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Profs, students recruited to combat housing crunch

Don Wall
Profs, students recruited to combat housing crunch
DON WALL - Wilfrid Laurier University associate professor Laura Allan and James Dunn, professor at McMaster University, addressed Association of Municipalities of Ontario members on housing initiatives during the recent AMO conference.

A recent presentation to Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) members heard that innovation to address the province’s housing crisis is coming from two distinct communities on university campuses: research breakthroughs from scholars, and the enthusiasm of idealistic young scholars-in-training.

Wilfrid Laurier University associate professor Laura Allan, who is also the school’s director of innovation and entrepreneurship, told delegates attending the AMO’s recent conference in London, Ont. that students at Laurier are leading the way in finding housing solutions in Canada’s North.

The key, said Allan, is that they are nonexperts.

She quoted U.S. business guru Naveen Jain: “The real disrupters will be those individuals…who approach challenges with a clean lens, bringing together diverse experiences, knowledge and opportunities…I believe that nonexpert individuals will drive disruptive innovation.”

“Students are perfect nonexperts,” said Allan. “They are in an environment that really encourages inquiry. They have access to all kinds of experts to help advise and support them. They simply don’t see that it is impossible.”

The AMO presentation, held Aug. 22, was billed as Partnering to Address Housing Challenges through University Research and Innovation.

Steve Orsini, president and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities, introduced the session. At a time when the construction sector is consumed with the need to recruit more skilled workers, Orsini said, universities are doing their part to produce the professionals the sector requires.

“Universities are playing an important role in educating the highly skilled talent, the engineers, the architects, the planners that we desperately need,” he said.

Since 2010, enrolment in STEM programs has grown by 60 per cent, Orsini said.

“As someone with a degree in urban and regional planning, I’m happy to report that this year alone, Ontario universities produced 1,800 students from planning-related programs.”

Allan is the faculty adviser for the school’s Enactus team. It’s a global program for students hoping to have a social, environmental and economic impact through entrepreneurship. The Laurier chapter has become a perennial award-winner in national and global challenges through its Kuponya Innovations initiative.

The enterprise, founded by political science student Jordan Prentice, has partnered with the community of Fort Good Hope in the Northwest Territories. The partnership will see 20 energy-efficient “tiny homes” constructed with sustainable materials. Kyponya worked with architects, engineers, municipal officials, Indigenous leaders and residents to develop prefabricated insulated panels, creating homes that will sit on foundations made from a grid of large ground screws.

Allan noted that the homes will be transported in shipping containers via barges, and they can be assembled in only two days.

The housing challenge in the North is “fierce,” Allan said, but the Laurier students have been able to create a solution “without seeing any limits.

“When we talk about partnering with universities, I ask you to not discount the students as part of the solution,” she said.

The delegates also heard from McMaster professor James Dunn, the director of the Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative (CHEC), that the school is part of a growing partnership with the City of Hamilton to develop evidence-based policies to address the city’s urgent housing needs.

In partnership with CHEC, which is based at McMaster, the city has developed and approved a Housing Sustainability and Investment Roadmap designed to develop solutions along the housing continuum, explained a report to Hamilton city council.

The roadmap, informed by scholars like Dunn, takes a “whole of community, whole of city government” approach, building on the city’s Housing and Homelessness Action Plan.

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN

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