Giving back is an ingrained value at First National. As a company, we support many community causes and initiatives corporately. But we also encourage and empower our people to give back to their communities and to causes that matter to them.
Jim Foote is an Originator in our Commercial division. He is a lifelong resident of London, Ontario, and giving of time has always been a fixture in his family’s life. When Jim’s three sons were young, his volunteer activities focused around their activities – community sports, Beavers, Scouts.
In 2011, a good friend of Jim’s introduced him to Homes Unlimited. Founded in 1972, Homes Unlimited creates and maintains safe, affordable and accessible housing for people in London with lower incomes. The organization currently has 540 housing units across nine locations. Jim felt that Homes Unlimited was a great fit for his finance and real estate expertise. He joined the board and has evolved with the organization into his current role as Vice President.
Jim shares his experiences with Homes Unlimited, how First National’s values of giving back align with his own, and why he’s exceptionally proud and excited to be a part of Homes Unlimited’s latest affordable housing development.
Q: Why did you choose Homes Unlimited as a way to give back to your community?
JF: We are creators, not curators of housing. We get dirty – buy land, get cranes involved, build projects. It’s not just about owning units and collecting rents. Homes Unlimited has a dream board. Our skill sets include an engineer, lawyer, planning consultants, accountant and finance. For me, creating things is very exciting.
Q: How does First National encourage your volunteerism?
JF: Our board meets during the day. Initially, that was one of the draws for me because I had younger kids. So evenings were occupied with their activities. But First National trusts me and empowers me to manage my own personal time and give of that time how I choose.
Beyond that, giving back is fundamental to our value system. Our collective attitude is one of service to our clients and to each other. When you reach out to a colleague, the first question is always, “how can I help?” Moray and Jeremy give us license to know our areas, know our clients and be involved. Real estate is always local. It’s not enough to be involved in the market. It’s also important to be involved in the community to really understand it and the get the most out of the experience. Jeremy has joined me on site visits so he appreciates the intimacy of the relationships, meeting people one-on-one and knowing the neighbourhoods. And we didn't just visit my First National projects. We visited some of the Homes Unlimited projects as well. He was impressed and really connected to the pride I feel about what we are doing.
Q: How does your volunteer work positively impact your work at First National?
JF: Many of my clients are developers. At Homes Unlimited, I get the chance to put on a development hat and work boots and get in the trenches. The experiences I’ve had developing with Homes Unlimited have made a better lender because I’m way more knowledgeable now. I understand the pre-planning, the intricacies of zoning and negotiating with the city. In the past five years, many municipalities have mandated that affordable be included in new developments. At First National, we’re supporting our clients in integrating affordable housing into their projects. So my firsthand experience with Homes Unlimited gives me valuable insights, perspective and expertise.
Q: You’re currently involved with Homes Unlimited in a very exciting project in London. Can you provide some details?
JF: Homes Unlimited has joined a consortium of five other not-for-profits to create the Vision SoHo Alliance. The Alliance has purchased the former Victoria Hospital site in London to create a $150 million development, which will include 600 apartments in seven buildings. Three hundred of those will be affordable.
All of the housing non-profits in London support each other and help where we can. Greg Playford, a member of the board of the London Community Foundation, is really the common denominator here. He consults with several of the groups in the consortium and was instrumental in orchestrating this alliance. The site and location are perfect for this type of development. There is a strong need for affordable housing and gentrification.
The group and project really came together during the pandemic. The timing couldn’t be more critical, as there is more of a need than ever for affordable housing. We put in a bid for the land and plan to subdivide into six different properties. There are two historic properties on the site, which will be restored by IndoWell, one of the partners in the consortium.
Because the site is surplus city land, we had to do the purchase through tender. We had no idea whether there were other bidders from the private market involved. When the city accepted the offer with no other tenders, it was a huge relief. Standing up 300 units of affordable housing requires the city’s support. The acceptance of the bid was a huge first step.
Q: What impact do you hope to make?
JF: Personally, being able to understand the fight that developers fight makes me better at my day job. More broadly, I feel the impact of my contributions at every ribbon cutting and in every conversation I have with tenants. We are changing lives. In 2019, we created a video with Chadwyck, one of our tenants. He has medical challenges and has lived in one of our buildings since 2008. The affordable rent has allowed him to live comfortably and securely while managing his medical expenses. Annually, we also provide a $2000 bursary to a tenant or the child of tenant enrolled in a full-time program at Fanshawe College or Western. Not only are we investing in building communities, but we are investing in the futures of our tenants as well.
To learn more about Jim Foote visit https://www.firstnational.ca/commercial/our-team/Team/jim-foote/foote