Aunt Leah's Place

Case Studies / Space profiles

Aunt Leah's Place

Space Profile

  • Name of Space: Aunt Leah’s Place Youth Resource Hub
  • Society Mission: “Aunt Leah's Place helps prevent children in foster care from becoming homeless, and mothers in need from losing custody of their children. To support them on their journey to self-sufficiency, we provide supported housing, job training and coaching on essential life skills.”
  • Owner - Land: Central City Foundation
  • Owner – Building / Improvements: Central City Foundation
  • Sub-Tenant: Aunt Leah's Foundation
  • Rent/Lease/Own: Leased – subsidized >50% below market
  • Address: 816 20th St, New Westminster, BC, V3M 4W6
  • Square Footage: 5,077 sq/ft
  • Year Opened: 2012
  • Space/Facility Type: Office, Community Facility, Multi-Functional
  • Organizational Type: Registered Not-For Profit, Charitable Foundation 
  • Space/Facility Uses: Community/Social Services, Healthcare, Employment/Training
  • Programs/Services Delivered: Aunt Leah’s programs are designed to create an environment where all children connected to the foster care system have equal opportunities akin to those of parented youth. Similar to a family, Aunt Leah’s helps participants secure safe housing, and coaches participants in essential life skills[1]. Programs include: The Link Program, Supporting Education for Foster Youth (SEFFY), Support Link, Essential Skills Workshops, Link Housing First, Sunday Haven, Fresh Food Network, Youth Advisory Council, and Mom and Baby drop-in.
  • Website:

Case study

Concept & Need
Partnerships & People
Timeline & Steps to Realization
Funding & Financing
Operations & Tenanting
Impacts & Lessons Learned



Aunt Leah’s Place is the name of an organization as well as a place. For more than 30 years, Aunt Leah’s Place has supported youth in foster care, youth aging out of foster care, and young mothers to achieve a better future by providing guidance, supportive housing, job training and coaching on essential life skills.[2] Operating out of a number of facilities, in 2011, Aunt Leah’s was presented with an opportunity to purchase a new property and consolidate/expand their programming with particular focus on second stage residential for mothers and children. Aunt Leah’s approached Central City Foundation (CCF), and with financing provided by Vancity and Vancity Community Foundation, Central City Foundation purchased a building on 20th Street in New Westminster.[3] In 2013, Aunt Leah’s Place created the Aunt Leah’s Foundation to hold all of the organization’s properties, and in 2014, Aunt Leah’s Place moved into the 5,077 sq/ft space on 20th Street—using the main floor for thrift store operations and the upstairs for the second stage residential program—CCF  aided with funds for renovations. 
In 2017, Aunt Leah’s was once again presented with a real estate opportunity, this time in partnership with BC Housing, to acquire two residential properties—a 10+ unit apartment building and five-bedroom home. The acquisition of these buildings enabled Aunt Leah’s to move the residential programs off the 20th Street site and reconceptualise/renovate the building.  Supported again by Central City Foundation, Aunt Leah’s was able to expand its youth programming space while centralizing administrative functions at the one location.


Concept & Need

Aunt Leah’s Place has existed for more than 30 years, working to support youth in foster care, youth aging out of foster care, and young mothers transitioning to motherhood. Aunt Leah’s Place began in the basement of foster mother, Gale Stewart, who wanted to help older foster children who were close to aging out of the foster care system. Through her experience as a foster mom, Gale knew that foster children had the same aspirations as any child in a traditional family and founded Aunt Leah’s Place to provide guidance and support to foster children.[4]  Fully 50% of youth in foster care end up on the streets or homeless at some time.[5] The need for comprehensive, supportive, programing options and space for youth could not be more urgent.

From Aunt Leah’s Place humble beginnings, grew numerous programs such as supportive housing, vocational support to finish school, job skills training, social enterprise experience, etc. All of these services and programs were never tied to one location—a strength of Aunt Leah’s Place is that it has acquired a number of facilities, primarily in New Westminster with a thrift store location in Vancouver. Centralizing the thrift store back of house operations was one of the catalysts in developing additional space to house Aunt Leah’s growing programs. 

 “When we invest in social purpose real estate, the idea is to not just help organizations survive, but to help them thrive. We know Aunt Leah’s has a good home and long tenure—this gives them good information to plan for the long-term and allows them to build for the future. This allows organizations to get out of a place of scarcity and to envision growth and innovation that is leading to better programs and greater impact on young people.”[6] 

Jennifer Johnstone – President and CEO, Central City Foundation


Partnerships & People

Aunt Leah’s Place social purpose real estate partnership with Central City Foundation has been a driving factor in not only the redevelopment of the Youth Resource Hub and offices at 20th St., but many of the vital properties out of which the organization’s programs and services are delivered. Central City Foundation was fundamental to the project moving forward, and while the positive spotlight continues to shine on this remarkable partnership, other organizations were also key to realizing the 20th St. space.

“Gale Stewart [former Aunt Leah’s Executive Director] came to Central City Foundation and asked if we could provide some matching funds to buy a building. Central City Foundation doesn’t do matching grants but what we do is buy properties and lease them to community organizations on a subsidized basis.”

Jennifer Johnstone – President and CEO, Central City Foundation

In 2012, CCF approached Vancity and Vancity Community Foundation about financing the purchase of the building in New Westminster.[7] CCF needed a combined loan rate that was less than 3% in order to provide the subsidized lease to Aunt Leah’s. A higher rate from Vancity and a much lower rate from Vancity Community Foundation provided CCF the combined rate they needed.[8] The partnership between CCF, Vancity and Vancity Community Foundation enabled Aunt Leah’s Place to leverage equity in other projects, and as well, became an educational tool for Vancity and the Community Foundation, as this arrangement was new territory for all the organizations.[9]

Finally, the work of Aunt Leah’s Gale Stewart and the management team to envision program expansion in parallel to decreasing levels of funding from government, has been essential to the continued impact and legacy of Aunt Leah’s Place. The financial savings and security that resulted from the creation of the Youth Resource Hub and consolidated office headquarters has allowed Aunt Leah’s to take more risk, develop innovative programs, and build their capacity, which means they are a stronger organization today—able to do even more work in support of new mothers, youth in foster care, and youth aging out of foster care.[10] To limit recognition of Gale’s work to one property is an under-statement to the immense contribution she and her staff have made. 

Additional partners included BC Housing, who came on board in 2017, working with Aunt Leah’s on the two residential properties—a 10+ unit apartment building and five-bedroom home–precursors to the second set of 20th St. renovations. The project team that lead the construction and renovations at 20th St. include Ron Hart (Architect), Jay Barker (Designer), and Norm Little (Construction Management).

 “[I have been] astounded by work of the architects and construction team; [they] created the most beautiful space.” Jennifer Johnstone – CEO and President, Central City Foundation

 “Our general contractor, Norm Little, would be the other key person who was part of creating the space. He was crucial in getting the work done in the incredible short timeline that we had.”  Sarah Stewart – Executive Director, Aunt Leah’s Place


Timelines & Steps to Realization

The steps to fully realizing the new space in New Westminster were influenced by a number of factors, from proposed increases in rent at the organization’s head office location in downtown New Westminster to decreases in funding from the Ministry of Child and Family Development across the sector.
When CCF first purchased the 20th Street property in 2012 and began leasing the space to Aunt Leah’s Place, Aunt Leah's initially had residential housing on site (upstairs) for mothers and children as part of the second stage program. The ground floor, which enabled the thrift store to centralize its operations, is also not the space that a visitor sees today. When Aunt Leah’s Place faced the prospect of a prohibitive increase in rent at its downtown office, a slow and methodical review of Aunt Leah’s existing commercial lease found a clause that allowed the organization to exit early. Faced with the realization that leasing another space in downtown New Westminster would not provide the space needed, the organization began in earnest working with Central City Foundation on acquiring and renovating the building on 20th street. 
In the full relocation of Aunt Leah's operations to the 20th St. site in 2014, CCF provided a $120,000 repayable grant to Aunt Leah’s Place for major renovations to the ground floor. The transformed space allowed Aunt Leah’s Place to relocate its office out of downtown New Westminster and begin hosting a full range of programs and services in the upgraded space, thus saving tens of thousands of dollars in rent each year. 

In 2016, Aunt Leah’s Place returned to CCF with a vision to expand its offices to the second floor, while relocating the existing residential second stage program to the two new BC Housing/Aunt Leah’s properties. CCF had an agreement with Aunt Leah’s in regards to programming whereby Aunt Leah's Place was required to maintain the residential space in order to continue to house women and children. CCF participated in locating a nearby residential property, and in partnership with BC Housing, Aunt Leah's acquired the two residential properties, completing the ‘campus’ of care for Aunt Leah’s clients.  Once the residential space moved out of the 20th street property, the final renovation took place (2017), co-created by CCF and Aunt Leah’s via a second repayable grant of $80,000.

Aunt Leah’s Place Youth Resource Hub – Timeline

Concept/Idea: 2011
Land Purchase: 2012
CCF Repayable Grant: 2014 (ground floor renovations)
Construction/Renovation: 2014 
CCF Repayable Grant: 2016 (upper floor renovations)
Construction/Renovation: 2017 (upper floor)
Move In: 2017


Funding & Financing

  • $400,000 – Vancity Credit Union[11], Loan to CCF
  • $250,000 – Vancity Community Foundation[12], Loan to CCF
  • $250,000 – Central City Foundation, initial equity to purchase land and building
  • $120,000 – 2014 renovation grant - Central City Foundation[13]
  • $80,000 – 2017 renovation grant - Central City Foundation[14]
  • $1.1 Million – Total
  • $900,000 – Land Purchase
  • $200,000 – Renovation Costs[15]
  • $1.1 Million – Total 


Operations & Tenanting

In 2013, Aunt Leah’s Place created Aunt Leah's Foundation to to hold all of the organization’s real estate assets. Upon legal advice, this structure was seen as the most suitable means of protecting both Aunt Leah’s operations and its associated assets—with Aunt Leah's Foundation leasing facilities back to Aunt Leah’s to operate.[16]  However, these assets do not include the property at 20th St which continues to be owned by CCF and leased under a subsidy (approximately $90,000 per year) back to Aunt Leah's.

“[The creation of Aunt Leah’s Foundation] was a recognition that we needed to move our real estate into another entity [to protect our growing operations].” 

Sarah Stewart – Executive Director, Aunt Leah’s Place

At the moment, Aunt Leah’s Place receives a deep subsidy of 66% below market from Central City Foundation (the landlord). Recognizing that the subsidy could be deeper, CCF applies every year for a property tax exemption from the City of New Westminster. While places of worship currently receive a discretionary or permissive property tax exception, social purpose real estate such as Aunt Leah’s is not eligible. While Aunt Leah’s Place is operationally sustainable, increased costs incurred by Central City Foundation in the form of property taxes (effective when the property was reassessed to commercial), have put CCF in a challenging situation. 
Interior Lobby
Photo Credit: Aunt Leah's Place

In terms of the design and layout of the new space, the Management Team at Aunt Leah’s Place with input and approval by CCF, created space intentionally designed for sensitivity to people who have experienced trauma. Design elements include an absence of barriers created by desks, glass walls opening into offices, and the invitation for young people to move around the building freely. There is a drop-in hangout space in the back, referred to as the living room/den. The understanding that young people are not expected to be ‘doing’ anything in that space—just be there—is key to creating a welcoming and supportive environment.

 “Aunt Leah's Place is a subsidized, triple-net lease[17] so the organization maintains the buildings, other than roof and plumbing. They have the capacity to do so because they’ve been managing buildings for so long now.” Jennifer Johnstone – CEO and President, Central City Foundation


Impact & Lessons Learned

The Youth Resource Hub and Aunt Leah’s organizational offices at 20th St. are in an affordable building that was renovated specifically for the operations of Aunt Leah’s Place. Sarah Stewart, Executive Director of Aunt Leah’s Place knows that the space has delivered in its promise to provide impact for the organization, noting that “since we moved into the building, we have been able to expand our partnerships with other organizations and increase the services that we provide out of our building.” The work that Gale Stewart and the Board undertook in order to understand what they needed as an organization, was key to coupling a vision for a new space within the organizational purpose and objectives. By having a strategic plan and understanding their governance model—these foundational steps led to “core and stable funding” and to seeking out a partnership with Central City Foundation. In addition, the carefully researched decision to create the Aunt Leah’s Foundation was a critical step in building the organizations capacity to manage their growth in assets and physical locations, which can be a challenge for many non-profits.
“        Aunt Leah's Place has had a security of tenure that’s allowed them to be creative in their programming, take risks that they might not have otherwise done and access some of those newly available funding sources.” Jennifer Johnstone – CEO and President, Central City Foundation
The beauty of Aunt Leah’s Place is an intentional decision by CCF to  create spaces for non-profits and social enterprises that achieve far more than the bare minimum in functionality. In speaking about the impact of the Aunt Leah’s Place space, CCF recognizes that a goal in creating the space was to address the chasm that exists for some non-profits of “what an organization needs” versus “what an organization would like”.  In many cases, “what an organization would like” becomes secondary as the costs of operating the building and/or leasing the space, limit ability to direct finances to programs and service delivery.[18]
         “[The redevelopment of Aunt Leah’s Place on 20th St] was about creating not just an affordable space but a beautiful, suitable space for the organization to deliver quality services in quality buildings.”  Jennifer Johnstone – CEO and President, Central City Foundation


© 2018 Social Purpose Real Estate Collaborative. Portions of this Case Study may be reproduced for research and educational purposes. Please credit: “Social Purpose Real Estate Collaborative”  

SPRE Case Study Interviewees

  • Jennifer Johnstone – CEO & President, Central City Foundation. Interviewed: August 10, 2017
  • Sarah Stewart – Executive Director, Aunt Leah’s Place. Interviewed: September 15, 2017


Works Cited





1. Our Programs (2017). Aunt Leah's Place. https//
2. About Us (2017). Aunt Leah's Place.
3. Grand Opening of New Facility in New Westminster (2013). Central City Foundation. 
4. Kirkham, Angela (2016). Organization Spotlight: Aunt Leah's Place. DP World Vancouver. http://www.dpworld/ca/organization-spotlight-aunt-leahs-place/
5. Aunt Leah's (2017). Charity Intelligence Canada.
6. Aunt Leah's Set to Envision Growth (2018). Impact Investing. Vancity Community Foundatoin. 
7. Aunt Leah's Set to Envision Growth (2018). Impact Investing. Vancity Community Foundation. 
8.CCF renewed both loans along with the lease in January 2017 - all in for another 5 years.
9. 816 20th St is the only property that Central City Foundation has not self-financed. CCF does not have any encumbrances on any other property that they own. 
Aunt Leah's Set to Envision Growth (2018). Impact Investing. Vancity Community Foundation. 
11. CCF borrowed $400,000 at 3.5%; Completion 2022. Galloway, Bottoselle and Company (2017). Aunt Leah's Independent Lifeskills Society. Financial Statements. 
12. CCF borrowed $250,000 at 2%; completion 2022. 
Galloway, Bottoselle and Company (2017). Aunt Leah's Independent Lifeskills Society. Financial Statements. 
13. Interest at 3% annum, compounded semi-annually. Completion in 2022. Monthly rent payment and leaseholder improvements repayments service these repayable grants from Central City Foundation.
14. Interest at 3% annum, compounded semi-annually. Completion in 2022. Monthly rent payment and leaseholder improvements repayments service these repayable grants from Central City Foundation.
15. Hard costs include all building costs, on and offsite servicing, parking and improvements, contingency, etc. Soft construction costs include architect and engineer fees, consulting fees, legal fees, surveying, insurance, municipal fees, etc.
16. Aunt Leah's Foundation provides a continuum of housing to meet the needs of foster youth and youth aging out of care throughout the Lower Mainland. With a range of properties at its disposal, the Foundation operates a self-sustaining, income-producing real estate portfolio and works closely with Aunt Leah's Place through a joint development and operations team and collaborative boards. 2016 - 2017 Annual Report (2017). Aunt Leah's Place. 
17. "A triple net lease is defined as a lease structure where the tenant is responsible for paying all operating expenses associated with a property. The triple net or NNN lease is considered a 'turnkey' investment since the landlord is not responsible for paying any operating expsenses." Schmidt, Robert (2015). What You Should Know About the Triple Net Lease. Shmidt, Robert (2015). What You Should Know About The Triple Net Lease. 
18. Johnstone, Jennifer (2017). CEO and President, Central City Foundation. SPRE Case Study Interviewee