Job Title: Program Director – Affordable Housing, Alberta Rural Development Network
Why He’s Top 40: He’s disrupting the affordable housing market and building a blueprint for what it should look like in years to come.
Joshua Benard was working in the construction industry when he had an epiphany. “I was questioning what I wanted to do with my life and what I wanted it to mean at the end of the day and I just wanted to try and help people where I could – and the area I could help is in building,” says Benard. “Previously I thought by building things, as opposed to tearing something down and destroying something, it’s positive. However, as I got further in my life and career I realized it’s more than that – what you build matters.”
So, while he was still working in construction, he created a not-for-profit organization, Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI); when he was let go from his position, he started working with Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN) and focused his energy on getting SHI off the ground. Benard convinced ARDN to allow him to volunteer for a few months to see if the program was viable and, within nine months, he was hired to run SHI. He’s since expanded the team to eight employees, and secured over $30 million in funding and financing.
SHI works with rural communities and gets its perspectives on affordable housing from a grassroots level. “Our focus is as a facilitator, not in the conventional sense but in terms of facilitating knowledge and information and education, trying to break down barriers that exist for people who want to build affordable housing, trying to break down the misconceptions,” says Benard.
One big issue he saw was the lack of a common language in the affordable-housing sphere, as standards and practices varied even from province to province. So, ARDN created a National Advisory Committee to put together a step-by-step guide that outlines a standard for building affordable housing, to be released in 2019. Benard was also hired by Red Deer College as a subject matter expert to create a patent pending transitional housing model that can be used in developing countries.
“I think there’s better ways to provide housing than we have historically,” Benard says. “The really important thing is addressing the lack of knowledge of what affordable housing is.”