Corrine Burns didn't think her retirement as executive director of the Cochrane Society of Housing Options (CSHO) was worthy of a story.

Yet, her dedication to addressing affordable housing in our community for some 20 years cannot be left unspoken.

Corrine joined Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) in 1999. Together with then FCSS director Susan Flowers and other members of the community, she was instrumental in the completion of the town's first affordable housing strategy in 2002, and the creation of CSHO in 2003.

"Even back then, and before that time, affordable housing was a hot topic, so FCSS mobilized some community members to start working on the issue," explains Corrine.

The nonprofit organization now owns and operates 38 residential units, operated under the Provincial Affordable Housing Program. Its rental rates are set at a minimum of 10 per cent below market value.

It also lead to the creation of Home Reno Heaven, a nonprofit organization that reinvests its profit into helping support affordable housing initiatives and programs here. 

"At the end of the day, we hope that we can grow Home Reno more because the more that we can do with Home Renos, the more unrestricted operating funding we have to invest in the affordable housing program," explains Corrine. "We encourage people to shop, volunteer, and donate to Home Renos. It's money that stays in our community for members of our community."

Susan Flowers says Corrine started as an administrative assistant but quickly filled other positions and offered a wide variety of valuable skills.

"At the FCSS board, we were talking about affordable housing and nobody was doing anything about it, so we decided, damn it, we're going to do something," says Susan.

Susan says Corrine was successful at securing grants at a time when affordable housing wasn't on the radar.

She wrote the grant proposal that lead to CSHO's first major project, The Homestead, a blue multi-unit affordable housing complex on 2nd Ave., and also participated in a presentation to town council requesting the land for the project. It has 21 units, which include, bachelor, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units. Its bottom floor is lease to the town and serves as the hub of FCSS.

The completion of The Homestead and the affordable housing strategy helped pave the way for Habitat for Humanity (HFH) to come to Cochrane to provide additional housing options.

Susan says many other Alberta communities weren't ready to accept HFH, but with the groundwork laid in Cochrane, everything fell into place.

"Corrine was great at partnerships, forming them, and maintaining them with all the social providers, builders, and anybody who might be involved in helping projects happen."

"A lot of people talk about partnerships, but she really makes them happen."

Corrine went on maternity leave and came back to work in a different position with FCSS at first before returning to her split role with CSHO and the town in 2007.

Susan says Corrine's work has anchored affordable housing in Cochrane.

"It's been huge," says Susan. "I don't believe we would be where we are with affordable housing without her, and the partnership between the town and CSHO has been amazing. She's been working for both CSHO and the town, so she's got two employees, but you need to communicate between the two when you're that person, so it's been a valuable partnership."

In November 2020, CSHO officials presented the results of the 2020 Cochrane Community Housing Needs Assessment to town council. It is designed to build a more complete understanding of the current and future housing needs.

Corrine says the next step is to develop more concrete action plans based upon this and past housing studies.

The needs assessment heavily emphasizes the need for further collaboration with developers, landlords/landowners, builders, businesses, and all three levels of government.

"This was sort of a good point for me to step out and let somebody new come in and start with new projects and take it forward," says Corrine.

That person is Kevin McDonald, the new CSHO executive director.

Corrine says she appreciates the support received over the year from the town and council.

"I look forward to Kevin having the opportunity to be working with the town and council to mobilize the community and take things forward."

Susan says the future looks bright for CSHO.

"I think you can build upon the success that we've developed in the community and the positive reputation that the society has. It's time to get on with another project, so I look forward to working with Kevin." 

Looking back at her years of service, Corrine says being able to help others in the community made it all worthwhile.

"I feel blessed and grateful that I've been able to have many years in an occupation with purpose because that's important to me. For me, that's the highlight. I can step away knowing that I spent my time trying to make our world a better place, and each of us has a part in that. We can all do a little bit, and if we all work together doing positive things in the community, we just make our world better."

Corrine was named Pathfinder of the Year at this year's Cochrane Community Awards for demonstrating leadership and excellence in making Cochrane a more sustainable community.

"A true innovator, they have helped inspire others to act more sustainably while at the same time demonstrating a genuine commitment to sustainability in their own lives," is part of the description used to explain a worthy candidate.

Certainly, this is Corrine.

A heartfelt thanks for all you've done for Cochrane.