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June 20, 2024
PI Global Investments
Real Estate

Real Estate Foundation of BC: Paving the way for reconciliation through real estate activity

The Real Estate Foundation of BC (REFBC) has been making grants to support non-profit organization-led projects since 1988. As a philanthropic organization, they support sustainability, equity and social justice in five priority areas: Land Use, Fresh Water, Built Environments, Food Sovereignty and Real Estate Profession.

However, the nuances of the complicated relationship in Canada between the real estate industry and Indigenous Peoples are not lost on REFBC. Through their work, they’re actively committed to supporting reconciliation and working in partnership with First Nations communities.

We sat down with their chief executive officer, Mark Gifford, to learn more about REFBC’s current projects, how they navigate reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and his hopes for the future of real estate in Canada — including how realtors can contribute to the path moving forward.


REM: Can you give us some insight into the work you do within the Real Estate Profession priority area?


Gifford: “There are a few different ways we work with the real estate profession. Certainly, the grants support advocacy, education and policy work. We have a dedicated funding stream for the real estate industry that’s meant to support and advance education and policy initiatives.”


REM: Where does the REFBC grant money come from?


Gifford: “When a deposit is made on the purchase of a residential property in B.C. and placed in a brokerage trust account, it earns a little bit of interest. Financial institutions are required to remit this interest to REFBC. It’s a bit of a cool funding aspect of REFBC, as it’s a creative and innovative way to create some public benefit out of real estate activity.”


REM: How does REFBC address the gap between Indigenous reconciliation and colonial land practices still in use today, such as The Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullius?


Gifford: “The real estate industry and real estate agents have been primarily focused on ensuring that transactions inspire confidence, protect interests of buyers and sellers and are in compliance with current law.

The tension that exists is between industries operating within a colonial framework and the relationships with underlying rights and title of First Nations in B.C. It’s not lost on us that our money story is rooted in the sale and trade of properties on unceded territories.

We see advancing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission through our funding, operations and governance as important ways we can begin to listen, learn and build respectful relationships with First Nations in B.C.”


How REFBC supports and empowers Indigenous communities through grants


REFBC uses grants in two ways to support and empower Indigenous communities:

1. Indigenous Grant Stream. As a new funding stream for REFBC, The Indigenous Grant Stream supports Indigenous-led projects as directed by the Indigenous Community Leaders Circle (ICLC). The ICLC has approved a first round of $800,000 in grants to support 16 land-based projects, at $50,000 each.

2. Indigenous-led organizations and projects support. Through either general or Indigenous grants, REFBC supports various organizations and projects related to their five priority areas. Some of those within the Real Estate Profession include a housing strategy from the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness Society and workshops for prospective realtors from Seabird Island Band (Sq’éwqel).


What realtors can do


There’s still a long path ahead for Canada when it comes to reconciliation. But, Gifford is hopeful about the future of the real estate industry and its relationship with Indigenous communities. “One of the things that I’ve been encouraged by is seeing more people really take a step back and try to think about what reconciliation with First Nations can look like,” he mentions.

If you’re a realtor seeking to learn more but are unsure of where to even start, Gifford has some advice: “It can be as simple as looking back and thinking about where you work and acknowledging the territories (you’re) working on,” he says. “Ask yourself: ‘What is the story of my backyard?’ as it connects to First Nations communities.”

He continues, “There are brokers and realtors realizing that we have shared common interests with our host nations, whether it be development, housing or real estate. It’s not necessarily an antagonistic relationship, but one that needs to be developed with mutual respect and curiosity.

The credibility of the real estate profession can only be strengthened if that’s done in ways that are thoughtful and curious and with some humility.”


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