? What kind of paint are we using? Ventilation open windows. I can’t say enough about the power of just opening up your front door and your back door. Any windows to get circulation. Air purifiers are just the best. I have two of them rolling in my old place all the time.
Cleaning products for that beautiful furniture we’ve painted, or we purchased. Using something without a heavy chemical so that when we’re smelling it, it’s better for ourselves and our furry friends. It’s really just endless the amount of things we can do, even just with going down to the beach or going to a weird corner store and picking up a plant. We bring that rock from the beach home, or we bring that really beautiful spider plant, put it in the corner. All of these things imbue the home with an energetic energy. It’s a grounding force that we need to bring that really makes us feel alive and at home.
Erin: It’s also taking the next step, once the renovations have been completed, working with conscious trades people, making sure where this stuff is going when it leaves your home as well.
Tiffany: This is one of my favourite topics right now, because it’s a wasteful business that I’m in and it’s really wonderful when everything just magically disappears but the question is where is it going? It needs to be a diversified waste removal service that we’re calling upon province-to-province where we’re finding out who in the most effective and conscious way can remove whatever building materials, paints, old appliances, toilets, chemicals. There’s so much that we need to think about when we’re verging and we’re cleansing our home or we’re renovating, or we’re starting a new. It’s not just a matter of stripping it down and it’s good for us and see you later old stuff.
Oftentimes I’m really mindful if I’m ripping out old cabinetry or things I know someone could use again, it may not be my taste, but certainly if I tear it apart or take it out in a great way, someone can reuse it. This is all valuable stuff for anyone out there who’s looking to make small or large changes to their home is really make sure you’re doing your homework on the final step of where the stuff is going so it’s in the right hands and we’re being kind to our planet.
Erin: Speaking of the planet, the days are getting longer, we’re getting more light and it just shows in such a concrete way how much that means to our spirit. What can we do to bring more of that energetic light to us, literally, metaphorically, once again, in our homes, Tiffany?
Tiffany: We have really tuned into the things that bring us joy and it’s not always the stuff that appears in magazines or looks a certain way, but it’s the things in our life that make us feel a certain way. If it’s a music room or if it’s getting rid of that old armchair in the corner that’s not doing anything, and applying a new surface for ourselves or our spouse or our children to create on. In the end, it’s these creative urges, these places where we can go to get lost in something that we love to do outside of television and it could be anything really, but it’s to create space for creativity, for play and for joy.
We can turn all the lights on in the house and really inspire some play because play is what makes us feel joy and so to almost restore ourselves to our childlike center is to then create spaces that help us let that part of ourselves emerge. In the end, yes, it is darker, but when the doors are shut and you’re surrounded by colours and tidiness and beautiful sounds and beautiful light, doing the things you love, you don’t really notice what’s going on outside.
Erin: You mentioned television there and I couldn’t help but remember the podcast we did to kick off 2021 and designer Steven Sabados told us that the sales of enormous screen TVs went through the roof in 2020, because so many people were at home, safe at home, not stuck at home and of course we’re turning to their televisions for diversion or entertainment or whatever. You’re not a big fan of the elephant in the room, are you?
Tiffany: I’m not, and it’s not the best thing to confess, may I say, Erin, as a television personality, but I have to tell you as a designer that loves colour in light bright spaces, when I’m trying to accommodate the gigantic black rectangle in the room, which is the television, it is like putting a deep, dark vortex in a space. Unless I can then in turn paint something else in a nice dark shade that offsets and gives that television a buddy, I tell anyone that will listen to me in all my wild ways that, okay, I understand the need for a little entertainment and a little reason to get lost.
We all love it, but put it in a place that’s not in a central high traffic area of the home. In a basement or in a small entertainment room where you go to for a few hours and then you reemerge and get back to your life because what I find is that television becomes that life suck that takes the time away from the day where you could be going through those piles of things or repainting that chair or tuning into your joy or playing that music or doing your cross-stitch. We just go for the– it’s like the lowest hanging fruit, which is turning on that clicker, watching something that’s going to make us feel better instantly. Anyone out there that’s listening to me, I don’t hate television, but I do think it needs to be used wisely.
Erin: Can I just tell you that when we had a cottage overlooking Lake Simcoe and it was all windows, we had a cheap fabric print on a frame that I would place in front of the TV screen for most of the day until the evening so that it didn’t own the room. I took a fair bit of ribbing about that, but I totally subscribed to what you’re saying and hear where we overlook the ocean here on Vancouver Island, my fantasy is to have a TV that drops down from the ceiling — ain’t going to happen. The people upstairs, know, I’m just kidding, but I would love that idea so that it’s only there when you need it. It’d be a wonderful luxury.
Tiffany: I’m a creative person and I moved into the space I’ve been living in now. I live down by Lake Ontario here in the beach in Toronto. I love being down by the water and listening to the wave and I love the old place that I live in. When I moved in, I listened to the building and its weird old bones and I never moved the television in and I haven’t had one sense and it’s been 13 years.
Erin: Wow. There’s this woman on HGTV named Tiffany Pratt. She’s really good. You should look for her.
Good, we can see you online.
Tiffany: Well, at least you know I don’t watch myself on TV.
Erin: Yes, okay. I believe you. We’re back to Tiffany in a moment. Flow, function at building a beautiful life piece by piece that’s yours alone. If you’re enjoying this episode, please be sure to subscribe to our channels on Spotify, Apple, and Stitcher to stay up-to-date on future guests and stories.
Once again, here’s Tiffany Pratt on REAL TIME. You’re in the beaches in Toronto, I’m on Vancouver Island. You have toured Canada numerous times. Is there a thread that you have been able to sow this great land together in terms of our design desires, if you will?
Tiffany: I think when I have done the home show tour, the multiple times that I have, I’ve been so lucky to speak province-to-province, person-to-person, and really discover what’s out there. What kind of homes people are living in, what kind of circumstances they’re living in, what snack bracket they live under with finances and it doesn’t matter where you live, how old you are, what your style is, what your capabilities are with DIY, how much money you make. Anybody can transform anything in their life with paint.
I really believe that there needs to be sustainable, easy, accessible ways for all of us to access a beautiful life and when we can do something so easy as painting something, our walls, our doors, our furniture, our floors, our ceilings, anything really with our own two hands. We’re imbuing that with our love, we’re taking time to do it, and we’re really transforming the space or the object and it makes us feel good. No matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, no matter what space you live in there is really no end to the message I can share of the power of paint. The power of paint is truly endless.
Erin: I love that message and it doesn’t have to be expensive and if you don’t like the colour, you paint over it, nothing is permanent and it really does speak to the title of your book. This Can Be Beautiful, which really, Tiffany, needs to be re-upped because this message is more timely than ever and you share projects to help beautify your home, wardrobe, beauty routine, travel style, and more, how does it relate to our homes?
Tiffany: Why I wrote This Can Be Beautiful is because it was my love note to the world to say that anything that you can truly look at, touch, see, that you’ve collected in your life, this table, this light, this dress, this toilet paper, roll this newspaper, truly anything can be beautiful. If we re-imagine it and look at it, we have it all. We are a culture that thinks that we need to constantly buy and accumulate and everything we need is external and it’s not internal and the book is a call to action to basically say you have everything you need and stop looking at things for what they are and look at them for what they can be.
This Can Be Beautiful, was created as a lifestyle book, not just for the kids and for the crafters at heart, but for the everyday person, to understand that through the use of their own two hands, they can build a beautiful life piece by piece. When we create, we use our own two hands, we use what we’ve got. We’re not only saving money, we’re being imaginative. We’re accessing our creative spirit, but we’re also building a life that looks like only ours and no one else’s, and that is a true gift in this world. I’ve always felt that you didn’t need a lot of money to have a beautiful life and this book is an invitation to do that and to really appreciate what you have, and to celebrate it by making it better.
Erin: How important are things like flow and function now that our homes have just become everything is everything to quote you, they are all things to all people?
Tiffany: Homes have always needed to be hard-working, but never as hard-working as they need to be now. Space is truly at a minimum for a lot of families that are homeschooling or have ailing parents moving in or, you’re downsizing, whatever it is, everyone has found themselves in a new circumstance. With new circumstances, comes great change. One of the greatest tips of advice I’ve ever shared with anyone that’s looking for a way to accommodate more activity within one space is to take everything out of that room and look at it in a new way without everything you used to have and do in that room. Because when you strip it out, and you think, “Okay, I need a space for my children. I need a space for my parents. I need a space for me, I have to put a desk here.” You start to look at fun malleable ways to work four walls.
That’s what I’m recommending to anyone out there right now is that it doesn’t all have to happen on the dining room table. That’s what everyone’s doing. Now the dining room has been taken and forsaken for all of these secondary purposes. I say, gone with the formal living room, gone with the formal anything, let’s have fun in our space and have the space work with us and not against us. It’s time to get rid of that old lumpy couch, bring in the fun big work table, bringing the ping pong table, whatever it’s got to be, and make the family feel like they fit.
Erin: One of my favourite things, I never did bring it into our lives, although my husband would have loved it is the pool table that converts into a dining room table. Talk about form, function and fun. Oh my gosh, what a great idea.
Tiffany: Why not? This is what I’m sick of seeing everything be so status quo, and to the letter and by the book and things we see because in the end, we’re all very different people. We all see this world very differently. Why should our homes all look the same?
Erin: Yes, why is all the fun stuff stuck in the basement?
Tiffany: Yes, I don’t understand it. I think the whole home should be fun and a reflection of the people within it. There are so many incredible, weird, wonderful things that each person in a home can bring to the table and bring to the overall design. Let’s celebrate the weird climbing equipment. Let’s stack up the weird collectible junk items that your wife loves. Let’s really celebrate the things that we love instead of tucking them away or throwing them in a garage. This is the thing about design, it’s not about having to go out and get high style stuff. It’s about looking at everything we do in our life as art.
Erin: Yes, and as you’ve said, instead of how things look more about how things feel. I also love that while you’re trying to stay within a budget too, customizing for a hard-working organizational investment, like Murphy Beds and that sort of thing too. You’re all in favor of that.
Tiffany: Yes, if I’m going to spend on anything, it’s always going to be on custom storage, cabinetry, anything that gives me more floor space. If I can have a hard working built in that has a flipped down top that becomes a desk or has a flip down screen that conceals a television, that also has another little spot that a bed pops out of I’m all about it even in a large space, because effectively floorspace is what we all need to play, to move effortlessly through our homes and to really make the space work for us. Anyone out there that’s looking for a place to spend, I can’t say enough, find a beautiful tradesman or a custom cabinetry person, and really see what you can do by putting really effective properly designed for what you have built-ins in the home.
Erin: You don’t have to have an entire meditation room or I remember the story of the billionaire’s wife in Los Angeles, Candy Spelling, who had her own wrapping paper room. That was just the ultimate, you can have your pocket, you can have your little place that is special to you. Even if it is just a tiny altar and a candle and a pillow for meditation and that sort of thing, right?
Tiffany: Yes, I think sometimes we stop doing the things that are good for us because we’ve built it in her head to be too complicated. If we don’t carve this Zen retreat for ourselves in some beautiful corner with crystals and incense burning, we’re not going to be able to meditate because we don’t have our special meditation corner. Or if we don’t have this perfect art room or this perfect music room or sports space. I often think the greatest things, the biggest a-has, our most wonderful moments of Zen occur in our everyday lives where we can access it at any time without anything fancy because that’s how we live. We’re not always going to be home, sitting on that meditation pillow.
If you find a spot on your sofa, by your dining room table, you don’t need the crystals, you just need a moment to yourself. That’s where when we can organize our homes and give everyone a space where they feel represented. They can be busy and we can have our moment to ourselves, just to close our eyes for 10 minutes and take a deep breath and listen to the thoughts that are running through our minds and find some peace. I’m all for creating beautiful nooks in the home but don’t let it stop you from having the thing you want to have. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be accessible.
Erin: I love this time that we’ve spent together today, Tiffany, and I know that everybody listening to this podcast has as well. There’s so many takeaways and the thing that resonated most clearly with me was clearing everything out and taking a look at the space. The status quo doesn’t have to be and if this is a year of change and growth, then it starts with us and it starts in our homes. I just love that.
Tiffany: Well, we have a lot, we can shop in our homes and put things in new places. We don’t have to go out there, we all have so much. I implore anybody out there just to celebrate what we have, be grateful for what we have, look at our four walls as brand new space and try to bring in the fun.
Erin: Yes, is that how you’re hoping to define 2021?
Tiffany: 2021, for me is going to– I’m all about the fun and the colour always because I think that’s always a personal mission for me is to always try to find the joy and the fun and what I’m doing, because I’m a human just like everybody else, trying to dig for the things that I love. This year is about inside out. I think it’s about feeling, less about what things look like more about what things feel like, vulnerability, being completely transparent, communication, treating others the way that we want to be treated. All of that really makes a life. Outside of the beautiful trimmings to our home, it’s the people around us in our homes outside of our homes that we are subject to, and we want to be as good as we can to our fellow man and to ourselves. That’s what this year is all about for me is to be as good to myself and others as I can.
Erin: Thank you for making our lives a little more colourful, certainly more joyful, so much to think about. I look forward to checking out your podcast The Love Jam, too.
Tiffany: Thank you, Erin.
Erin: My pleasure. Our pleasure. Thank you so much, Tiffany, for being with us here today.
Tiffany: An absolute treasure and a pleasure for me. I was so excited to be on this podcast and speak with you today. You are such a joy. Thank you again for having me on. I hope we can do it again.
Erin: Me too. Thank you to Tiffany at tiffanypratt.com for the great conversation and just adding a splash of pink to our podcast.
Don’t miss Episode 14 when our guest will be realtor and TV host of Buy Herself and Property Virgins, Sandra Rinomato. She’s going to be great. Meantime, for more realtor resources, be sure to visit CREA.ca. This podcast is produced by Rob Whitehead for Real Family Productions and Alphabet® Creative. I’m Erin Davis. Talk to you next time on REAL TIME.
Erin Davis: Welcome to Episode 12 of REAL TIME, a podcast for and about REALTORS®, and a presentation of the Canadian Real Estate Association. We are all about ideas surrounding topics that impact you as a REALTOR®, and really all of us. I’m your host Erin Davis, and today we’re discussing working while Black, a conversation about race in Canada that hits home and homes in far more ways than one.
No one should be demeaned or disadvantaged because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other particular characteristics of their identity. However, acknowledging a problem and resolving a problem are two completely different things. In this episode of REAL TIME, we’re opening up a much-needed conversation around confronting and addressing bias in our day to day lives, and we’re analyzing opportunities for improvement that exists for REALTORS®, leadership, and beyond. You’ll hear from three of your fellow CREA members sharing their experiences. In one case, one guest discloses something he’s never talked about publicly before. I promise you’ll be glad you listened today.
We begin with Dr. Hadiya Roderique. She is a lawyer, researcher, broadcast commentator, and an award-winning writer. She’s best known for her Globe and Mail piece Black on Bay Street, which outlined her experiences as a young Black woman working in a Bay Street law firm. She also has bylines in the Walrus, the National Post, Chatelaine, and Maclean’s. Dr. Roderique has a PhD in organizational behaviour from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. She also has an MA in criminology and a JD from the U of T. She’s a passionate advocate for representation and inclusion in the workplace, and she joins us today on REAL TIME. Dr. Roderique, welcome. It’s lovely to have you with us here today.
Dr. Hadiya Roderique: Thank you for having me, a pleasure to be here with the Erin Davis.
Erin: With the Dr. Hadiya Roderique, come on. Your essay, Black on Bay Street went viral in 2017. I’d urge anybody who’s listening who hasn’t read it yet to look it up. It was shining a light on the challenging experience of a Black woman working in a traditionally white male-dominated industry. Can you describe that experience and tell us why you chose to write about it?
Dr. Roderique: Initially, I never meant to write about myself. The piece was really supposed to just be about the Bay Street hiring process, which I frankly thought was quite ridiculous. My interviews for Swiss Chalet when I was 17 were harder than many of my Bay Street interviews. At Swiss Chalet, they asked me questions about math, and where I wanted to be five years from now, and what school I was planning on going to because they want to know if I’d be a long-term employee.
In one of my Bay Street interviews, we talked about Manolo Blahnik’s and hockey for 20 minutes, and then I got a call-back. I really didn’t understand how most of what I was asked would tell them what kind of student I was, what kind of person I was, and what kind of lawyer I’d be. I really sat down to write this more academic examination of the way that the Bay Street hiring process took place, but then when I sat down to write, it’s like a different story poured out of my fingertips, and it turned out to be the story of my experiences.
I was one of only five Black law students in my class of about 200. I was, when I joined the firm, one of two Black female lawyers, and when I left the firm, I was the only Black female lawyer. My firm had five Black lawyers, which to my knowledge, was the most of any firm on Bay Street. We were doing well, but I was still so alone.
Erin: How did this blow up the way that it did? Obviously, it was a message that resonated and needed to be heard, needed to be told, but tell us how it affected you and your life after this just caught fire.
Dr. Roderique: To be frank, came out on a Saturday, and I thought that everybody would forget about it by Monday. The news cycle is pretty quick. Things turn over. I was actually writing another piece for the National Post and doing a social media cleanse. I logged into Twitter and tweeted, “I wrote a thing,” and put a link to the piece, and then put my phone aside. Then about an hour later my phone just basically started vibrating. I think I was getting a new Twitter follower every minute. My piece was getting shared. It was going viral.
I think in the first week, it was shared on Facebook 13,000 times. There is a video that accompanied the peace that the Globe recorded, and that was watched, I believe, 250,000 times in the first week. I did not expect any of this. I didn’t think I was saying anything that was news to anybody. I didn’t think that people didn’t realize that it was harder for someone whose gender and race doesn’t match up with what we expect of a Bay Street lawyer, that that experience would be more difficult. It really shocked me that this was something that resonated with so many people.
It wasn’t just other people of colour. I got a lot of messages, and I still get messages from people who’ve read the piece, but I got messages from white men who didn’t feel like they belonged, who didn’t feel like they could belong into this boys’ club mentality, who felt they were a bit different. It was just really interesting to me how many different people were able to see themselves in my story, because I think, ultimately, it was just really a story about not belonging. I don’t think that there’s anybody who hasn’t at some point in their life felt like they didn’t belong.
Erin: Now, February, of course, is Black History Month in Canada, and most or many Canadians would be proud to say, “We’re not racist,” but you’ve noted how even well-meaning people often unconsciously perpetuate bias and racism in the workplace and other interpersonal settings. How would you define, Dr. Roderique, unconscious bias, and how we can recognize it in our own lives?
Dr. Roderique: I would define it as social stereotypes and patterns and thought processes that guide our decisions without us realizing it. I think a lot of people associate racism with there’s capital R racism and then there’s not being a racist. They associate capital R racism with hoods and people using slurs and violence, and you’re either that or you’re not racist, especially in Canada. We compare ourselves to the States a lot in this idea of Canadian exceptionalism.
People fail to recognize that there’s a lot of gray. It isn’t just Black or White, racist or not. There’s a lot of different actions and different things you can do that you might not realize are enacting on these prejudices or stereotypes that you hold. It’s not that you’re someone reviewing resumes, and you’re like, “Black resume, no, no, no, no,” but it’s the fact that maybe you didn’t notice that you were a harsher judge of their education or experience without realizing where that judgment was coming from, or you see a particular type of experience and you assume X about it, when you assume Y when it’s a White person having that same kind of experience.
A lot of people who are hiring are trained in diversity, inclusion, and unconscious bias, yet when we send out resumes with Black and White names, or we send out resumes where people have whitened the experience of the Black people, and the whitened resumes or the White resumes get 50% more callbacks or two and a half times more callbacks, that has to be explained by something. The only explanation can be racism and bias, if everything else on those resumes is identical.
One of the first studies sent out, I think, 2500 resumes with Black and White names, and the White names got 50% more callbacks. The experimenters wanted to know, what would it take for the Black person to get the same callback rate as that White individual? They had to add eight years of experience to Jamal’s resume for Jamal to get the same callback rate as Greg. That has to come from somewhere.
Erin: Wow. That’s startling when you hear it in empirical terms like that, laid down as data and not just feelings or conjecture. That is astounding. You yourself walked this path as you lay out in Black on Bay Street, where your father and mother, Joseph and Judith, and you could have been, Jody.
Dr. Roderique: Yes, Joe and Judy, making Jody.
Erin: Yes. They chose Hadiya, which means, the gift. It’s beautiful. Do you think that Jody would have gotten more callbacks than Hadiya did, looking at that data?
Dr. Roderique: Yes, I do think so. When I applied for my last round of jobs, I did not use Hadiya, I used HJ Roderique. I did that for a reason. Because I knew it would be more likely to get my foot in the door, to get my resume at least to the interview stage. They’re going to know I’m Black the minute I show up, but at least I want to get there and have the chance to prove my worth in person.
Erin: That’s stunning to me, because you laid this bare in this essay, and yet you’re still in this position where you’re hiding who you are until you can reveal, the gift, when you walk through the door.
Dr. Roderique: Yes.
Erin: Astounding. We’re going to hear a few stories a little later in this podcast from the people themselves. CREA members who are Black have shared stories about being followed around a house showing by a White seller, not having their offers accepted almost certainly, just because they’re Black. Can you talk about the opportunity gap faced by Black professionals?
Dr. Roderique: Yes, I’d say it generally stems from a failure to receive the resources and exposure that professionals need to be successful. Generally, not getting the same chances and not same opportunities, not getting the same benefit of the doubt as others get. That means you have to work so much harder to achieve the same level of success. Some researchers call this the prove it again bias. It’s where groups that are stereotyped as less competent, so women, people of colour, et cetera, may have to prove themselves over and over and over before they’re given the same opportunity that someone is just given from the jump. Thinking about, oh, he’ll crush it, versus, she’s not ready, I need to see her do X, Y, and Z first, whereas not having that same requirement or expectation of the other individual.
I heard Trevor Noah say this quite well. He was talking specifically about anti-Black racism. He said, “Black people are not asking you, asking companies to hire them because they are Black, they are asking you to stop not hiring them because they are Black.” I think that’s one of the crucial differences that people don’t seem to get. They think that Black people are asking for special opportunities. No, we’re just asking for the same opportunities that you already enjoy.
Erin: Is it doubled when you’re a woman?
Dr. Roderique: Yes. The intersectionality of race and gender or anything else, disability, et cetera, will definitely play a role. There’s research that shows that Black men and White women may have more similar experiences than Black men and Black women. Certainly, the maleness insulates Black men from some effects or gives them access to certain spaces that Black women wouldn’t have the same access to.
Erin: Conformity and belonging are at the root of your experience as a Black woman working in law, did the pressure to conform to a White male workplace culture negatively affect you professionally or personally?
Dr. Roderique: I certainly understood that I had to conform socially. I knew not to talk about the fact that my dad was a cab driver, but instead to talk about the fact that he had an engineering degree. I knew to talk about, Glenfiddich and my travel to Japan, or wherever I had gone and not, roti and park barbecues. There’s this expectation of conformity to this upper-middle-class standard. I think in the past a lot of companies wanted basically people of colour who were like White people, who came from the upper-middle class, spoke that language.
I was lucky that despite growing up in a lower SES category that I had a university-educated father, stressed the importance of being well-rounded. I had arts and music in my life, despite the fact that my dad didn’t buy a new coat for six years, but he made sure that he could pay for those lessons for us. I did dance lessons, I did gymnastics, I had movement classes when I was four, I had art classes when I was four. I grew up knowing how to speak the language. I think that made it easier for me to enter these spaces.
I did know that no matter what I would physically stand out, so I actually didn’t tone down my dress or my hair, I wore an afro for my interviews. I often wore an afro to work, I changed my hairstyle a lot. I rarely wore a suit because I hated suit jackets, I wore a lot of dresses, and I wore bright colours. I just figured I was already going to stand out in the room so I might as well dress the way I wanted to. That’s something I think I’ve carried forward, even more, I think now I have the benefit of hindsight and more years of experience and I’m going to be my best when I can be myself and being myself means usually big hair and big earrings and bright colours.
Erin: Phenomenal woman. It reminds me of the piece by Maya Angelou.
Dr. Roderique: I’m going to be phenomenally me.
Erin: Absolutely. You’ve also written about the burden of being first at work, the first Black woman to potentially be made partner, for example. This is something that we as a society celebrate, oh, look at this, she’s the first this this, this and this, as we did with the inauguration last month of Vice President Kamala Harris, but you say that it can be very isolating. Why is that?
Dr. Roderique: Well, I think, first of all, it’s great to celebrate the first, it’s great to celebrate someone who has done something that no one else has done. As soon as that celebration is over, we have to think about, how do we make sure that they stay and how do we make sure they’re not the only one? It can be isolating because there’s no one to look up to. There’s no one else that’s blazed that path, there’s no role model, there’s no one to go to bounce your experiences off of.
Often, you’re the most senior person that looks like you at the organization, you’re the one that’s expected to advise downwards, and there’s no one for you to go to often in your own workplace. You might be able to find those mentor or sponsorship opportunities elsewhere but there’s no one in your workplace who really gets what you’re going through. I think that can be pretty hard, and pretty isolating.
I know, I was choosing between two organizations recently. One didn’t have any Black people in their Canadian office, and the other did. The other put me in touch with other Black professionals, put me in touch with a senior leader in the organization who was Black. That was really meaningful to me. It was a huge part of my decision to choose that workplace over the other. It’s so much easier when you can join and look up and see someone who looks like you and know that someone who looks like you can do this.
Erin: Is it exhausting to even contemplate being the first Black woman in that first firm that you decided not to go with? It’s like, “Oh, do I have to kick this door open too?”
Dr. Roderique: I just knew it would be harder, it would be harder without that immediate support group. Having support, I think, is really crucially important. If I’m given the choice between two very excellent workplaces, but one has a more robust Black support network or a larger Black population, all things being equal, that’s where I’m going to go.
Erin: Oh, the place that she’s gone and is going, facing the phenomenon of the glass cliff, owning our unconscious bias and more with Dr. Roderique in a moment.
Celebrate one year of REAL TIME by revisiting some of our most popular podcast episodes from season one, including our in-depth review of COVID-19’s effect on Canadians, REALTOR® and the industry. Subscribe on Spotify, Apple, and Stitcher, or visit crea.ca/podcast for more details.
Now, back to Dr. Roderique, speaker, writer, consultant, EDI Researcher, and our REAL TIME guest today.
You reference something called the glass cliff. Can you explain that to us, please?
Dr. Roderique: Yes, so the glass cliff is a phenomenon where you might have a company that’s struggling or is in a more risky position and that’s when the company will give a woman or a person of colour the leadership opportunity. I think about like Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, for example. They’re in this sink or swim environment, they’re given a very challenging situation and if they don’t succeed the company will be like, “Well, look, we tried, we tried a woman, we tried a person colour and it didn’t work.” Then so they can pivot back to hiring White men for that CEO position.
Sometimes it’s a position where you can’t convince a White man to come in and take it because it’s tenuous, or it’s going to be very difficult. That’s when you give the opportunity to the woman or to the person of colour, and they’re already dealing with a more challenging situation than anybody else would be dealing with. That’s the phenomenon of the glass cliff.
Erin: I keep thinking about the saying that I always went through my mind in a career in a male-dominated field. Of course, I don’t have the perspective or the experiences that you do, Dr. Roderique, but it is the old saying that Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did only backwards and in high heels. You’ve just added the element, yes and by the way to make sure that the dance floor is spinning at the same time.
Dr. Roderique: Only spending for Ginger and not spinning for-
Erin: Not spinning for Fred.
Dr. Roderique: Fred, yes.
Erin: That’s right. Dr. Roderique, how does unconscious bias affect our actions and decision making, for example, as a hiring manager or colleague? We’ve talked about the names and Jamal versus Greg, and which resumes get looked at, and which ones are considered, how does that unconscious bias affect our actions and decision making?
Dr. Roderique: What I want those populations to think about is changing processes that people can’t be biased within them. I don’t think three one-hour sessions of unconscious bias training is going to do much to solve our problems about racism. What you want to do is have a system so that someone cannot enact their racist ideals or thoughts within that system. Things like work allocation, what’s your work allocation process? How do managers give out work? Because often the kind and caliber of projects that you do are what sets you up for success and sets you up for ascension and promotion. If certain people are getting all of the good files, or in the past, as they were called the blue files and the pink files, the men got the blue files, the women got the administrative pink files, what are your Brown files and your White files? Thinking about that and thinking about ways you can change your processes to interrupt bias.
With resumes, making sure that you set out the screening criteria before people review resumes, and don’t just leave it up to their whim and their presumed good judgment. What qualities are you actually looking for? What are the metrics of these qualities? What are the different ways in which these qualities can show up? Do you have a rubric? Do you have a metric, something that people can actually use so they don’t lapse into biased patterns of thinking?
Same thing with work allocation, do you have a formal work allocation process? I remember speaking to one lawyer when he was saying, “I gave someone a piece of work, and I want to go back and give that person more work. They did a good job, why do I have to spread the wealth in a sense?” I said, “Well, first of all, what if that person leaves tomorrow, and you’ve only trained him and you haven’t given that same consideration to other people? That’s going to leave you in the lurch. You’re thinking short term, instead of thinking long term.” Then I asked him, “What made you go to him in the first place?” He couldn’t answer the question. Or maybe he didn’t want to answer the question.
But it’s, who do you think of first? Why are you thinking of them first? Why do you go to that person? It’s usually because there’s some similarity or something drawing you towards that person. Oh, they’re kind of like me, I was good, therefore they’ll be good and not discounting someone else’s potential or experience. Just making sure that you’re giving everybody the same opportunity to succeed, and different people will run with that opportunity in different ways, but if people are starting out from different starting points and not getting the same chances, of course you’re going to have different results at the end.
Erin: What advice would you give to Black, Indigenous, and people of colour who may be struggling professionally, or just feeling worn down by the bias and racism that they face?
Dr. Roderique: Have a support network. I have a Black woman’s book club where we read work by Black authors, and most of the time we don’t talk about the book. We just talk about work and we gripe about work. We talk about our experiences, our lived experiences as Black women in the world. I always leave those feeling heard and refreshed, and really grateful for that group of women.
Document everything, cover your butt. If someone gives you instructions, verbally, get back to your office write a confirmatory email saying, as I understand it you want me to do A, B, C, and D, but not E, so that later when E doesn’t get done and they actually wanted E to get done they can’t throw you under the bus. Documenting everything, just knowing that people will have it out for you more than they will have it out for others, and so you have to cover yourself, make sure that you’ve dotted your Is and cross your Ts.
Take notes. If you have a negative experience, go back to your office, send an email to yourself. You have a date-stamped receipt of your immediate recollections of what happened, because then, if 5, 6, 7 more incidents happen, and if there’s a harassment case or there’s an investigation when they’re asking about what happened you’re like, well, here are my immediate notes from the situation versus this person’s sketchy recall six months later. Just making sure that you’re protecting yourself in case something goes wrong. Hopefully you would never have to use any of those things but I’m a realist and so for me, those are the kinds of records that I would keep.
Erin: Have you had to use them?
Dr. Roderique: I actually have been working for myself for the past little while, so haven’t had to keep any records because it’s just me. I’m not going to tell on myself. Going forward that’s something that I would take with me.
Erin: I do love the idea of your quasi-book club because 25 years ago I wanted to start up a group called Broads in Broadcasting, something like that, just because I did feel so alone. As soon as you start talking with somebody, you know that they’ve got the same problems that you do, and it can only help to discuss, okay, well then what did you do?
Because there are so many restrictions and parameters and stuff that if you can just find a way that someone else saw that perhaps that you don’t, it can be invaluable. Sometimes just having that safe place to be vulnerable, to not have to be standing up and be the only and get worried about getting shoved off the glass cliff and all of that. It must be a tremendous sense or it is a tremendous sense of relief.
Dr. Roderique: Yes, I think too it can be really hard to express weakness or to express that you’re having trouble or challenges in the workplace because you’re worried that that will be held against you because sometimes it feels like they’re just waiting for you to mess up and expecting you to mess up and you don’t want them to be right. Having a place where you can go and be honest and talk through the challenges you’re experiencing, I think, is really important.
Erin: Coming up, we’re going to hear from three of your fellow REALTORS® about their experiences with racism, and Dr. Roderique has her three kinds of racism. That’s on the way. There is a place to discuss what you’re going through, tap into the knowledge and experiences of REALTORS® across Canada sharing your own lessons and insights by visiting REALTORS’ Quarter on CREA Cafe, a hub of content created by REALTORS® for REALTORS®. Back to Dr. Hadiya Roderique, who tells us that there are three kinds of racism.
Dr. Roderique: You can be actively racist, bad, passively racist, also bad, or you can be actively anti-racist, good. You cannot be passively anti-racist because the current system is biased and racist and so to do nothing, to be passive is to allow that current to continue. You have to be pushing back against that current to be anti-racist. I know there are some educators who put the four categories on the board and everything that people try and put in the passive anti-racist box, they’re like, no, that actually belongs there, that belongs there. There’s really nothing that fits in the passive anti-racism box.
You have to be taking action, you have to be doing something. It doesn’t have to be huge. Maybe, you notice that the curriculum of your kid’s eighth grade English class has no authors of colour on it. You’re a White mother, you’re a White father, you write to the teacher, you write to the school board asking for there to be more representation. As a White person who’s seen as not having anything invested in that you will be taken more seriously than if I write it and make that same request.
What are the small things you can do? Have you noticed that the parent groups seem to be excluding certain parents? Or some people are not getting invited to playdates? Have you noticed that your colleague isn’t getting the same opportunities that you are or when they try and talk in a meeting they’re being talked over? You can be like, “Hey, I think Anna was trying to say that.” Or if you notice that someone has sort of stolen someone else’s idea and getting credit for it and be like, “Oh, that sounds a lot like what Kamala was saying.
Do you want to repeat that? Let us know your thoughts again, maybe people didn’t hear,” and so calling attention, using your privilege for good. It can be a force for good, you just have to wield it in the right way.
Erin: My mind is blowing up right now with ideas because of what women have gotten to now in this position 20 to 30 years later. Okay, we’ve had that struggle, we’re up that ladder. Now reach down and pull somebody else up, because it’s not over for everybody.
Dr. Roderique: Yes, so much of the advances we’ve had for women in the workplace have really been advances on the part of White women, intersectionality piece has been lacking. We need to make sure when we’re talking about feminism, that our feminism includes all women and not just upper middle class White women. Think about, does your feminism include women who don’t look like you, women who inhabit a different socio-economic class than you?
Erin: Good question. Dr. Roderique, what steps can White allies take to genuinely support their Black and racialized colleagues, clients, and friends?
Dr. Roderique: I think one thing is to do your own research work in education. You don’t need to go up to your Black friend and ask them to explain microaggressions to you, you have fingertips and probably four different devices that connect to the internet, you can Google. You can Google basic terms, you can read books to get more familiar with the language, so making sure that you are up to date on your vernacular.
Then the second thing is to recognize how much power there is in your silence and in your action. The power in your silence is negative. When you see something happening and you say nothing, it comes across as tacit endorsement of what is happening. If someone says to me, do the carpet match the drapes, which is an actual thing that someone has said to me in the workplace, and you say nothing, you are approving that behaviour.
You are saying, yes, that is an acceptable thing that should be said and that is an acceptable thing that can be said to you.
I remember, I had one experience with a lawyer where the client pointed at me and said, “Where they’re mostly black,” and just stood there pointing at me and it was super awkward. People do dumb things all the time, but the thing that was actually the most hurtful was that she never said anything about it, that she pretended like it didn’t happen. It made me learn what my value was to her. It can be most hurtful when it’s the people you respect, when it’s your friends who stand by and say nothing.
I know a lot of people worry about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing but I promise you that doing anything is literally better than doing nothing. Even if you mess it up a bit you’ll learn, you’ll grow, the person will know that you supported them. Even though it was imperfect, that you recognize that what was happening was not okay, and you took action against it.
It shouldn’t always be on the person who’s insulted to have to be the one that stands up because if I do I’m seen as the angry Black woman or being too sensitive, or it’s going to affect my career and my prospect and I want to see White people putting themselves on the line, sticking their neck out and telling that person, yo, that’s not okay. Knowing that that person might be upset at them for calling them out on the thing they shouldn’t be doing but that’s okay, and that you’re more afraid of your Black colleague or friend being harmed and hurt than you are of saying the wrong thing or not saying it perfectly, because that’s what you should really fear. You should fear the racism, not standing up to the racism.
Erin: Does it behoove the people who have more power to have louder voices in this because I know if I was lower in the company, and I heard someone say something to you, I’d look around the room and go, okay, before I stand up for my friend, Hadiya, is this going to be a career limiting move for me?
Dr. Roderique: If you think that’s going to be a career limiting move for you I think you’re in the wrong organization. You want to be in an organization where there are consequences for bad behaviour and good consequences for good behaviour. If you feel like speaking up against injustice is going to get you in trouble at work, do you really want to work there? I know I would not want to work there. I would not want to grace that place with my presence.
You have to be part of changing the culture. If you want that kind of speech or actions to be unacceptable, you have to be one of the people saying it’s unacceptable. It’s not my ancestors who dehumanized Black people, it’s not my ancestors who kept them enslaved, and so it’s not supposed to be my job to undo racism. I didn’t make racism. My people didn’t make racism, all we did was exist and try and survive and try to live. It’s the people who are part of the system, who perpetuate the system, who continue the system, it’s their job to undo that. Yes it’s hard and yes it’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s going to help us all.
You think about rising tide lifts all ships, so why are we satisfied with a world where mediocre men get positions and power above other people that deserve it more? We have accepted mediocrity for a very long time, and I think it’s time for us to stop accepting mediocrity for us to give people opportunity, and to let people actually be the best that they can be. Therefore, then give positions and give those rewards to the people who truly deserve it.
All people of colour want is an actual meritocracy, but for you to believe that what we have now is a meritocracy, that would mean that you believe, for example, that intelligence is unequally distributed by race and by gender. I went to law school I can tell you that that is not true. Women get into university more than men. Right now, for them to keep university classes more gender balanced because they’re not, I think right now it’s about 57% women and 43% men in university because women actually do better in school.
They are more likely to be on the Dean’s list and so for you to go from that, to having 10% women partners, and for you to think that that’s okay and that actually represents the best of talent, that you think that somehow men get this magical injection of legal talent right after they graduate from law school that they just didn’t hold before. They didn’t have it in university. They didn’t have it in high school, but somehow it just magically appears. Do I have a timeshare in Florida to tell you about?
Erin: Tell us how professionals like real estate brokers and REALTORS® can encourage a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture in a real way Dr. Roderique?
Dr. Roderique: You can demand actions that don’t seem like they benefit you. If you’re a White broker pushing for a BIPOC, so a Black, Indigenous, People of Colour internship program, you’re not seen as having skin in the game or looking out for your own, you’re just saying, this is a thing that will benefit us all and I as a White person support this. I think also not tolerating intolerance and having actual consequences for negative behaviour.
The person who’s harmed should after be the one that’s supported, be the one that’s given opportunities, not the person that has harmed. But so often we see people who do bad things still getting rewards and still failing upwards. It’s how we got Harvey Weinstein. It’s how you get all of the men who, comes out, that they’ve repeatedly harassed women in the workplace, and yet have still been allowed to move up and move up and gain more and more power. Why is the consequence of bad behaviour rewards?
Erin: Because whistleblowers are not seen as team players, right?
Dr. Roderique: Yes, which you think about the police as well. They say it’s one bad apple but usually it’s actually more a lot of bad apples and one good apple, and then the gang up on the good apple, and then the good apple has to leave the force and is harassed by the police for the rest of their life. Making sure that if you have bad apples, you actually get rid of them. Or you put pressure on them to change into good apples, and not tolerate the bad apples.
What that is actually saying is that you do not believe in your HR department’s ability to get someone who can do the job without being a jerk. I’d like to think you trust your HR and hiring committees much more than that, and know that you don’t have to keep someone who is toxic around. Often we keep these person because maybe they sell 10% more than the other person, but we are forgetting about the negative impact that they have on everybody else around them. If they’re making everybody else around them sell 5% less, they’re a net negative on the organization and so, why are we keeping them? I think actual consequences for behaviour, not tolerating intolerance, and then making sure when you see something you say something and you do something.
Erin: Listening to the people who have left, why did they leave?
Dr. Roderique: Yes, exit interviews, very important.
Erin: You’ve also talked about giving equal opportunities to succeed and often they only get a break when they’ve repeatedly proved themselves, as well as revamping the hiring processes.
Dr. Roderique: Not just hiring. I think a lot of people think that if they hire a diverse slate then they can wipe their hands and have done their job, but if you hire people only for them to all leave six months after because the workplace culture is toxic, that’s not really doing much good. You can’t hire people into a place that is harmful or unsafe for them. So, making sure not only that you’re working on hiring, but you’re working on retention.
Erin: As we wrap up our conversation with Dr. Hadiya Roderique next, on our way to hearing from CREA members who faced racism themselves, here’s a reminder, REALTORS® Care is a national guiding principles celebrating the great charitable work done by the Canadian REALTOR® community. Help raise awareness for the charities and causes closest to you by sharing your story using #REALTORSCare on your favourite social media platform.
In the three to four years since you wrote Black on Bay Street and it was published in the Globe and Mail, have you observed any significant movement on the issue of bias and racism in the workplace since then, any signs of hope that we’re headed in the right direction?
Dr. Roderique: Yes, I think some people have made some changes to their hiring processes. I know some firms have implemented some unique programs that give young BIPOC individuals opportunities to work the firm when they’re more junior in their tenure. I think that there’s the Black North Initiatives where now a lot of people are signing on to that and there’s targets associated with that. I think we’re seeing some changes. I think some people who are doing good work just aren’t blasting out on social media or using it for publicity or credit. They’re just doing good work behind the scenes. I think sometimes there’s an unwillingness to share best practices or put it out there, but I think we have to recognize that we’re all in this together, and we want everybody to be using these good practices. We don’t want anybody to be treated badly, even if they’re not at our organization.
I think there’s more of a culture of sharing and collaboration on EDI initiatives, which I am encouraged by, but what I don’t want to see is just performative action on Twitter or social media posts and then no action.
I know that there was something- there was a blow-up with Glossier, which is a makeup company, and there was a statement posted, but there hasn’t been any clarity on follow-up for whatnot, making sure that if you’re putting commitments out there, that you’re following up on those commitments and publicizing your action as well as your commitment to action. I think I want to see, and hopefully, we are seeing, some senior leadership EDI positions that have real teeth and have the ability to really implement change in an organization.
Erin: Black Lives Matter was huge in 2020. It really, truly came to the fore, and, of course, in Canada, many, many people were made aware of this movement that wasn’t just something fringe or only something that happened in the United States. What is your hope for the future and what is your take on the state of equality for Black people in Canada now?
Dr. Roderique: We still have a ways to go. I think we like to think we’re very different from the US, but the way that we treat Black people, the way that we treat indigenous people is very similar. We had slavery in Canada. There’s a lot of people who don’t know that. We had slaves in Canada. It’s just that our temperature wasn’t as warm. There weren’t as many people out in fields, but we had slaves doing things in Canada.
Robyn Maynard’s, Policing Black Lives is a really good book that canvasses the Black experience, especially, the Black experience in relation to the state. My hope for the future is that kids will look at us with puzzled faces when we say that this used to be a thing that people cared about, and they’d be like, “What? You cared what colour people were? You cared what gender people were? What? Why?” I just want the future generations to look back with incredulity that we differentiated people based on these characteristics that really don’t matter.
Erin: The work you’re doing, opening eyes and hearts, to the message that you’ve got, it has been incredible. We can only hope that you’ll continue to use your platform, use your voice, to make people aware of what we’re doing, whether consciously or unconsciously. Let’s look in a crystal ball to the rest of 2021 and get us to the end of it, if you will, Dr. Roderique.
Dr. Roderique: Please, please, fast forward.
Erin: How would you like to be able to describe this year when we’re all done?
Dr. Roderique: I’d like it to be pandemic-free. I’d like there to be fewer Black people being harmed and killed by the state. I’d like to see more accountability for people’s actions. I’d like to see us recognize the people who do the real work that sustains us, it is the cashier at the grocery store, it is the warehouse stalker. It is the front-line worker, and really rethink what we want our community and our province and our country and our city to look like.
Do we want it to look like a place that leaves certain people behind, or do we want it to look like something that supports and tries to get the best for everyone and from everyone? I hope that over this next year, we’ve really, truly, and deeply started to confront our history. I think we need to acknowledge the harms we’ve done in the past for us to move forward.
I think we need to acknowledge the harms that have been committed against indigenous people in this country, committed against Black people in this country, and other groups, and understand why, understand what we’re going to do about it and how we’re going to change that and move forward. I think there’s still so many people who deny that racism even exists or deny the genocide of indigenous people.
It’s going to be really hard, I think, for some of us to move forward if we still have these ideas out there, gripping and lingering. I feel like sometimes when I talk about this work, it sounds depressing. Sometimes I will quit when I’m giving a talk, “Now, that I have depressed you all, here’s the optimism.” I like to think that we can only get better from here. Let’s operate on the model or the idea that we’re going to get better, every day is going to be a little better.
I’m not expecting to solve racism tomorrow. I’m not even expecting to solve racism in my lifetime. It was hundreds of years in the making. It’s going to be a long time in the undoing, but the time for talking about it and platitudes is over. I think that people just aren’t going to get away with denying racism, or pretending it doesn’t exist, or saying that they had no idea.
If after this summer, you have no idea about racism, were you living under a rock? Were you living up North with no internet and no communication with any other humans? Then maybe I might be able to buy it, but if you have been able to look at what’s happening and still want to deny that the experience here is different for other people, then I don’t really know what to do, but hopefully, those kinds of attitudes are just not going to fly anymore.
The newer generation, the younger generation is watching, and they are not going to be satisfied with people saying something and doing nothing. They will call you out on it. They will make a bunch of TikToks about you. You had a bunch of 15-year-olds trolling the president of the United States, buying up tickets to his various rallies and leaving them empty. The young people, especially if you’re someone who has an organization, the young people are very conscious of this issue and they’re going to be looking at what you’re doing. Are you walking the walk, in addition to talking the talk?
They don’t have the same company loyalty that used to exist 30, 40, 50 years ago. If they come to your organization and you’re not doing enough for them, they’re going to leave. They’re going to have their own startup, or they’re going to go somewhere else that’s more progressive. It’s really a war for talent. For me, if you’re lagging behind on EDI, that’s going to really hurt you for the rest of your time, really. This is also about your own survival. If, as an organization, you’d like to stick around, you’re going to have to do better in this area.
Erin: We can’t thank you enough for the time you’ve spent with us today. It’s been enlightening in so many ways, and it’s just wonderful that an essay you wrote in 2017 continues to have a life of its own. We’ll keep sending people to that Globe and Mail, Black on Bay Street, 2017, Dr. Hadiya Roderique has been our guest here today. Thank you so much.
Dr. Roderique: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.
Erin: Okay. As we continue with the discussion of working while Black with Dr. Roderique, let’s turn our attention now on REAL TIME to the real estate context. We spoke with three Black REALTORS® who shared their experiences and insights on bias and racism. Here’s what Bethany King, a Broker REALTOR® from Brampton, Ontario, had to say about witnessing discrimination in her work environment.
Bethany King: We see racism or racial bias primarily in our rental markets, when certain ethnicities are denied offers to lease without any reason or explanation. If you have ever represented a minority tenant in at least transaction, then it’s apparent of the racism prevalent within our communities. Furthermore, certain races are often asked to provide additional supporting documentation to prove their worthiness when, in fact, they’ve already met all of the tenant requirements.
Now, this is primarily driven through stereotypes, and you and I both know that research and analysis shows that the Black to White gap in income is substantial, coupled with racial bias and law enforcement schooling and the jobs sector. Therefore, Black people are not seen as desirable tenants. They’re not seen as trustworthy or financially secure. The worst part about this is that our Black children are being raised in a system that is not welcoming to them, nor supports them.
Erin: Thank you, Bethany King, for sharing your insight. We’ll hear from her again in a moment. Beyond bias against clients, Chris Peters, who many of you know as the President of the Nova Scotia Association of REALTORS®s, shared for the first time publicly, a personal story of when he was directly targeted with racism.
Chris Peters: I’ve been blessed and fortunate that I haven’t faced a lot. I’m in a small community, Eastern Passage, one of the suburbs of Halifax, and I’ve always been very active in the community, so my face has been out in the community way before I ever started real estate, so people were always aware of my loud, outspoken character.
I think that probably softened the blow for me in this community. I haven’t shared this story with- actually, you might be the first one I have shared this story with, Erin. A few of my signs have racial slurs, both the swastika and KKK, written on them. I was fortunate that I had a couple of friends of mine in the community point them out to me, they were quickly removed and they were replaced.
In most cases, you’re never going to find out who did it or why it was done. Sometimes it’s people who are just ignorant and don’t even know the significance and meaning of those symbols and those letters. Sorry, it’s emotional talking about it.
Erin: I appreciate you sharing it. You don’t want to think that it could be something as nefarious as Proud Boys, you want to think it’s stupid boys, young boys.
Chris: Yes, it’s true, it’s true, but that stuff happens. I’ve had that stuff happen when I was a young kid in high school, I think that’s what one of the original conversations I had with CREA last summer, was about some of that stuff happening, and that would have been me living up in Sudbury.
Here I’m an adult in my 40s, in real estate, and it’s still happening. It took me by surprise, but at the same time, it also didn’t surprise me that much, knowing the demographics, knowing the history of this province, knowing the racial tensions that still exist to this day in this province. In some respects, it didn’t surprise me.
For me, it was a matter of taking those signs down, replacing them with new ones, and just going on, whether or not that was the right or wrong thing to do, I didn’t even mention it to my wife. It was just something I did, got the signs down, replaced them. Fortunately, the ones that I replaced them with never got vandalized. I never really thought much about it after that. It never happened to me again, that was probably about seven or eight years ago.
Erin: It’s obvious that bias and racism are still very much present in real estate, like so many other industries and systems in Canada. Jasmine Lee, a Broker RELATOR® in Toronto offers us some ideas on how we can work together to make real estate more inclusive and equitable for Black and racialized Canadians.
Jasmine Lee: I’m all about solution focus, so even for me spending my time and energy to do things like this, I’ve been talking about this, I’ve been approached by newspapers and by our boards about interviews and I spend my time and energy away from my business and my family to help with the solution.
There’s a lot of groups starting now, Black REALTORS® in Toronto, Black REALTORS®, even the brokers, I’m a part of, they have a Black REALTOR® association and its international, so there is a need, but we need support from our bodies here in Toronto, I would say. There’s groups that are already formed. We need support from our bodies here, Toronto real estate board, RECO, CREA, or they need to form something from the bodies that support REALTORS® of colour to, what are the opportunities?
A lot of them are first-generation in the business, what are things that they can do to help their peers? What are things that we can do to get more access into the builder connection? Things that we can help our community, things that we can help other REALTORS® that are coming into the business, so I think we need some more support from the bodies, for sure.
I would say for the bodies that govern our real estate business, they need to look at their online presence, they need to look, does it reflect our industry? Does it reflect an inclusive environment that they want to cultivate and create? Take a look at that. One of the things I talked about on my social media on Instagram, and you can find me there @thejasmineleeteam, is that I find that all the brokers that I’m with, all the bodies, they’d celebrate donut day, dog owner day, they wouldn’t celebrate Black history month ever, until I moved to this brokerage, eXp, I didn’t even know that they do, but at Black history month, they made a post and they celebrate it, and that was such a big thing for me.
It was such a small thing from what they thought they did, but it was huge, and once I shared that on social media, so many REALTORS® were like, “Wow, that is amazing,” because the brokerage I’m at never acknowledged even Black history month, and they celebrate Halloween, Leprechaun Day, so many different things, but they don’t acknowledge that, so that was a huge thing for myself and a lot of other REALTORS®.
Erin: As for Chris Peters of Nova Scotia, he’s working to reverse an almost 80-year history of under-representation among leadership in organized real estate.
Chris: In the summer, I put forward a motion, one of the great things about being president is, I can request to create a task force. I had unanimous support from our board of directors to create a task force on diversity and inclusion for NSAR to look at some of the issues and causes with regards to a lack of diversity and inclusion in not necessarily our membership, but in our committees and our board.
I think, when I look over our membership, we have pretty good representation, but it doesn’t appear that we have that at all when it comes to our committees and boards. It’s our committees and boards that govern where we’re going to go as an association. For me, it was important that we start to incorporate that as part of our philosophy, in order to do that, I thought that creating this task force, which we met for the first time in September, and we’ve met a few times since, is going to be our first step in recognizing what actions we as an association need to do to ensure that we are building and developing and fostering a community of inclusion, a sense of belonging for our members.
When you look at Canada as a whole, and Nova Scotia, some of our most socially and economically challenged neighborhoods tend to be racialized. If we’re not doing things to support those groups and a lot of those groups, because they’ve had such a negative history with people of non-colour with what you would say is your white person, you’ve got to be able to have people that they can associate to and relate to, by being able to see themselves for them to be able to hopefully respond in a positive way.
Erin: Bethany King, from Brampton, compiled for us key points of focus that she believes will help the real estate industry shift to being more inclusive and equitable.
Bethany: The five points that I always bring it back to is, number one, an acknowledgment that there’s an issue that Black people, Black children have always been treated as inferior and the presence of Black youth remains unwelcomed and undesirable, acknowledging that there is an issue as the first step in opening the conversations.
Number two, we request that ARIA, RECO, TREB, create a post or position of director of race relations, and this position should be occupied by a member of the Black community with an immediate mandate to create a task force. I do believe that ARIA is already working on something like this.
The third one is that we requested our boards start to begin to collect race-based data from both their members and their member clients. This vital information could help pinpoint some problems and address issues. We also request that the same boards analyze the effect of gentrification and racialized communities and have a mandate to protect said communities from unfair property tax hikes and predatory land assembly.
Finally, most importantly, and I believe CREA is already making steps towards this is immediately creating and implementing mandatory race, focus, education programs to help REALTORS® identify and navigate racial discrimination by clients and fellow REALTORS®, there’s far too many instances of a Black person or another person of colour being denied rent or financing options based solely off the colour of their skin. REALTORS® have a role to play in this discriminatory practice, and members should be educated and reminded of how to properly conduct their business in the community when it comes to these situations.
Erin: Lastly, we asked our real-time guests what advice they would give to Black and other racialized or underrepresented Canadians who might be interested in a career in real estate, and here’s what Jasmine had to say.
Jasmine: You are going to work harder as a minority, and you will definitely work harder as a minority and a female, it will be the best career and it’ll be so worth it as long as you align yourself and create your tribe in real estate, in terms of people that look like you, that have the same values, characteristics as you, and just build on that together.
Erin: Finally, we wrap up this edition of REAL TIME with passionate words from Bethany King.
Bethany: I would say to other members who are Black or from minority descent, and I try to be a little bit compelling here, but that I would tell them that you can break those generational curses that were imparted on them in the first place. One of the things that I love about being a REALTOR® is being able to choose the kind of people that I have to work with, minorities are not only discriminated against in real estate, but even in the corporate world as well. They’re hindered with prejudice and they often have to take a lower wage in some cases, and you don’t have to do that. You can take control of your career. You can live a very comfortable life. I’m Black, I’m a woman, I’m a single mom, and I’ve quite literally doubled down on the adversity. I’m changing the stereotype for my daughter and her future. I think that I love being a salesperson. I love working in real estate, and pressure creates diamonds. I would welcome more people of colour, more minority immigrants to pursue a career in real estate, because it’s been really great for me.
Erin: Thank you, Bethany, Chris Peters, and Jasmine Lee for sharing your insights and your experiences so that we may all see things a little more clearly as we celebrate Black History Month and move towards a future of compassion, empathy, and justice. If you’re interested, you can google Black on Bay Street in the Globe and Mail, no paywall, and read Dr. Roderique’s piece from last September on being a Black mother in a world that’s dangerous for Black children. It’s amazing. So is she, and we’re so glad to have shared her wisdom here today.
Just before we go, here’s another reason you’re going to want to subscribe to this podcast. Up next time, an uplifting and joyful conversation with Tiffany Pratt post of HGTV’s Home to Win, and Buy It, Fix It, Sell It, to name just a few of her projects. She’s dynamic. She’s got so much on the go and a lot of joy to share, and she’ll do it right here. You won’t want to miss it.
REAL TIME is produced by Real Family Productions and Alphabet® Creative. I’m Erin Davis. Talk to you again soon and don’t forget to subscribe.
Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, the Canadian Real Estate Association podcast for realtors, and we’re all about issues that impact Canadian real estate and you. I’m your host Erin Davis, nice to have you here and today we’re bringing it all home. Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic quickly underscored the importance of “home” as refuge, and we saw Canadians making their nests a larger priority shifts in the types of homes purchased and a boom and renos, realtors also responded and experienced the impact of this change in prioritization firsthand.
In this episode of REAL TIME, we’re going to dig into this change and look at how it’s affecting the way homes are designed, marketed, and experienced as a whole. We’re so grateful to have with us a man who’s best known to Canadians for his TV career spending over 20 years on HGTV life network and CBC TV, Steven Sabados, a household name paired with his late partner, Chris Hyndman.
Today, the S&C product line sales internationally, and now Steven Sabados with his very own highly personal and dynamic product line takes inspiration from his own artwork, sculpture, and photography, and he joins us to share those visions and his own perspective today. Steven, what a pleasure to start out a new year with you here. I know that you’ve been designing homes and spaces for nearly three decades. Pandemic aside, and we wish that was literal, have you ever witnessed anything like we did last year with such a collective emphasis on the whole idea of home?
Steven Sabados: Yes, Wow. Sadly, we have. I think after the devastating tragedy of 9/11, the world looked at travel through a whole new lens and then as a society, we started to look at our homes as becoming our place of sanctuary and that’s where the term ‘cocooning’ I think was embraced and even quiet from back then because I’ve never heard of the word cocooning before until then. We started really coming in and we really looked at our home as not only a place to live, but it was a place that we could escape to feel safe.
It was our sanctuary.
Instead of travel, I think, as a nation even, we were starting to put our hard-earned dollars into renovation. Maybe instead of going South, maybe we installed the pool in the backyard or recreation areas, entertaining areas, great rooms were becoming more and more popular at homes because we were entertaining a lot that we were having our friends or family over back then we could, and even, I think networks like HGTV were booming with programs so that we could help ourselves be more knowledgeable and educated on renovations and decorating and repair and that’s where that big DIY revolution was born. Everyone was DIY.
Erin: Yes, and you talk about swimming pools. My sister tried to buy a hot tub and it was like a waitlist forever. You think she wanted a custom-built Tesla or something, just crazy, cocooning indeed. Our homes had to be a lot of things for us last year. What does the home of 2021 look like to you, Steven?
Steven: I think, personally, we’re going to be dealing with COVID realities for quite some time and our homes will have to remain flexible to include a multitude of activities. We’re going to reevaluate how our house is being used. Things like those formal dining rooms, and I’m doing air quotes for that there’s “formal dining rooms”, which they’re going to be a thing of the past because they’re going to be converted into workspaces, play areas and especially, I think now even more important, those big dining rooms are going to become classrooms if you have a large family.
I think we’re going to become less focused on the aesthetics and we’re going to gravitate to function and the big word comfort. We’re in our homes. We want to be comfortable. That’s why comfort furniture, all that stuff is more and more popular. I think if we’re in our home, Erin, as well, I don’t know about you, but I think so many people that you’re in your homes, you start looking around and you start, what do you do? You start organizing because if our place is clean and organized, our head is clean and organized.
Personally, for me, as soon as we went into our first lockdown last year, I started opening cupboards, well I’ve got this time, why not do it? And it’s interesting because you see reflection and there was a big boom on the TV shows on Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and getting organized with the Home Matters. All these TV shows were grasping on it. That’d be like, hang on, wait a minute. We can then give you more inspiration to tidy and clean.
Erin: Absolutely. People were so shocked when they were clearing out all their closets and then finding out that the donation bins had been closed because of COVID too. Somewhere in a lot of garages and basements, there’s a lot of clothes we’re not wearing anymore. Just waiting for a chance to donate them, right?
Steven: Absolutely, yes.
Erin: Now, kitchens and bathrooms, they’ve always been the place to invest. Is this changing at all as far as you can see?
Steven: I don’t think so. If we start with kitchens, kitchens are becoming, I think, more and more important to ground us as a family. It’s where we’re going to nurture ourselves. We’re going to entertain our own family or our new bubbled family which is a new term. I think the kitchen’s always going to remain the heart of the home. It’s the place where we’re experimenting and cooking, but doing Zoom classes and things of that nature. There was a really interesting stat that I found that the Zoom app, whatever, was skyrocketing, it’s enormous, it’s now valued at $139 billion. There that’s more than Exxon.
Erin: Oh, my gosh.
Steven: I didn’t even know what Zoom was.
Erin: While we’re on the topic of Zoom, Steven, you’ve undoubtedly seen a lot of Zoom calls and stuff. Maybe at some point, we can talk about some tips for simplifying your background if you’re going to be doing like a show or something where you’re going to be seen by other people because there’s even Rate my Room now, you’ve seen that, right? Where people on Zoom, they’re being judged by what’s on the wall behind them.
Steven: That’s so funny. It is very interesting because not only now are we being so conscious of what we’re wearing or maybe what our hair looks like and make sure our face is powdered, not shiny. Now we’re worried about, oh my God, what’s behind me. When it is true, I think there’s going to be this influx of staging what’s behind you so that you can have your real or fake diploma, whatever you proudly displayed or a piece of artwork or an environment that’s going to suit you.
I think that that’s going to be a bit of a weird phenomenon, but it’s going to be a thing. Also, while we’re on that point as well, there was a really interesting ad campaign that I found about dressing for success from the waist up and it wasn’t a great concept, because it was from TikTok. I found that really cool, it’s literally you’re going to have your fantastic strong business suit on male or female and look fantastic, but who cares what trousers does you have, what shoes you have? As long as from the waist up, you’re looking great, that’s all that matters. That’s funny, isn’t it?
Erin: It is and just between you and me, I actually did a Zoom meeting with a blazer over a nightgown and a necklace on. It was just, like, you don’t need to know that these are my sleep clothes. I’m looking okay with the jacket, the necklace. Thank you.
Steven: That’s brilliant.
Erin: More with Steven Sabados, Designer and Partner in the S&C product line in a moment. Enjoying REAL TIME? Well, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts for monthly episodes with amazing guests, such as TV icon, Sarah Richardson, award-winning author Jesse Thistle, Canadian broadcast and ad legend, Terry O’Reilly, and many more. They’re timely and timeless so dig in and enjoy. Back to the house, finished basements, defining spaces. What other changes are you seeing that as we move into, not just focusing on kitchens and bathrooms, where else are we going in the house, Steven?
Steven: Basements, I think, are the perfect place to define any activity. Obviously, if you have a basement and I’ve got a few friends right now that are looking to dig down their basement now to extend their home because they need more space for the family.
Basements, I think, are the most obvious and perfect place for like play areas for kids, gyms, exercise rooms but the big influx right now, you’re going to see in basements, not only just to gain more space, but it’s going to be a home theater and that’s going to be a big selling factor. Again, another really interesting staff stat I found, which was mind-boggling for me, large home theater, TV sales with a 65-inch port plus were up 77% since this time last year.
Erin: Oh, you’re kidding.
Steven: Yes, we’re sitting down, we’re getting comfy, we’re watching TV. We can’t go to the theater, right? Why not create one in our home and make it as luxurious as we can and that’s where we’re obviously our audiovisual set up is going to be key and then furniture sales from there. The only thing I did want to say when we’re talking about basements, because people say, “Oh, I’ve got a basement. I could just put my home office there.”
I personally don’t think that a basement is a place for a home office. You think about there and what you’re going to do. You’re getting ready in the morning, you’ve got all stuff, you’re feeling great, you’re all refreshed. Then you go downstairs, you’re burrowing. There’s maybe minimal windows, maybe no window, do you know what I mean? We’re now hibernating. We’re going underground.
It’s going to pull our energy down. If you can I think have your home office above ground with natural light but if you do have to go to a basement level to work, what have you, make sure you have either fantastic lighting. There’s a lot of lights that you can switch on to daylight, those energizing lights. We’ve all seen them. Really think of that because nothing’s worse than sitting beside a 25-watt bulb trying to be productive in the corner beside the washer and dryer.
Erin: Yes, definitely. Cocooning but not burrowing and hibernating. There is a definite difference. Thank you for pointing that out.
Steven: Huge difference.
Erin: Right. Okay. Outside space, it’s also key. How can we make a small yard or a balcony, which is a reality for so many people feel like a retreat, Steven?
Steven: Wow and I’d be looking forward to spring, we already. I would say plant as much you can. Surround yourself with greenery as much as possible. My big trick for even my patio what I do is I have large, large planters. My planters are 24 inches high, then you’re going to plant at least a 5-foot tree in there. Now, your tree is going to be seven feet. The reason I’m saying that is plant them in large part is because, subconsciously, you’re grounded when you’re under a tree or you’re under foliage. If you’re sitting in a lawn chair and you have a tree over top of you, it just gives you this comfort feel like that Mother Nature is giving you a hug.
I think that’s nice. We can all visualize what that may look like, Also, I don’t know about you but herb gardens. It’s so necessary. Because I think what you do have in your garden, you feel compelled to use them and cook for. If it’s sitting there, you’re like, wow, I’ve got a lot of basil there. Let’s maybe make some pesto today. It does inspire you. I think it’s just, again, a subconscious nod but it’s going to then give you the reason to cook more. Also, if we’re talking about Mother Nature like abundance of bird feeders. Flowers that attract butterflies. We’re nurturing mother earth.
Oh, other thing too, what I have on my patio which everyone loves is the water feature. You know what? The sound of running water greatly improves your psychological and physical health. That’s a study, that’s a stat, but also, I like it because I live downtown and it literally drowns out the hum of the city as just recycled water going through an urn but it bubbles and it makes all sorts of fantastic sounds. That’s all you really focus on, is the sound of water which is very, very good for you.
Erin: Nice, a different kind of white noise. Very, very nice, yes.
Steven: A very positive one. Sure, yes.
Erin: Renovations and reconfigurations aside. Now, Steven, how can we use things like decor to keep our homes fresh?
Steven: Very interesting. This one is really based on a big trend as well, biophilia. Biophilia started as a trend before 2020 and it’s going to be one of the number one trends for 2021 and moving into 2022. Biophilia, basically, If you use a dictionary term, is basic premise is to connect the natural environment to the built environment through the use of natural materials and nature. Now, that sounds all mumbo jumbo, but basically, what that means is that we’re using plants and design and decor to energize us. Things like architecture using living walls.
Erin: For those people who don’t know what a living wall is, Steven, can you describe that, give an example?
Steven: Living wall is fantastic. It used to be a thing where it was just mostly in commercial spaces. Basically, a living wall is a structure that you can put up and you can actually plant on a wall. The wall becomes actually alive. There’s pockets to hold dirt and the plants will actually grow. There are some retail places there that you can actually get them and hang them on your own wall or even on a patio. You can put plants in there and they will hold the soil and not leak all over your floor, obviously.
You can mist them and again, plants that maybe are easier or maintenance free in the sense that they don’t require a ton of water. It’s mostly, like I said, you see it in large commercial buildings and hotels and things like that, but bring it into your own home. It’s a great way to just supply your air with oxygen and really to energize a space and give it the fantastic organic uncontrolled chaos.
Erin: Well, what else can we do to create a more calm and organized environment?
Steven: Well, we touched on the cluttering. Donate is going to pass on good fortune as well. If we’re talking about good fortune as well, I think one of the biggest things to create an organized and calming environment is to do some research on the principles of Feng Shui. Feng Shui basically, is an ancient philosophy that seeks to find balance between elements. It’s about positive energy flow in your surroundings. It’s about moving Chi and Chi is energy. Everything has energy. Our home has energy. We have energy and in your home you don’t want the Chi to be too fast or you don’t want it to be stagnant. That’s stagnant Chi.
It’s about furniture placement and the configuration to optimize the positive energy and to keep it flowing in your home. I think it’s fun because if you do look at a lot of it, is very common sense in a way like putting this chair here or that. I think it’s one of those fun things that gets you research. It’s about north, west, east, south, and things like that but it’s also sometimes it makes sense. If you move your furniture around, just give it a try.
You can always move your furniture back. If you find there is a difference, maybe not even tell anyone. Maybe if you have a busy home, do this and just see how your house reacts to it. I don’t know, but again, I would say if it’s essentially old and it works like yoga. Yoga basically is about moving energy in our body. Why can’t we move energy in our home?
Erin: Right, why not? Try it for a New Year. Now, you mentioned the directions and it pulled my heart a little bit because I know I wanted a globe for Christmas. Travel, just spin it, find me a place I want to go there in my head. Travel may still be difficult for part of this year. Who knows how long? How can we bring the world home to us? Steven, you’ve been so great about bringing the outside in. How do we bring the great outside the rest of the world into our homes?
Steven: Well, I would say travel’s about escaping your everyday routine. That’s why we travel because we want our senses to be excited. We want to experience all of this. I think if we break down the senses and think about how to inject some of those into our environment. For me, personally, I don’t know about you, but I love traveling to exotic tropical places. If we’re going to break that down and that philosophy and again, you can plug this in, whatever tropical places. Brighter, vibrant colours. Maybe paint a room in a warm yellow. Bring in tropical-inspired pillows and vibrant colours even solid colours.
I also think that the textures as well like area rugs and jute, woven baskets or rattan accents, things like that. Again, visually, it’s going to give me the feeling of tropical. If we look at sound, sound is quite obvious. You can play your favourite music. I have a tabletop water feature in my house as well. In the wintertime, at least I can still hear the trickling water and again, it gives me maybe a mild feeling that there’s an ocean somewhere.
Erin: Yes, right. It’s a great backdrop for meditation or, as you say, for yoga as well. It’s so grounded.
Steven: Absolutely, yes. If we’re still talking senses then there’s some smell which is very easy. Personally, for me, I use a lot of aroma therapy. I have a lot of oil diffusers. If you’re burning scents like Vanilla, Jasmine, and Sandalwood, all you have to do is close your eyes and you can literally be projected anywhere because smell is one of the strongest sense, right?
Steven: Also, never underestimate the joy of tropical flowers. Just a small injection of them in your home and flowers have a positive impact on emotional health. We all know that. If you think of touch or taste, you can combine them together. If I can’t travel, then I’m going to indulge in purchasing and cooking with fantastic tropical ingredients, coconuts, mangoes. Then doing a lot of really fantastic Caribbean curry recipes and the house is going to smell like fantastic curry. Even just plain tropical fruit in a bowl, that can already lift your spirits. Every time you walk in the kitchen, you can see gorgeous exotic dragon fruits. I just love how it looks. Simple things like that. Again, it’s like the senses.
Erin: We’re talking tech in just a moment. If Steven Sabados is writing your designing spark, check out realtor.ca Living Room. It’s got what you’re looking for. From market trends and home improvement to DIY hacks and design inspiration. Find everything you and your clients need in one place at realtor.ca/ Living Room. Now, back to our chats with Steven. How is technology going to continue to change the home of 2021? We’ve seen so many changes. You’ve talked about that ginormous TV that people have brought in so they can binge everything that they want. How do you see us moving forward into 2021?
Steven: I think technology is leaps and bounds. It’s going so quickly and as a reaction to obviously, of the situations with COVID, which I can become this mainstay in the home like clean technology or clean tech, is going to be just another norm in our homes. We’re not even going to ask for it, it’s going to be included, simple every day are already in place. Like the touchless faucets was in place years ago and that was just to help us in the kitchen. By the way, it was a little kitchen helper. Our hands are full of pastry dough so we touch the faucet with our elbow and it turns on and everyone’s happy.
Now we don’t want to touch the faucet because I don’t want to put germs on the faucet or vice versa. I would say touchless’ everything. We don’t have to touch anything anymore. Automatic sensors to flush toilets, that’s already in the marketplace now. You can install the suction to your toilet. Just wave your hand and the toilet flushes. That’s probably a lot of fun for kids. They’re going to be flushing just waving their hands over.
Doors that open, that they’re not going to have to touch the door handles and things of that nature. This one I found really interesting. It’s on the marketplace, these two things. One is a portable closet they can get. This is probably going to be a concept that you can now probably get installed into the closets in your front hall. After coming into your home and you hang your jacket up, you take shoes off, and you put it in a closet, you zip it up and it disinfects your clothing from whatever may have attached on it from the outside, which I find is like wild. It’s very George Jetson. Also, anti-microbial LED lighting that goes under your counter like undercounter lighting.
At night time, you turn on the, it’s almost like a black light and it disinfects your countertops while you sleep. Not to replace cleaning, but this technology again just helps fight against bacteria. Air purification, the ventilation system. I think with all of this technology, aren’t you seeing why we want to go back to biophilia and bring some plants and nature into our home? Because we’re becoming again living in these little bubbles these microcosms. We’re living in a little terrarium. Let’s make it green and don’t forget nature because we’re being bombarded by technology.
Erin: The flip side to that technology is, of course, tradition, and the things that we’ve carried through in our lives for centuries and even millennia. We’ve had to reinvent a lot of them in the last year to follow public health guidelines, stay home, stay safe. Do you see a potential, Steven, for new more virtual traditions to take root?
Steven: I definitely think so. These new traditions are going to be just again tradition. We’re inviting more and more people into our homes and oddly enough, we’re inviting them more virtually. It’s going to become a tradition that maybe you don’t need to socialize in big groups anymore because big groups are going to become these virtual groups and these dinners and whatnot. We’re going to be focusing on our space and what reflects us. A lot of things saw the changing but interestingly changing.
Erin: Well, let’s talk about design trends and what is standing out to you this year. Are we seeing big changes, more of the same? What are you seeing, Steven?
Steven: I think that the biggest and we all know the Pantone colour year like gray and bright yellow, which is I think an interesting concept but very hard to decorate around these two colours. Then there’s a lot of natural colours. There’s this projection saying the colour of the year for 2022 looks like it would be like an olive green. Again, colours found in nature. Even olive green is a very trendy colour right now. I think as a whole, we’re going to be embracing a lot of nature and all things natural. We’re going to really embrace everything artisanal. We want things that are made by humans for humans.
I think we’re going to enjoy the imperfections of life that we want to be surrounded by that. Like furniture that wasn’t made by a robot in a factory. Here’s where the carpenter was carving something and maybe it’s not perfect but we want it not to be perfect. We want to celebrate the human touch, that artisanal feel. Even things that you’re looking at, say flooring, for instance. A huge, huge trend now is to have blond light-coloured natural flooring where I can see the grain, I can see the wood knots, I can see the imperfections on the floor. We don’t want to have a floor that may look like wood, but it’s actually a laminated plastic. More than not, we are looking for things that humans have touched, which is great.
Erin: What are you seeing with the rise of home offices then?
Steven: I don’t know about you but my home office is my house, is everywhere. It’s anywhere you are with your laptop. The home office, it needs to be, obviously, flexible because we’re not really in an office anymore. The home office can be your sofa, could be anywhere but interesting enough, that convertible furniture is so on the rise. Convertible furniture for anyone that doesn’t know, it’s furniture that has multi-use. Fantastic things like a coffee table that has hydraulics that will lift up to a desk height. Fantastic things like work spaces and desk that completely fold away into a wall like a Murphy bed.
You can literally have a makeshift office anywhere. As we had mentioned before, I think the biggest thing is lighting because we need to make sure that we have appropriate and proper lighting for a workstation. If you are working from home I know, for me, personally, that you need a proper ergonomic chair. I would say invest in a chair. If you are going to be working from home, don’t try and prop yourself up on that wooden bar stool. You’re going to fidget and you’re going to be less productive. Get something that still feels like an office, but not necessarily. You don’t have to recreate your office.
Erin: That’s interesting.
Steven: Because you will be working from home more.
Erin: Yes, give your body the impression that yes, this is the work chair. This isn’t watching somebody make a lasagna. You’re working and this is the chair for it. Interesting. I hadn’t thought of that convertible coffee table as a desk. A lot of people use it for dining in front of the TV, which I think probably everybody does now but yes, as a desk and lots of room to spread out and two laptops if you need or whatever. Great idea.
Steven: Yes, for sure.
Erin: No matter what chair you’re sitting in right now, you can always find a spot at the CREA café. It’s a cozy place for realtors to connect, share thoughts, and stay up-to-date on the latest industry happenings over a virtual cup of coffee. Join the conversation at creacafe.ca. Now, back to our chat with Steven Sabados and back to bringing in nature and having nature surrounding us. Sounds good, right? How does nature and sustainability, how do they fit in?
Steven: Essentially, because we have been at home and we’ve become used to and accepting of recycling, upcycling things of that nature. We’re looking around the house and we’re like, okay, well, I’ve got this, this and that and maybe I can do X, Y, and Z with that. I know, personally, I was receiving a lot of requests and I did a lot of Internet shows and things on just ways to upcycle.
Look around things in your house and let’s see how can we rethink or reuse that? Upcycling is definitely one of the top 10 Pinterest searches. Before recycling, upcycling was, “It’s okay, we’re just on the side,” but now it’s being celebrated and it’s being accepted even more so. Which is really good again — sustainability.
Erin: Do you see it as a permanent change, Steven, or a temporary solution during an unprecedented time? Or is it like Zoom? It’s something we hadn’t given much thought to but guess what? It’s opened up the doors to a whole new lifestyle. How do you see it?
Steven: Yes, I believe this new importance and respect for home as a place or a sanctuary, is definitely here to stay, which is fantastic. We’re in our homes and we’re living in our homes. Not just living. TV lifestyle programming is booming. Consumers are looking to educate themselves not only for DIY repairs but renovation, cooking, decorating, you name it. I think a lot of people want to get it right or at least get it right for them.
Millennials are really driving the force on decor and design in that sense because they want to personalize it. There isn’t really– It’s very interesting when you go through the gamut of decorating and things like that, it’s personal. There really is no style. You can’t say the style of the ’80s, the style of the ’70s. We all know what they look like and they can immediately pop it into our heads and we get a visual.
What are you going to say the style that’s for 2020? Or even for just this last decade, it’s really personal. You’re having a mismatch of mid-century modern and maybe something that your grandma had and this old thing. I’m going to personalize that and I’m going to make a quirky but it’s my quirky and I’m going to own this. I think that’s cool because, again, this is my home and if you don’t like it, I don’t care but I love it and that represents me and my family in the way we like to live in our home.
Erin: Well, the time that you do care is when you’re marketing your home, of course. Do you foresee this shift affecting the way that we build and market our homes?
Steven: Well, interesting because if you look at the blueprints of a home, it’s like here’s the dining room, here’s bedroom number two. I think that we can create any room or any space because we had to and, now, I think our home and how we are marketing it, how it should be but here’s the space. Here’s what I did but here’s what you can do. Then recreate it as such because, I don’t know, I would find it hard when you’re seeing a space and it’s like here’s one-bedroom plus den. Well, why is that a den? Maybe it’s, I don’t know, my gym. It’s not necessarily the spare bedroom. I don’t need a spare bedroom. I want to make it this. Everyone talks about when they’re going for resale pick up the personality of the homeowner. I get it to a degree, but I think the personality inspires me. I would love to see how someone reflected their space.
Erin: What impact have these changes had on design experts like yourself? The importance of home in the last year or so? Or perhaps you’ve always had this mindset, Steven, but has that shifted anything in you as a creator?
Steven: For me, personally, because I design a lot of furniture, there was a time, there still is, a market for large furniture with a lot of bells and whistles. You know what I mean, and things of that nature that’s going to really make a big statement, I think, now because we have to be price-sensitive more so than ever, we’re paring back a lot of the details. We’re not really needing them as much anymore because we also know as a consumer and as a designer as well that that’s going to add extra cost. I think the biggest thing more than ever now, comfort is key.
Comfort is huge because we’re now living in our space and I do hope that we’re going to be less gravitating towards disposable things like disposable furniture, disposable whatever. We’re going to buy something that was handmade, that’s artisanal and that’s going to be in our homes for generations, hopefully, to come.
Erin: Yes, hopefully. While we’re talking about the future, we needn’t go as far as generations, but take us to the end of this year, Steven. Flash forward to December 2021, what words do you hope will describe this year?
Steven: I’m really hoping and I think one of the biggest ones for me that comes out is kindness. I think we were forced to be a little more patient, a little kinder, not so busy, not so hurried. Now it’s okay when you drive up and there’s a line at the grocery store. You’re like, yes, okay. Whereas before, I’d be like, “What’s going on? Well, I’m not going to wait. I don’t have time to wait. I can’t wait.” It’s like, “No, I’ll wait.” Optimism, for sure, as well because I think we need that. We all need to be optimistic like I’ll get through this. Everyone else says that. We’ll get through it.
Because of that, it gives us the faith. I think all those words go together, kindness, optimism, faith. The other one that I have that there is rebuild, which we’re rebuilding everything. We’re rebuilding how we think as a community, as a family, rebuilding everything around us even our homes. We can be optimistic and be positive and we can still have I think most importantly, a really good sense of humor because out of this, yes it was tough, but man, we got through it. There were some funny moments and obviously, not to underestimate the devastating moments and what have you but we have to remain optimistic.
Erin: Indeed, and what a beautiful optimistic note on which to end our chat and to begin our year here at CREA REAL TIME. I’m so grateful, we all are, to you, Steven, for sharing your insights and your wisdom and the comfort of talking to you. It’s been lovely. Thank you so much.
Steven: Thank you so much, Erin. It’s an absolute pleasure talking to you and sharing this. I hope this does give it a bit of a bright life for the year to come. It’s going to be a very, very positive good year.
Erin: Remember, you can catch up with Steven’s creations including his studio collection @stevensabados.com. Let’s make 2021 a year of success, comfort, good health, and great ideas. We’re here to help you with that wherever we can. REAL TIME is produced by Rob Whitehead and Real Family Productions and Alphabet Creative. I’m Erin Davis and we’ll talk to you again soon. Don’t forget to subscribe.
Erin Davis: Welcome to Episode 10 of REAL TIME. This is the podcast for REALTOR® brought to you by CREA, the Canadian Real Estate Association. This is where we talk about ideas surrounding Canadian real estate and topics that impact you as a REALTOR®.
I’m your host, Erin Davis, and because this is our final REAL TIME of 2020, we’re taking a little more time to review a year defined by twists and turns, and the resulting consumer confidence. Three respective experts are going to shed light on the impact of COVID-19, how the Canadian economy and housing markets responded, how REALTORS® like you have adapted and what it all means as we move into the new year.
We’re going to start with David Coletto with Abacus Data. David heads up one of Canada’s leading polling and research firms, and he joins us for REAL TIME. David, welcome. It’s so good to have you with us here today as we look back, look ahead, and just have a great chat. Thank you.
David Coletto: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Erin: Here we are at the end of, well, we’re running out of adjectives for 2020 let’s be honest, I guess unprecedented would be the word. Can you remind us what Canada looked like pre-pandemic? I mean, without masks?
David: I think if you take a quick snapshot, pre-COVID, you saw unemployment at historic lows around 5.5%. You saw consumer confidence, not through the roof, but certainly, above water. When you ask Canadians is Canada in a recession, only 30% felt that it was particularly out in the West and 42% thought now’s a good time to make a major purchase. You fast forward to today, and you’ve got unemployment close to 9%. Consumer confidence may be at the lowest it’s been in a long time. Almost everybody knows, not believes, knows we are in a recession, one that we haven’t seen in a very long time.
The public mindset, the consumer mindset, is in a very different place. There’s broad understanding of the challenges we face. There’s both I think a defensive posture, people are waiting for the worst, for the shoe to almost drop. That being said, there’s also growing impatience and maybe optimism that the vaccine is coming and that light is at the end of the tunnel. Every day I think is different given what new cases come out and what the new stories are, but I think there’s a collective hope that the end is near. That I think is guiding how people are feeling.
Erin: Yes, the end is near in a good way. Let’s qualify that.
David: Yes. This long dark period is over and the light is coming.
Erin: Feelings and perceptions aside, from the beginning of 2020 what was the economic reality? How was our economy? Was it healthy?
David: It was very healthy. We were seeing record unemployment. It wasn’t the fastest-growing economy we’ve ever seen, but we were growing. Parts of the country there was, I think still the case, but certainly in Toronto for example, there were more cranes building condos and new offices than in any city in the world. That might be still the case, but that energy is not as strong as it was, but it was certainly a good time for Canada, and all of a sudden everything changed when this virus started to spread.
Erin: David, what do you think changed most drastically since January, if you could pinpoint one thing?
David: I think the country really– because this was a health crisis first and foremost, I think there was an immense focus on the capacity of our health system on our own health. Were we ready? Was our system ready to deal with a spike in cases? The early days of the pandemic if you remember were focused on, did we have enough ventilators and ICU beds and personal protective equipment? All of that stuff was something we always– Healthcare is always a top issue in this country, but it became real and acute. Also, many Canadians who never experienced a sense of insecurity around food or household goods for the first time experienced empty aisles. Toilet paper not there. Yeast being impossible to find.
That was, I think, brought new light to how our food system is. I think more recently, there was already a real focus and worry about housing affordability in Canada. Particularly younger generations in larger cities, there was a sense that it was just impossible to get into the housing market. Something I know that REALTORS® are living with day-to-day. That has become even more real as housing prices have gone up around the country. I think those three issues, our health system, our food, and supply chains, and now housing were always top issues, but they’ve become the focus of our attention in terms of national big issues.
Erin: We’re going to be speaking with an economist coming up about the housing market because it’s just been an unbelievable year in so many ways. Speaking of homes, how have Canadian’s perceptions of home shifted since the beginning of the year in your opinion, David?
David: I think before the pandemic, we had seen lots of consumer data suggesting home was becoming more important. We were spending more time at home. We were able to entertain ourselves. The rise of streaming services meant fewer of us were going to the movies. Fewer of us were going to sporting events. We could do it all at home. Home became so much more. Now, the pandemic forced us to be at home for much more. It became the place we worked. The place we taught our kids. Our kids learned, if you had kids. You saw pictures going around Instagram of people baking bread and learning how to do sourdough.
This was all part of an entrenchment of home, and so home became and is everything. It’s always been important, but now it’s become everything and it plays such an important life, so much so that I think many Canadians have become acutely aware of the faults in their homes because they’re spending so much time there. Which I think explains the rise of home renovations and home improvement that we’ve seen since the beginning, as evidence that home matters now. People are really focused on their home and are thinking about how to improve it and integrate it even more into their lives.
If we weren’t already home-bound, we’ve been forced to be home-bound and we’ve tried to adapt and deal with it and make it even more comfortable than it may already have been.
Erin: Part of that, of course, has been so many of us working from home. It’s become everything to us. It’s become the gym, the restaurant, the bakery, as you mentioned, and, of course, the office. How have Canadians adapted in terms of technology or new ways to carry about our day-to-day life?
David: I’ll give you an example. We’re just in the field now with a survey asking Canadians about their holiday shopping experience. I think it points to what we’ve seen that has been a rapid shift towards all things digital. I think we were seeing, again, that– I’m one who believes that the pandemic is not going to fundamentally change everything, but it’s going to accelerate so much of our lives, the things we would have been maybe five, six years from now are now only going to take a year to get there. I think that digital experience using technologies in new ways is one of them. That example I used of holiday shopping, when we asked Canadian adults last year, “How did you shop online versus in-store?”
Canadians are reporting that last year they spent about two-thirds of their shopping dollars in-store, only a third online. Then we say, “Well, what about this year? How do you think that’s going to split?” 60% online, 40% in-store. That’s just an example of the wholesale shift we’ve seen because we’ve been forced to, and even as we record this, many parts of the country are now locked down, stores are closed, we have no option. I also think it’s accelerated the shift that we were seeing with younger generations towards online grocery shopping, online food delivery, home meal kits, more and more of the things we buy being delivered to home.
I think the gaps between generations, I think of my parents who are in their mid-60s, who we describe sometimes as digital immigrants because they weren’t born with technology. I think we’re far more similar now in how we use technology to communicate and learn and entertain ourselves than we were at the start of this pandemic. That’s going to be one lasting legacy and it’s affected how we work, how we engage with people. Heck, over the Easter break, for years my family would get together on Good Friday. We’re Italian so Good Friday is a big fish dinner and we did it by Zoom this year.
The first time it was chaos, it was exhausting, but that’s an example of being forced into using technology and bringing actually more people into that dinner than would normally show up because we could connect people in Italy and all across the country.
Erin: Oh, you’re kidding. With Italy as well?
David: Yes, we never did that before. We never even thought of it but now we were all there. Actually, it changed the tradition a little bit and we were able to bring a global family together as opposed to just those in and around the GTA.
Erin: Isn’t it wonderful that something that has isolated so much has brought us together in so many ways too. What has surprised you about how Canadians have responded to the pandemic, David, or has the data laid this out to you and you could have said, “Yes, I would have expected this.” What surprised you?
David: I think one thing is just how much of rule followers we are. At least, we’ll see whether the second spike in infections maybe proves this point wrong. I was having a conversation with an ambassador from a European country last week, and we were talking about the experiences in her country and experience in Canada. She couldn’t help but just be amazed by how well Canadians just follow advice and are wearing masks and aren’t rising up against this kind of stuff. That I think, maybe surprised me just how different our culture is here in Canada. I studied political science, we were always told, Canada was built around peace, order, and good government. Americans were about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and you see those contrasts.
The second thing that’s I think, important, and surprised me is the two Canada’s that really emerged out of this pandemic. It’s more of an economic consequence that we’ve talked a lot and we’ve put a lot of attention on about one out of four Canadian households that have been severely impacted by this pandemic. Then there’s a three-quarters who haven’t been affected. In fact, many of them say, they’re actually better off.
One of the things I think we just have to be mindful of, is this pandemic is likely going to continue to increase inequality but there’s also a lot of consumers who haven’t been able to travel, who haven’t been able to spend on other discretionary things. As we talked about earlier, the home is now more important. They’re investing money in their homes. For REALTORS® for the sector, there’s real upside there that not only is the home more important than ever, but there’s a lot of people who have a lot of money saved up that at some point, they’re going to open up and spend it again. That’s I think, the hopeful side, hopefully looking to 2021.
Erin: Hopefully more donations to charity too when you talk about the two Canada’s, and the inequality and the people with the discretionary spending that’s just sitting there, maybe reaching out and giving out. That might be an optimistic outcome from all of these too, the money not spent on cruises, given instead to a worthwhile charity.
David: Yes. I’m hearing, anecdotally, at least, from a number of charities we work with that they are seeing an uptick now in giving. That I think people as they enter the holiday season are realizing that many of us, I’m one of them have been incredibly fortunate. Giving to a food bank, or to a health charity, or others, you name it, whatever cause is important to you, I think is something that we can do, because we can’t forget that. Think about one, out of four Canadians have lost their job, lost hours, have put themselves in harm’s way for us. I think there is a chance for us to give back.
Erin: David, what lessons from 2020 do you think are going to be most important as Canadians head into 2021? There are a lot of unforgettable things about the year that was. What should we take with us to lead the way into a new year?
David: Well, anyone who knows me knows that I’m a pretty much a glass half full kind of guy. I look at everything we’ve been put through. The learning for me is we as species, as people are incredibly resilient and incredibly creative. Not only are we likely to get a vaccine for this virus in record time, which in itself is an amazing feat of human ingenuity and science. If you look even at your local restaurateurs or retailers, many have gone out of business and have struggled, but others have also found new ways to make it and to figure out a way to serve their clients. I think we see it in retail. We see it in the real estate sector.
To me, it’s that resiliency of the human spirit, of the human ability that keeps me hopeful for 2021 and tells me that we’ve got other big challenges. Once we get through this pandemic, climate change, and other things but it’s at least given me hope that we can also tackle those challenges with optimism and ingenuity. To me, that’s the lesson. We are a resilient people and we will get through this.
Erin: How amazing has it been how exponentially everything has moved ahead? Talking about the vaccines as you have been, but the technology and the fact that now what we were doing in BC long before a lot of other provinces, getting virtual doctor’s appointments and taking some of the heat off the system in other ways has now become the norm. We have adapted and this adaptability as you say, this resilience really does bode well for the future, doesn’t it?
David: It does. I think we’ve also as much as the mental health challenges that this pandemic has created, it’s brought new focus to that. It’s I think, made us more self-aware of our weaknesses. In our research we do a lot of polling and focus groups, we’re seeing more and more people talking about looking to make their lives more simple. More appreciation for nature and the little things that matter in our lives. My sister had her second son last week and that’s such a joy. I think this whole episode has forced us to appreciate that. Also, to know that we can adapt and technology, I would say, imagine going through this 40, 50 years ago?
Imagine not having Zoom and high-speed internet and Netflix to get us through these days. I’m actually quite happy that I got to at least live through this pandemic today as opposed to 50 or 100 years ago because it’s not easy for everybody, but it’s certainly been easier because of that technology and what we have access to.
Erin: We’ve gotten your picture of how you feel about 2020. How do you see Canadians feeling about this year, David? Are we generally optimistic for the future?
David: Well, there’s no doubt that when you look at public attitudes, Canadians are well aware of what this pandemic has meant and how it’s disrupted their lives. There’s a silver lining that we see in the polling and the public attitudes that we’ve actually had an increase in the percentage of people who feel the country’s headed in the right direction. It seems counterintuitive to everything we’ve gone through. I think it’s a reflection of, as much as it’s been a challenging period, a lot of things that we might have taken for granted, I think big things like our political system, our public institutions, our health system, which has been under stress, generally has worked really well. People have been quite impressed.
Obviously, part of that is we’re always in comparison to the United States, which mostly means we’ll say seems chaotic, and a sideshow. I think general optimism that not only do we have it really good here in Canada, compared to others around the world, but that even when we’re through this challenging period, and we’ve got a vaccine, and we’re no longer worried about contracting this virus, that we are going to be stronger, and Canada will be the best place to live as a result. I see that optimism underlying all of the challenges and that I think, gives people hope for the future.
There’s no doubt that people are waiting for this vaccine and there’s an impatience there but one that I think will ultimately turn into optimism and that excitement to get back to doing all the things we love that we’d haven’t been able to do.
Erin: Well, as we raise your half-full glass to 2020, and 2021, David, do you have a– Uncle David, congratulations.
David: Thank you.
Erin: Do you have a New Year’s resolution?
David: I do and it’s more of a state of mind. I think I found myself over the particularly the last few months, always reverting to the negative, “Oh, I miss traveling or no winter vacation this year to a warm place.” I’m going to stop doing that. I think for 2021, I’m going to really try to focus on the positive things I’m looking forward to despite the restrictions that are in place as opposed to dwelling on what I can’t do. I think if I do that, I’m going to feel better. I also think it’s going to make people around me feel better, too. That’s my resolution for 2021.
Erin: I love that. Thank you. Thank you, David, for your time, for your optimism, for your observations and hopefully, we’ll talk again in the new year.
David: My pleasure and all the best and stay safe.
Erin: As you enjoy this special podcast today with a coffee or your favourite beverage, here’s another spot you’re going to want to save of CREA Cafe. It’s a cozy place for REALTORS® to connect and share thoughts and ideas on the latest industry happenings. With insightful new content created weekly, join the conversation at CREACafe.ca.
Joining our conversation now is Shaun Cathcart. Shaun’s a Senior Internal Economist with CREA and he’s here with us for this a year ending episode of REAL TIME for look ahead. First, Shaun takes a peek back at what housing across Canada looked like before COVID-19.
Shaun Cathcart: Well, that’s such an important place to start because it’s really hard to understand where we are now if you don’t understand where we were heading into this. It was only 10 months ago. When you do what we do for a living and look at this data going back 40 years, you can see these really long housing cycles and they aren’t really long. You can work an entire career doing this job and only see one of them but you really have to zoom out to see it. One big housing boom that we have in our database was 1984 to ’89, which I think a lot of people know about.
The next one wasn’t until 2002 to 2007 and then nothing safe for a few little flare-ups in Toronto, Vancouver until basically this March,
It was going to be another one of those years, and I think a lot of people didn’t see it coming. Pretty much the week we were going into that we went into lockdown. How do we get there? 2010 to 2015, we had a cyclical high for overall listings in Canada, that’s all of the homes for sale at any given point in time on every MLS system across the country. What happened around 2015? Well, the first thing was the oil price crash, which caused a lot of migration out of the oil patch, and to elsewhere in Canada.
You have a bit of a buildup in supply in the oil patch but you start to see places like Toronto or Vancouver, which we saw a rapid absorption of supply and really tight market conditions, which starts to affect prices. The bigger thing that happened was, that doesn’t get enough attention, in my view because it’s the biggest factor is a really big increase, a really big ramp-up in international immigration, which caused a major increase in population growth. Then under the surface of that population growth, even if that wasn’t happening, you’ve also got this really big cohort, arguably, maybe the biggest cohort in our society, known as the millennials. There’s a lot of them.
They all went from being in their late teens and 20s to being in their late 20s, and 30s, and now 40s. When you’ve got a ton of new Canadians coming on the scene, at the same time as a whole bunch of other people are going through that mechanical phase of life where household formation tends to happen in those years, you’ve got a lot of first-time homebuyers. First-time homebuyers absorb inventory, but they don’t put another unit of inventory back in the resale market, and so you get this big drawdown in the supply. Now, what happened was the government stepped in to try to cool that down at one point. There was the BC and Ontario governments, the federal government with a stress test.
That stalled things out, but it didn’t reverse the trend, it just stalled it out in 2017, ’18, right up until the spring of 2019. What happened was even that last spring was mediocre. Everyone has like, “The stress test.” Then everyone went on summer vacation, stopped paying attention, and right around that same time, sales started to go through the roof again. That trend resumed and supplies started dropping very quickly to the point that by this February, before COVID, supply across Canada was at a 13-year low. The number of months of inventory was about maybe 1/10th of 1% one decimal point away from being the tightest it had ever been.
While some people have said, “Well, what are the headwinds this year is there’s no immigration.” That’s been such a big driver, but in my view that immigration and millennial story have been building up behind a wall of short supply for so many years that that was ready to explode onto the scene this year. We locked down, but we opened up three months later, and guess what showed up on the scene, the same exact conditions that had taken years to build up beforehand.
Erin: Well, with the rebound are you explaining here why the housing market rebounded so quickly, Shaun, from that initial spring lockdown?
Shaun: Yes, that’s a big part of it, there’s more going on too. One of the reasons why the rebound was so surprising is because the numbers in April were basically the worst ever. That was mostly because nothing was going on for a while. It wasn’t that all the demand went away, it was just that no one was making deals at that point. You open things back up, and like I said, what shows up on the scene the same conditions that were there three months earlier. Now, clearly under the surface, what’s going on in 2020, in the housing market is different than what would have been going on in a non-COVID 2020.
You can’t really compare to that because it doesn’t exist. Why was the rebound so surprising? I think some of the headwinds initially were more obvious than the tailwinds. We’re in a major recession, we got major employment losses, uncertainty about the future, big declines in immigration, people can’t pay their rent, they can’t pay their mortgages, et cetera. The assumption initially was we’d see this big increase in supply and a big drop in demand. I think some of those assumptions were also coming from a place that was also assuming a neutral starting point for this year, the old Goldilocks market, not too hot, not too cold, when in fact, we were coming into 2020 screaming hot with our hair on fire.
Then, what about those tailwinds that didn’t get identified that are also very important? Well, COVID is a big shakeup to society and when you’ve got a big shakeup to society, the way that we live and work and commute and interact with our homes, a lot of people are going to pull up stakes and start moving. The million-strong overall housing stock, people that typically don’t move for years or decades are now all of a sudden moving around. That can cause a lot of activity in resale markets. On the supply side, you’ve also got a lot of people who may have been sellers in a normal year that said, “Are you out of your mind? I’m not going anywhere this year.”
On balance, we started off with very tight market conditions, and what’s happened is sales have gone up, even more, they haven’t gone down, and supply has gone down, even more, it hasn’t gone up.
Erin: Did any activity in any specific region stand out and surprise you in 2020, Shaun?
Shaun: If you look to Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, right now, they’ve got the tightest market conditions they’ve ever seen, but you know what they were before COVID? They were also the tightest market conditions they’ve ever seen. Yes, they’ve gotten even tighter so maybe that’s a bit of a surprise but it’s not all that different from the way things were. I think the bigger surprise would be places like Alberta, Saskatchewan, the oil patch that had really been laboring a little bit under a big overhang of supply, since around 2015, that hadn’t been causing prices to decline.
What’s happened with higher sales and lower supply everywhere, particularly there were there was a lot more excess supply to be pulled off the market and that’s what happened. I think in Alberta, over the last year, supply overall is down something like 20%. That’s a big decline in the stock variable of listings that have been hanging around for five years. Meanwhile, sales are on the verge of hitting a five-year high. What’s happened is, these places that were for five years, they’re known as the buyer’s markets of Canada, have suddenly gone right through that buyer’s market territory and now actually, right at the midpoint of balance, are the most balanced healthy markets in Canada, if you can believe that. We’re seeing prices from up there as well, whereas they had been falling for so many years.
Erin: What about property types?
Shaun: That was one of the predictions made early on that I think was one of the ones that it was hard to get wrong that at a time when we were working from home, working out from home, it was your kid’s school, you wanted to be away from other people and dense areas. You didn’t have to commute to downtown that the bigger detached homes further out would be the ones that people were really going after. That maybe the condo market with shared hallways and elevators and doorknobs and buttons would be maybe not as popular, and maybe the smaller property types, and you’re spending all your hours in your home, you might want to have a bit more space.
That’s definitely what we’re seeing, but again, it comes back to the same idea that you have to think about the starting point. All of these property types came into this year, red hot. Yes, the condo market is come off the boil, but it’s really only gone from red hot to a lukewarm bath. This is not a buyer’s market yet. In fact, we’re seeing lots of sales there because that’s one segment of the market that actually has listings that are for sale. Whereas the detached side of things, the prices just continue to accelerate because there are so few listings.
In fact, the sales numbers are actually starting to look underwhelming in the detached side of things because it’s starting to get reeled in by that lack of supply, even though the demand is obviously still there. I think this apartment story is probably going to see a reversal, give it a year or two. Once all these downtown areas and bars and restaurants and everything else are all open back up and we’re not so maybe nervous to be around other people when we’re all vaccinated, I could see that story reversing but for now that’s what we’re seeing this year.
Erin: Well, as we continue our look ahead now with interest rates remaining low into 2023 and low inventories in many markets, how do you see this playing out in 2021, Shaun?
Shaun: Well, the thing about interest rates or low-interest rates or medium interest rates or high-interest rates, is the thing that really affects housing markets as when they change and when they change quickly. When they shoot higher, that can really choke off the housing market, which had been adjusted to whatever level they were at before. They go down quickly it can really supercharge your market that had been adjusted to whatever they were before. I think interest rates are very low right now, but they’ve been low for a long time, and really the big story is they’re not expected to go anywhere.
I guess there’s positives that are supportive for the housing market that they’re low, but generally, they have a neutral effect if they don’t go anywhere for the next few years. That’s what the Bank of Canada is saying. What about the housing market in 2021 is a forecast? Well, the data that we’ve been publishing over the last four months has been the strongest ever, the tightest ever, and glancing obviously at the November numbers is looking equally strong. The new year is just a couple of weeks away at this point. These market conditions, like I said, they take years to develop, to have a drawdown in the overall supply of homes in Canada from 250,000 five years ago to just 140,000 now. That’s a huge decline in a very slow-moving metric. I don’t expect that these markets that we’re looking at right now is going to turn into a pumpkin on New Year’s Eve.
I think that a lot of 2021 could very well look the same as it looks now. Like you say if things don’t really change and the economy is improving and all of the rest of it, we ramped immigration back up, I see no reason why this is going away. We missed last spring’s market when we were in lockdown. It was arguably going to be one of the wildest springs that I’ve seen in my career. Then it didn’t happen. Spring 2021 is only about four months away and we’re going to see a big rush of listings come out strategically at that time because that’s a good time to sell. I think there’s going to be a lot of demand for those properties. We’ll see what happens.
Erin: What lessons from 2020 do you think are going to be most important for us to hold onto? There’s a lot of the year we want to forget, but what should we hold on to, Shaun, as we head into 2021?
Shaun: A vibrant housing market is one where you’ve got a lot of demand and a lot of supply, and people that want to move around can move around. Right now, we’ve got a massively imbalanced housing market. I think as important as population growth is for Canada’s future and that’s going to be a big component going forward with an aging population for our social programs, that all of that at the same time, those population gains need to be timed out with gains in the housing options for people to live in. For anyone that’s looked at a chart of Canadian population growth over the last four years or so knows what I’m talking about. It’s been off the charts.
We haven’t seen the residential construction across the housing continuum to keep up with all those people who need to live somewhere. We see record tightness in the resale market and very strong price growth, arguably too strong. The same competition for new homes that become available, tight rental markets, and rising rents, not obviously rate at the moment, but just in general. I’m sure that will come back and issues with availability of affordable housing as well. Wherever you are on that housing continuum, it’s been a challenge to get into housing. What you need when you have a rising population of more people is more roofs for more heads to live under, right?
The government is looking to put the country back to work, that’s one place where we need a lot of work done. An issue has been a shortage in skilled trades, obviously, but I guess if you look across the employment spectrum right now, you’ve got one big group of people who are unemployed over here, and a shortage of workers over there. It seems like maybe a good case for retraining or vocational training as part of our recovery from this going forward.
Erin: All right, now I happen to know that you’re not really a resolution guy, New Year’s resolution. I’m going to ask you to step outside your comfort zone a little bit, Shaun, we won’t hold you to it. If you had a New Year’s resolution for all of us or for yourself for 2021, what would you like to share?
Shaun: Sure. While you’re right. I’m not a resolution guy. I do not like New Year’s Day. It’s arguably my most disliked day of the year when we go from warm family memories and vacation and gatherings and parties to instantly minus 30 and go back to work.
Erin: Let me just ease your mind because there’s no vacations. There are very few gatherings.
Shaun: That’s true.
Erin: All that being said.
Shaun: There’s less of contrast this year. You’re right.
Erin: It always does feel like first day of school though. I agree with you 100% New Year’s Day.
Shaun: It does with a windchill. Fair enough. There’s less of a contrast this year. Then I’ll compromise and I’ll offer something.
Shaun: It’s not a resolution. It’s a thought about 2021 that had occurred. When you listen to health officials saying, talking about vaccines and rollout and safety and all that it’s coming, but it’s going to take a while. We might be in this situation we’re in not normal for some time yet, maybe most of 2021. The COVID years, there’s the old, normal from 2019 before, there’s the new normal that will be in someday, which may be similar to the old normal, maybe not. Then there’s this middle period that we’re in right now when we’re dealing with this virus. If it spans 2020 and 2021, then I think that marks a New Year’s Day of 2021 is the midpoint of that. It reminded me of an old riddle. I don’t know if this one, but have you heard, how long can you walk into a forest?
Erin: Yes, I think so. Go ahead. Tell us.
Shaun: It goes, how long can you walk into a forest? The answer is halfway because after that you’re walking out. I think that would be my thought for 2021 after a year that we’d all like to forget. It’s been full of uncertainty and anxiety that at least we can say that it looks like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that we’re moving in that direction. I think that after the year we’ve had that something.
Erin: We’re not out of the woods, but you’re helping us see the forest for the trees. Is that it?
Shaun: Keep walking.
Erin: Amen. Amen. Bundle up. I hear you’ve got a minus 30 windchill coming, Shaun, thanks for your time today. We really appreciate it. All the best to you in 2021.
Shaun: Thanks, Erin. Same to you and it was my pleasure.
Erin: We’re going to round out this look back, look ahead episode of REAL TIME with the man who literally has his finger on the pulse of what’s going on around and within Reality in Canada. We’ll be talking about REALTOR.ca because in 2020, even more people turn to it, including our episode seven guest, Sarah Richardson, who searches out properties for a living parade, for HGTV and her shows there. She absolutely loves it. Remember this?
Sarah Richardson: What I find so interesting about the app now is it gives you this giant map view and you can zoom it out to be as broad as you want, or you can zoom it in. If you know you need to be on a specific street or in a specific neighbourhood, it gives you all that flexibility. On the large scale, it can seem like there is a myriad of possibilities, which there is, but one of my favourite elements is the filters and the search tools.
Erin: Go back to episode seven, to hear a fantastic chat with HGTV, Sarah Richardson here on REAL TIME.
Ready to dive into real estate and technology, here’s VP of REALTOR.ca, Patrick Pichette. Hey, Patrick. Welcome. It’s good to be talking to you as we wrap up the year together and look ahead to 2021.
Patrick Pichette: Erin. Hi, very happy to be here. Hope you and your family are doing well.
Erin: We’re doing all right. We’re doing all right. Well, now that we’re well into the pandemic, have you seen a shift in the types of homes that people are looking for? What have you seen?
Patrick: That’s a great place to start, Erin. First off, it’s going to take a while to get some real hard numbers on the long-term impact of the pandemic, but REALTOR.ca does provide some early signals that people do want more space, right? They’re spending more time at home. Many of us are working remotely. We need that extra space. Some of the things we’re seeing with REALTOR.ca that point to that, first of all, since the start of the pandemic traffic overall, the REALTOR.ca is up about 35%. We’re getting record numbers and that increase in traffic is being led by searches for single-family homes.
On the flip side, we are seeing a 20% decrease in searches for condos, and we’re seeing an 11% decrease in multifamily units. The numbers are telling us that people are looking for more space.
Erin: Are they looking to accommodate external spaces into their homes now? The things that the outside world offered us, like offices, gyms, classrooms, even a bigger kitchen, so that you can get into your cooking and your inner chef as you’ve been doing, Patrick?
Patrick: Absolutely. Anecdotally, yes, people are doing that. They’re spending a lot of time in their homes, so that could lead them to, I need to add office space or I want to do more cooking now. I hate my kitchen. I need to do some renovation. It’s definitely had an impact across the board.
Erin: What about new build sales versus resale? What have you seen there?
Patrick: This one is really interesting. It’s important to note that the resale market is always quicker to adjust to any changing market condition. This makes sense because people can list their properties fairly quickly. In contrast, there’s a long pipeline to bring a new construction to market. This has meant that the resale market fell further in April and May, but bounced back more quickly that new constructions could. At the end of the day, Erin, both resale and new builds are both in situations of high demand and very tight supply. In fact, we’re seeing record lows when it comes to inventory of resell properties.
Erin: What about location? Are people looking outside of urban centers more? What are you seeing there, Patrick?
Patrick: We get this question often, Erin, and especially because we’re hearing the stories out of the US. People in masses are leaving cities like New York and Los Angeles. When it comes to Canada when we look at the REALTOR.ca search activity, we don’t see any significant changes in people looking within versus people looking outside of a large urban center. At the end of the day, traffic is up significantly on REALTOR.ca and it’s up across the board from urban to rural regions.
Erin: While we’re talking rural what about demand or sales for seasonal homes or cottages? What did you see this year, Patrick?
Patrick: There are lots of regions that are obviously further out from large city centers like Toronto and Vancouver. They’ve been performing very strongly. Regions that have strong seasonal and second home markets, for example, let’s take this Southern Georgian Bay area in Ontario, that kind of region has benefited the most from the pandemic. If we stick with that example, and if you were to look within a two-hour drive radius around Toronto, most areas have been quite strong for a number of years. We’ve all heard the saying drive until you qualify for a mortgage.
Now if we go back to pre-COVID, the one area within that radius that was somewhat, just somewhat underperforming had been cottage country. This is probably explained by the fact that a commute to get to Toronto just for a weekend is not very pleasant. Today in the wake of COVID, cottage country has gone crazy and it might be because people are looking to get away for longer than a weekend, and they can afford to do so because they can work remotely. All things considered, the commute doesn’t seem to be that big of a factor anymore.
Erin: There’s the discretionary spending that David mentioned. The money that people didn’t spend on things in 2020, that they can go, “Hey, you know what? We’ve got this money left over from the vacations or whatever that we didn’t take or do. Let’s put it toward something else.” That something else could be a seasonal property.
Erin: Patrick, who has been searching and buying and has that changed since 2019?
Patrick: The numbers on REALTOR.ca are pretty much up across the board from first-time home buyers to people looking to downsize, but I can highlight a couple interesting new trends. The proportion of 18-to-24-year-olds visiting REALTOR.ca has doubled. This younger demographic used to represent 5% of visitors. Now it’s 10%. This is actually good news, Erin, because this younger demographic wants to learn things like what is a specific neighbourhood like? Is it walkable? Is transit accessible? Is it vibrant or is it quiet? They’re curious about the real estate process. They have questions about affordability. What might they be able to afford in the future?
The fact that they’re conducting this research on a site that is called REALTOR.ca where the REALTOR® value proposition is very prominent, is a great thing for our members. We’re building brand affinity and trust with this younger demographic who will one day need the services of a trusted advisor.
Erin: That’s fantastic. What’s the other trend you wanted to highlight?
Patrick: This one is actually, unfortunately, is a negative one. It’s a drop in the interest in commercial real estate. Since COVID, we’ve seen a decrease of 14% in the number of visitors who are searching for commercial real estate, and this is likely caused by the fact that companies, big and small, are rethinking their work environments, and what kind of physical footprint that they will need. This is a trend that we’re monitoring very closely.
Erin: Starting out 2020 most of us hadn’t heard of the word Zoom, except maybe in a Mazda commercial, you know, zoom, zoom. What are some of the virtual tools that REALTORS® have adapted to use in the pandemic? What do you think is here to stay as we move into 2021?
Patrick: I think a lot of it is here to stay, Erin. If we look at our membership, there’s actually a segment of our membership that they’ve excelled during COVID, and it’s because they already had adopted a digital first business. As an example, they were using digital signature software, virtual tours, 3D tours to promote listings. Those today who have embraced a “Zoom culture” over the last few months have taken their business further down the digital path. For example, we’re seeing a heavy adoption of live stream open houses on REALTOR.ca. Using Zoom or Facebook Live or Instagram Live, for example, to conduct open houses.
Currently, 25% of all listings on REALTOR.ca includes some sort of digital content. An interactive floor plan, a 3D tour, a YouTube video. Before COVID only 15% of listings had this kind of content. That’s a pretty big jump. In real numbers we’re looking at an extra 50,000 videos and interactive content on the website. This is great news for consumers because they crave this kind of content. Erin, I realized that I’m throwing a lot of stats at you, but if there’s one number that hopefully, REALTORS® will retain it’s the fact that when a consumer is on a listing on REALTOR.ca and they watch a video or a 3D tour, they are 50% more likely to contact that REALTOR®, email that REALTOR® or give them a call. In other words, a consumer that’s more engaged, better informed is more likely to contact a REALTOR®.
Erin: I have to tip my hat to everybody who has embraced the on-camera technology. As I moved from radio and into television and doing stuff online and video, and all of that, I had time to do that. This has been such a steep learning curve and so many REALTORS® that I’ve seen just rocket like they’ve been hosting shows for years. It really is incredible that massively done so well that your REALTORS® have accomplished.
Patrick: Absolutely. Hey, REALTORS® by nature are self-starters. I’m not surprised that many of them have adapted so quickly.
Erin: Amazing. Now research is saying that by the end of this year, which is just a very short time away, we will have moved up the technology ladder by a decade. What are some of the positive online behaviors and trends, Patrick that you think have resulted because of the pandemic?
Patrick: I would completely agree with that. You could find examples in every industry. Just look at the restaurant industry, for example, and the uptake in food delivery services. Municipalities and how they’re using platforms like Zoom to consult with citizens. Practically everyone now is transferring money electronically and that was not the case pre-COVID. I think COVID has shown us that we as companies, but also as individuals, are able to change and pivot our business practices much quicker than we had anticipated. You pointed out a few examples of REALTORS® becoming radio hosts and using Zoom and different technologies.
I’ve talked about digital signatures, and we’re seeing REALTORS® use end-to-end transaction management systems where the whole process can be managed at a distance. There are so many great examples of the way that our REALTOR® members have quickly embraced virtual tours, live streaming platforms. They literally did this days after the shutdown in order to keep their businesses going.
Erin: All right. We like to look back and think, what did we learn in 2020? What lessons do you think, Patrick will be the most important as REALTORS® head into the new year?
Patrick: Well, Erin COVID doesn’t stop January 1st, and how REALTORS® adapt their business practices will be ongoing and well beyond COVID. I think that the key takeaway from a business standpoint, spend more time looking forward and not looking back. The fundamentals of client relationships have not changed. It’s still about quality service and knowledge of the market, professionalism, being a trusted advisor, but what is quickly changing are the tools. REALTORS® need to adjust to the current reality and that means focusing on technology, making the right investments, and developing a strategy for this digital age that’s been accelerated over the last few months.
Most of all, it’s about the realization that if you start using the technology that’s available to compliment all the great things that you were doing before COVID, both you and your clients will win.
Erin: Absolutely. On that winning note as you get the last word in the last podcast of 2020, Patrick. Not a lot of pressure but I want to ask you if you have a New Year’s resolution heading into the new year, either as yourself in your role or as REALTOR.ca have at it, the floor is yours.
Patrick: I didn’t realize this was the last podcast of 2020, time flies.
Erin: It sure does. 2020 has it dragged or flown for you?
Patrick: It has flown. Absolutely. You could do a whole other interview on this. Absolutely. It has flown. I think most people would say that. Yes, great job by the way. I really enjoyed all the podcasts throughout the year.
Erin: Thank you.
Patrick: I didn’t realize I was the last one. In terms of New Year’s resolution, for our members, I would say take the time to learn. I know some of this stuff can sound scary, but a lot of it is very intuitive and we’re just at the beginning. We’re talking about Zoom, digital signature and so on. We’re just at the beginning. This stuff is going to get a lot easier to use. Take the time, learn it. It’s going to be so much better for you and your clients because we’re not going back. The train has left the station and this is the new reality.
In terms of New Year’s resolution for me, I would say I’ve been doing a crazy amount of cooking. I’ve been trying all sorts of things, so I’d love to get a new kitchen but in terms of REALTOR.ca, if REALTOR.ca was a person, I think it would be like me. It wants to eat more and more different things. It wants to try new things. I don’t know if that analogy is making sense or not.
Erin: Well, sure. Throw all the spices in and see what tastes good.
Patrick: Yes, exactly. I would love to see REALTOR.ca just continue to have more of that digital content I talked about, more information for the consumer. Again, it comes back to a consumer that is better informed, better engaged, is more likely to become a future client for REALTORS®. Don’t be afraid to make the investment in digital content, and don’t be afraid to put as much information as you can about yourself and about your listings on REALTOR.ca.
Erin: Great advice. Patrick, thank you. Thank you and all the best to you in 2021.
Patrick: Same here, Erin. It was a lot of fun. Take care.
Erin: In our first podcast of the new year, we’re going to look into the most important factors as we make sure that our homes suit our needs. It promises to be enlightening, so don’t miss it. Be sure to subscribe, and thank you for being part of this year’s REAL TIME podcast.
REAL TIME is produced by Real Family Productions and Rob Whitehead, along with Alphabet® Creative. I’m your host Erin Davis. I just want to wish you a safe, happy, and healthy 2021. May you be as busy as you want to be, may you find joy and fulfillment in what you do and those who surround you, and let’s meet back here soon. Bye for now.
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.