Ron Lovett has been a bouncer, bodyguard, entrepreneur. Now, at 42, he wants to change the affordable housing landscape with his business Vida Living, which owns some 600 affordable housing units in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Manitoba. It’s a serious idea, but Lovett, whose principal in Halifax Elementary School sent him to the Citadel Boxing Club instead of detention, is not a stern capitalist. He is a fine foodie who speaks Spanish and has already studied ju-jitsu under the direction of the legendary Gracies. At the end of our interview, Shaun Majumder, the comedian and actor, and sometimes business partner, came just to catch up with his boyfriend. This interview has been narrowed down for brevity.
JD: Where does your story begin?
RL: I grew up on Ralston Avenue (in West Halifax) with my grandmother, mother and sister. My grandfather, whom I did not have the chance to meet, was James Connolly, Alderman, Speaker of the House and Deputy Mayor. My dad lived in the United States and I didn’t meet him until I was 21. But I didn’t know the difference.
I went to a lot of schools. First, I was kindly asked to go to grade 8. I just didn’t do well. I have ADHD and dyslexia. Then after high school I worked a bit at a place called Seaside Kayak and for a company called Premier Travel, running these party trips for all high schools in Nova Scotia. Maybe, I think of a credit from Mount Saint Vincent, then I started to travel.
He was looking for experiences. My sister just put on a backpack and went on a trip and it blew me away. It was time to do it. I’ve been to 56 countries, and it introduced me to food and different things. On a trip to Colombia, I was reading a book called Stop the Ride, I Want to Get Off, by this British gangster David Courtney, and he was hiring his friends to do nightclub security companies in the UK where I was training ju-jitsu. the time under Gracie’s camp, so I thought I might be a bodyguard. But there was no job for a bodyguard in Halifax, especially 20 years ago. And so, I came back and decided that this was going to be my entry into my first real business, which was the security company, providing security for nightclubs as well as events and concerts.
AC / DC to Jay-Z
It was a really bumpy, bumpy road, as I think all entrepreneur trips are. But in the summer, we (Source Security & Investigations) would have over 3,000 employees in Kelowna, BC, Newfoundland. We were doing executive protection. I’ve been on tour with AC / DC and Jay-Z. And we’ve done a lot of executive protection across the country and sometimes outside the country. Then we entered the static day care, which kept the lights on.
JD: But from the start, you saw yourself as an entrepreneur?
RL: I think I have always been an entrepreneur. I feel like it was probably my blood from my father and my grandfather. As I was starting to mature in my early 30s, I started to think I had to build this to sell. And there was a pivotal moment: I was on the Rails-to-Trails bike path and the question that struck me was: would I be happy to reinvest in the private security industry if someone did? was approaching? And the answer was no. And so right away, I went to the market.
JD: What was your plan?
RL: The constant advice when I sold was to do nothing; wait two years. I have always been in real estate. And then there was this real estate opportunity in (the Halifax suburb of) Fairview, from those places that got hit by the city, 100 units on Evans Avenue and Dawn Street.
I called a great mentor and friend of mine, John Risley, and said, âJohn, you know, everybody says, don’t do anything for 24 months, and I have this opportunity. What do you think? âJohn said,â You know, the best time to make a deal is when you don’t need to make a deal. âAnd I didn’t need to make a deal. there was no pressure, it was the start of Vida Living.
Even before having bought a 12 units with Shaun Majumder, the Canadian comedian. I went with my typical safety mindset: I’ll clean this place up if people don’t play by the rules. It was a very rudimentary building. No security in the doors. Diapers out the window; crushed eggs in the hallway. Bullet holes in the doors, totally dangerous. And I was going to say, âI can handle this; I can clean it. And then I kind of took a break. Because one of the big questions I asked myself in the private security industry that really rocked the business was, should I restart this industry from scratch? And this question led me to the path to answer it, which is lacking in this workforce housing space.
Workforce housing is housing that is safe, clean, secure and has a strong sense of belonging to the community, and with working people. You think of the real estate sector, I think there can always be more, but there are plenty of associations that come to the aid of the most vulnerable. People who just work, be it blue collar or gray, it’s really hard, they’re caught in the middle, and I wanted to fix that.
Very quickly it became apparent that there was a lack of security in this asset class. No sense of community and it starts with the basics. You see smaller businesses or families that own small groups of real estate, and they have a tenant who mows the lawn so we wanted to take it to the next level. Not just finding someone who could do all kinds of repairs and maintenance, but finding people who. . . possessed the skills, whether soft or hard, (to) give them an invested interest in the building and tap the untapped potential that is not being used.
So we go to the tenant base first as best we can, and they get the right of refusal first. So whatever we’re going to market with we’re going to explode to the whole community, if you or your neighbor, anyone in this community has this type of skill, please give us a call.
JD: Where does that fit into the affordable housing crisis we hear about?
RL: I think Vida helps solve the problem; that does not solve the problem. Our business model is about helping Canadians move forward and keep things affordable. So, mellow as it sounds, the company’s goal is to revolutionize affordable communities. Every building from our point of view is a community. We do not consider the people who live in these buildings as tenants, we consider them as customers. And that’s what I think separates us in space.
What we’re trying to do is create an environment where it’s clean, that’s for sure. There is a sense of community, there is a sense of belonging. And we want to help people move forward, so we’ve had initiatives over the last six months that were saying, look, if you’re a Vida Living tenant, anywhere in the country, and you’re buying your first vehicle, or a new vehicle, we will give you a rent credit. You get your first job or a promotion at work, we’ll give you a rent credit. If you’re buying your first home and you want to break the lease, we’ll break the lease, and we’ll give you financing and invest the money for your move. If you are elderly and re-enter the workforce, we will grant you a rent credit.
RL: I think that there are a lot of people from different backgrounds who are in difficulty, that it is difficult for them to move forward in this sector. I’m really excited to know that Vida’s business model is to help people.