New Policy Tools to Support Homes for All
March 16, 2023
Carolyn Whitzman, Expert Advisor, Housing Assessment Resource Tools
In 2019, Canada adopted the National Housing Strategy Act, which commits all governments in Canada to “progressive realization of the right to adequate housing” with an emphasis on “improving housing outcomes for those in greatest need.” But many recent mid-way evaluations of the current National Housing Strategy make clear that all levels of government – local, regional, provincial/ territorial, and the federal – have failed to provide homes that are affordable or suitable to those who are underhoused or in core housing need. As the CHRA’s recent Blueprint for Housing sets out, a new approach is needed.
Central to the problem is the absence of shared, replicable, comparable and equity-focused data to measure housing need, as well as a lack of understanding of the policies that can provide the right supply for who needs what kinds of housing where.
The Housing Assessment Resource Tools (HART) project, based at UBC, aims to solve that problem. On Wednesday March 29 at 10am PST/ 1pm EST, we will be launching our new website with three tools that can help governments, community organizations and developers better address the affordable housing and homelessness crisis facing Canada. Register your place here.
Housing Need Assessment Tool: A new way to plan for affordable homes
The first is our Housing Need Assessment Tool, which analyses census data on core housing need by income category, household size and priority populations.
Currently, most government programs do not use the CMHC’s standard definition of “affordable housing”, which is no more than 30% of pre-tax household income. They also do not focus on low- and moderate income categories, as affordable housing programs from the 1940s to the 1990s did, before the federal government abandoned responsibility for national housing policy.
We use five income categories, each based on area median household income or AMHI (since incomes vary so much by community):
- Very low income: These households, earning less than 20% of AMHI, are mostly on fixed incomes. Since the 1990s, welfare rates have not kept up with inflation, even as low-cost housing was being lost, so most of these households are at risk of homelessness
- Low income: Households earning 21- 50% of AMHI, the Low Income Cut Off or poverty line. Many are reliant on minimum wage, which again has not kept up with the cost of housing.
- Moderate income: These households earn between 51-80% of AMHI and have also benefitted in the past from public and other non-profit housing.
- Median income: These households earn between 81-120% of AMHI, and have traditionally been able to afford homeownership. However, first time homeownership is unaffordable in most Canadian communities, forcing long commutes for many young families.
- Higher income: Households earning over 121% of AMHI. In many of Canada’s larger cities, even higher income households who currently rent find homeownership unaffordable.
Our housing need assessment tool allows calculation of affordable housing costs for every community in Canada.
Our data shows that most of those households in core housing need are very low-, low- and moderate-income households. There is simply not enough housing supply available for both one person and multiple person households. If the federal government wants to achieve its targets of 530,000 households removed from core housing need by 2028 (out of a total of 1.7 million households in 2016), let alone halving the number of those chronically homeless (at least 25,000 people, not included in census calculations of core housing need), or addressing the needs of students, people in congregate housing such as long-term care homes, or farmers (none of whom are included in census calculations of core housing need), they will need clear targets for rents and household sizes.
Our Housing Need Assessment Tool allows calculation of existing deficits by income category and household size for every community in Canada. We also project, based on 10 years of data, changes in households in core housing need as well as variations within regions (eg larger or lower income households are moving out of big cities into surrounding regions).
The federal government has also committed to a gender and intersectional equity approach. It has announced sub-targets, for instance, 33% of all federal housing funding for women-led households. Those with physical, cognitive or mental health issues and household heads over 85 may have additional support needs. The federal government has also pledged to support separate For Indigenous, By Indigenous housing and more recently, it has created a fund for Black-led housing initiatives.
Our Housing Needs Assessment Tool provides data on priority populations in core housing need for every community in Canada, to allow the development of provincial/territorial, regional and municipal targets and sub-targets.
Land Assessment Tool: the most effective way governments can address housing need
International evidence agrees that use of government land for non-profit and affordable housing is the most effective way to meet the needs of low- and moderate-income households. Indeed, the combination of free land (either donated or free-leased) and non-profit development can deliver up to 50% of the cost of new homes.
Our Land Assessment Tool shows how to identify well-located government land that is suitable to scale up non-profit housing, including “housing on top” of existing infrastructure like health centres, libraries and fire stations. Working with 12 government partners, we have identified thousands of sites that could be used to develop new affordable, transit-oriented homes to meet the needs of those who are homeless or in core housing need, and jumpstart the kind of supply that is most required for the socially, economically and environmentally sustainable communities of the future.
Acquisitions Tool: stopping the haemorrhage of affordable homes
Between 2011 and 2016, 15 affordable homes renting at $750 or less a month were lost for every non-profit home created in Canada, and the government has been largely absent in the development and acquisitions of affordable housing since the 1990s. There are growing calls for a national acquisition strategy that transfers rental homes at risk of losing their affordability to the non-profit sector. Several governments in Canada, including BC, Nova Scotia and Toronto have launched their own acquisition strategies.
Our Acquisitions Tool analyses Canadian and international best practices to provide easy-to-use fact sheets for governments considering supporting acquisition of low-cost rental. It covers identifying suitable properties, financing rapid acquisition of properties on the market, and considerations to maintain affordability of the homes while improving their condition and environmental sustainability.
For more information on how the Housing Assessment Tools can work for your community, please contact us at HART@allard.ubc.ca, register for our launch, or attend our session at the CHRA Congress in Winnipeg April 18-20!