[Tools & Resources]

Inside the Developers Studio

Get to know Chris Canna, CIL's Vice President of Real Estate Development


How do you describe your role at CIL?

My job has three main components. One is making sure our current business operations proceed smoothly, so making sure our developers have what they need to provide good service to our customers. Two is making sure that new customers are coming in. Third, throw product development in the mix!


How did you get interested in real estate?

I’ve always really liked cities. I grew up in a rural town and wanted to move to a city, so I went to college in Montreal. Worked in International Development, went to London, D.C., Bangkok, so always lived in big cities. Then I came back to Connecticut and lived in Hartford, and it just got me thinking ‘what’s the difference between Hartford and these other cities, and what makes a city thrive?’


So, I went to study Urban Planning, with a focus on Urban Design and Real Estate, because I thought that was an interesting way to tackle that question.


What’s something that people don’t understand about real estate?

People have no idea how much stuff costs! And how that, necessarily, translates to rent.


What is one work-related thing that you are looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to figuring out new supportive housing models. Specifically, a production model we can develop. What’s really worked about the model that CIL uses to develop group homes in MA and CT is that it’s a production model. There is a need identified, a client can come to us and we can get the financing on-demand – versus waiting for a funding round (most affordable and supportive housing is funding-round dependent and thus very slow).


The group home model, because it relies on financing that can happen quickly, can help people faster. If we can find some type of equivalent for less than 24-hour care housing that would be really powerful and have a huge impact. We also want to do the slower, larger stuff, but that’s not necessarily what makes CIL unique.


Tell me more about product development and the behind-the-scenes efforts going on.

Traditionally, CIL has been a pretty creative place. The core of what we do has always been group homes, but we have been involved in a wide range of affordable housing, community development, and other types of supportive housing models. We’ve done that exclusively in CT, so one of the big pushes for product development is to figure out what could we be doing in Massachusetts, with a particular focus on supportive housing for the same populations we build group homes for.


Group homes are a 24-hour care setting, and we are looking at how to do housing with service providers in a less than 24-hour care setting. It could be a wide-range of things – things that to the outside observer might look like a group home or it could look like a 100-unit complex where 10% of the units are set aside for people with disabilities.


We are trying to understand our current clients’ needs in these areas. Meeting with them as often as I can, seeing their current projects, so for example this week. For example, I went to Massachusetts yesterday, to meet with DDS. We have this basic concept for housing people with Autism-only diagnosis, DDS has a lot of people they are working with and want to find some better strategies for them, and we have a service provider partner who also wants to do that. We (CIL) are trying to understand what they actually need – so it’s a lot of talking and listening.


The Development Team has been attending events like The Connecticut Family Support Network (CTFSN) Housing Group. What are the benefits of attending events like these? 

It’s challenging for CIL to work directly with the populations we aim to serve. That’s why its good for us to go to groups like CTFSN events and interact with people first hand. People forget. They focus so much on a populations “problems,” that they forget people are just people and their problems are really the same as everyone else –with a need for different kinds of supports.


They have the same wants: to move out of their parents’ house, to be able to work, to play video games, to have friends – or not! So anytime we get to talk to people it useful to remember that they are not problems to be managed, they are people.


We want to create independent living settings for people. Figuring out a way to do that with our service providers where we walk that fine line between the help that the people actually need and then just being too overbearing is really interesting. The more we can involve the people that are actually going to live there, the better we can do that.