UNB Alumni
Telling our #ProudlyUNB stories

Supporting housing in communities that need it most

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on May 26, 2023

Category: UNB Fredericton , Renaissance College , Inspiring Stories

Catherine Pak (BPhil’11) has a driving mission. As a senior specialist with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), she’s fully invested in the organization’s aspiration to house every individual in Canada by 2030. She says it’s complex and hard work, but extremely rewarding.

Catherine has been working with CMHC for five years – on the front lines and now overseeing teams focused on Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Currently stationed in Vancouver, she’s lived in Nunavut and loved the experience.

“I first moved to Nunavut while I was a student at UNB, actually. I was enrolled in the leadership program at Renaissance College, and while I was completing my Canadian internship in Ontario promoting social and environmental responsibility, I came across an opportunity in Nunavut to become a recreation coordinator for the community of Cambridge Bay. It was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down, so I paused school for a year and moved north. It was so much fun and I learned so much about the strength and connectedness of a community. I also saw a lot of hidden homelessness and learned how difficult and expensive it is to build in the north. It stuck with me.”

The Markham native returned to UNB to finish her degree and, after a short stint in corporate Ontario, went back to Nunavut and the place she’d loved. She first took on a role in adult education and then moved into the area which had intrigued her so much the last time she was there: housing. “I’d noticed that no matter what job I had, no matter what part of the community I was working in, it all came back to housing. You can’t study if you don’t have a home. You can’t contribute if you don’t get any sleep. Housing is absolutely necessary to thrive in life.”

Catherine gained experience in housing with the territorial government and then jumped at an opportunity with CMHC, working as a specialist for Indigenous and Northern Housing Solutions in the Yukon and northern British Columbia. “As part of the federal government, we work on building partnerships with other governments, non-profits and the private sector to access funding and financing to construct new housing projects and to repair, renew, and renovate existing housing. It’s a complex and challenging issue, and it takes patience. It often takes years to see the positive outcomes of a project you’re working on. But I’m very optimistic about the work we’re doing and the change we’re making.”

“I’ve witnessed first-hand the strength of the communities and cultures of Indigenous and northern people. Everyone collaborates to help one another. I love being able to help connect people with solutions and ideas and bring the pieces of the puzzle together. Most people don’t get to see the background discussion happening in communities. I love being a part of that and helping to build capacity, deliver housing programs that get youth into housing, and support innovative new financing models. I feel it’s making a difference.”

In fact, that’s one of the things Catherine loves most: telling stories of individuals and communities that are now thriving because of housing solutions. She passionately describes being a part of a development in Dawson City where the First Nations community built a men’s shelter. And another that is building the first Indigenous-led women’s shelter in the Yukon. “Being able to tell those stories is so humbling and impactful. Working with these communities and individuals is extremely rewarding.”

The leadership skills that Catherine learned while at UNB have been serving her well. “It’s a unique skill set that applies wherever you go. I think because of my degree I’m able to talk with a lot of different people, have an open mind, look for solutions and adapt as needed. I love being able to see the big picture and make the right connections and bring a solution together.”

Catherine says that we all have a role in supporting and delivering housing in our communities. “We can advocate for housing in our own neighborhoods and push our leaders to find ways to do more and better.” Her optimism rings through loud and clear. “There are always solutions and opportunities to grab. We just need to work together with open minds to see them. I’m a firm believer that we can do more together, and I’m excited by my work towards our goal of having everyone in Canada in a home that they can afford and that meets their needs.”