How Regina real-estate company Avana is giving women and children a new lease on life

How Avana, a family-owned real estate enterprise, is leading with a purpose.

Avana family members with children

A strong foundation is the key to building a home to last, much in the same way as it is for a business. Now in its seventh year of operation, Avana—a high-growth, family-owned real estate operation headquartered in Regina—takes the concept of roots one step further, not only by expanding its already impressive portfolio of properties, but also by extending suitable, safe and affordable housing to those who are most in need.

Founded in 2014, Avana began as a collaboration between the sister-brother team of Jennifer Denouden and Matt Ackerman, along with their spouses. A former private banker with RBC Wealth Management, Denouden was enticed by the prospect of designing her own future, particularly after becoming a mother. “I thought of real estate, because you can earn passive income without having the demands of a rigid schedule,” she says. “I pitched the idea to my husband, Troy, and he supportively jumped on board.” Denouden next shared her idea during a kids’ playdate with her sister-in-law, Nicki Ackerman, before approaching her brother, who was a carpenter in Regina—and the family enterprise was born.

Originally, the Avana team’s goals were modest: build 40 homes in the first five to eight years, and hit an asset valuation between $15–$20 million. “Once we started, we saw opportunity everywhere we went,” Denouden says, noting that Avana’s real estate assets ended up exceeding $180 million in less than seven years. “We came to the industry with a new lens, built on a foundation of business and finance experience,” says Denouden, Avana’s CEO, who touts the company’s family values and female-led team as crucial factors in its ingenuity. “We offer diversity to an industry that is lacking leaders from various demographics, which has allowed us to navigate the market with a unique advantage.”

“We wanted to have our business structured around honesty, integrity and respect — and we truly did that,” Denouden says. “Our motto is, ‘We do what is right, not what is easy.’ We will not work with individuals who do not have aligned values.”

Aside from attitudinal difference-makers, Avana is a practical outlier in real estate, too: whereas many developers might build principal residence homes with the intention of selling, only to hold onto their properties when the market cools, Avana’s properties are strategically purpose-built for rentals right from the get-go. Denouden identifies a cross-section of Avana’s tenants, one that is surprisingly diverse: single mothers, families, professional couples, downsizing seniors and individuals with accessibility needs.

Wanting to keep things “in the family,” as Denouden puts it, Avana launched a full-fledged property management division with a standard of “unparalleled service” to keep all property management services in-house. With a recent expansion into Edmonton, Avana’s unit count has now passed 550—a mix of superior quality suites that range in price from $800 per month for a one-bedroom to $7,000 per month for a commercial space.

Open concept kitchen and living room

In a few short years, Avana has risen in the ranks to become the highest-rated property management company in Regina. But, for all the highly desirable green space and nearby amenities that Avana’s properties offer, Denouden says the company’s mission runs much deeper than appearances might suggest.

Despite having accumulated an impressive at-market portfolio of residential, commercial, and light industrial spaces in 2017, the Avana team was craving a purposeful pivot. “We were raised in a family that always gave back to the community, so we knew we wanted to move forward in a way that would really enrich people’s lives,” Denouden says.

Shocked by the lack of affordable housing—not just in Saskatchewan, but across Canada—Avana’s leadership quickly converted the organization to a full-scale social enterprise. “Profit is down the line of priorities for us now. Our purpose sits at the top of the list.”

Since 2018, Avana’s main investment has been the development of affordable housing options. “Through that process, we discovered that many families still couldn’t afford our reduced rents,” says Denouden. Citing a 2019 Statistics Canada report that showed Saskatchewan to have the highest rate of domestic abuse of all the Canadian provinces, Denouden says servicing the needs of displaced women and children became one of Avana’s paramount goals.

In addition to forming tight-knit partnerships with shelters in the Regina area, Denouden and partners founded the Avana Empowerment Housing Fund, which provides housing at a subsidized cost to women and children who have survived domestic abuse. “Many of the families would have never received the opportunity to live in homes and neighbourhoods that we offer,” Denouden says proudly. “But through our non-profit, we have been able to make that happen.”

Avana’s philanthropic contributions extend into the community as well: the firm has donated millions of dollars to help build school playgrounds and a state-of-the-art YWCA facility. As Avana’s revenue from both developments and rental income continues on a reliable upward trajectory—bypassing $35 million and $8 million in 2021, respectively—Denouden says that the company will be ramping up its commitment to provide inclusive shelter. “There has been a spotlight put on the lack of affordable housing because of COVID,” she said. “One of the most important factors in contraction and recovery is where and how you live — even above access to health care.” As the pandemic rolled on, sure enough, the Avana team was setting up their suites for vulnerable families, occasionally shipping in furniture from out-of-province for comfort’s sake.

Never known to shy away from a challenge, Denouden and her family are ready for whatever comes. “We have more opportunities to help than ever before,” she asserts.

For more information, please visit avanarentals.com