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.
Paul Steckler is an Assistant Vice President in our Commercial division. He grew up in Saskatchewan, but moved to Calgary in 2000. He spent 14 years of his career at one of the big banks and then worked for a homebuilder. He was also a self-employed developer. During that tenure, he was involved with three different projects in association with Attainable Homes Calgary, which helps people buy homes through down payment assistance. That partnership was Paul’s first foray into non-profit housing.
Paul joined First National in 2017. Two years later, he was invited to join the board at Horizon Housing, which has been providing affordable housing in Calgary since 1976 (by the end of 2020, Horizon had 808 homes in its portfolio with an average monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit of $579, which is 54% of market rents). For Paul, it was an instantaneous yes. He was familiar with the organization and knew both the current CEO and the former CEO of Horizon Housing.
Paul shares his experiences with Horizon Housing, how First National’s values of giving back align with his own, and why he’s proud of the work that he is doing.
Q: Why did you choose Horizon Housing as a way to give back to your community?
PS: I really felt that my background in debt and development could help Horizon keep pace with changing trends in affordability. In the past, federal and provincial grant money typically funded affordable development. But there has been a shift to replace grant money with debt. The goal is to make projects self-sustaining to generate more sources of capital to build more. However, for organizations that haven’t carried a lot of debt in the past, it’s important to determine how to afford it. I am contributing the finance perspective. We have a task force that has been working during the past year to accurately determine the financing capacity of the organization. It’s vital insight to support Horizon’s growth mandate and determine which opportunities are most viable.
Q: How does First National encourage your volunteerism?
PS: The prevailing attitude at First National is, “do as much of that work as you need to.” I have always had full support and encouragement from senior leadership. When I wanted to join the board, I had to get permission from Jeremy Wedgbury, Senior Vice President, Commercial Mortgages. He was incredibly enthusiastic and positive.
Q: How does your work at First National positively impact your contributions to Horizon Housing?
PS: I’ve made a career in real estate and housing. The knowledge I have gained has allowed me to add value to Horizon as the organization evaluates new projects and financing. It has always been important to me to align my skills with giving back, and philanthropic housing felt like the right fit. Horizon is unique in the housing sector and has relationships with approximately 25 organizations that have clients requiring housing. I am passionate about Horizon’s mission and feel so lucky to work with the people there. I’m a better person for my involvement. The work Horizon does and the exposure to so many smart, dedicated people has reshaped the way I think.
Q: Can you shed light of some of Horizon’s most recent projects?
PS: Horizon View, a 210-unit affordable development, launched Phase 2 in June 2020. That project is just one more example of Horizon’s mission in action – to provide all people in our community, regardless of challenges, with a safe, affordable place to call home. CTV did a story on the launch and interviewed Ashley Pinay, one of the residents. It is the first time in Ashley’s life that he’s living independently. He experienced abuse, trauma, incarceration, violence and a brain injury in his life. And his comment in the piece touched me so deeply and validated the importance of what we’re doing. He said, “Horizon has made my dream a reality.” What Horizon is doing is making such a difference in people’s lives, and I’m honoured to be a part of it.
Horizon has also leveraged funding from CMHC for three new affordable housing developments. One is funded by a grant from the Rapid Housing Initiative, through The City of Calgary, and will cater to women and children who require safe and affordable housing. The other development, Pineridge, received financing through CMHC’s Rental Construction Financing Initiative (“RCFI”) program and broke ground in October 2020. Pineridge will include 65 mixed-income homes. Horizon View, one of Calgary’s largest affordable housing developments comprising 210 units. It also benefited from CMHC’s RCFI program.
Q: What impact do you hope to make?
PS: Calgary has a significant affordable housing need. I feel grateful to be able to contribute in some small way to that universal issue in our community. Horizon provides homes without any bias about a person’s background. And I am very proud to be associated with that commitment to inclusivity, ensuring that Horizon communities reflect our communities at large. Horizon is an organization that is constantly looking to learn, improve, do better and be more inclusive.