This past April, the 2022 CHRA National Congress featured an amazing lineup of sessions that delved into some of the biggest issues facing Canada’s housing and homelessness sector. Speakers Zain Abedin, then Director of Community Development with the Rural Development Network and Magda Barrera, Senior Housing Policy Advisor with the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, joined us to discuss challenges and opportunities unique to rural, remote, and northern communities. Read on to learn more.
The Rural Development Network’s Sustainable Housing Initiative
Zain Abedin, (then) Director of Community Development, Rural Development Network
The Rural Development Network (RDN) is a non-profit that works to address the issues facing rural communities, such as housing and homelessness. In 2015, RDN (then known as the Alberta Rural Development Network) launched an expression of interest to find out how they could assist rural Alberta communities and learned that developing affordable housing was top-of-mind for many respondents.
To help meet this need, RDN developed the Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI), a program that helps communities and organizations in rural, remote, northern, Indigenous, and sometimes even urban centres complete pre-development work and access funding for developing affordable housing.
RDN found that the main challenges that limited smaller Alberta communities in their ability to develop affordable housing were a lack of capacity, resources, and supports. With these issues in mind, the SHI works to redefine affordable housing and create financially sustainable projects that don’t have to rely on ongoing operating funding. In providing support to these communities, RDN plays the role of a broker to assist communities in dealing with funding agencies, having found that the single biggest stumbling block in the development of affordable housing was the ability to access funding. Through the SHI, RDN has been able to help a number of communities with their goal of creating affordable housing developments, including Peavine Métis Settlement, Banff, and Whitecourt.
Recognizing the need for similar supports across Canada, RDN worked with a National Advisory Committee to develop the Step-by-Step Guide to Affordable Housing, which launched in 2019. The Guide allows communities to use RDN’s model to develop affordable housing themselves, from the early stages of envisioning the project all the way through to operations and maintenance. Since its launch in 2019, over 900 unique individuals and groups have downloaded the Guide, which has received CMHC’s Gold Roof Award for Housing Research Excellence.
RDN continues to promote the Guide across the country and provide consulting services to groups who need additional support. The organization is currently working with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, New Commons Development, Ottawa Community Housing, and other partners to develop a second version of the Guide.
North at Home: Housing Challenges in Northern Ontario
Magda Barrera, Senior Housing Policy Advisor, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario
The North at Home project, created in collaboration between the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO) and Advocacy North explored the challenges and opportunities for housing in Northern Ontario, with a focus on rental housing. In a two-day forum held in October 2019, Northern Ontario residents, joined by representatives of community legal clinics, housing providers, and health services, shared their experiences with housing in the North. Follow-up research included interviews with non-profit housing organizations, municipal housing officers, district service providers, and legal clinic staff.
Some key housing-related issues in Ontario’s North include:
- Aging housing stock
- Low construction activity
- High need for housing repairs
- A lack of rental housing supply
Compounding these issues are a host of region-specific challenges which include a declining population particularly in smaller communities, the high cost of building materials, a lack of qualified tradespeople for building projects, and a shorter construction season due to climate. Project stakeholders also identified that given the high costs, construction of purpose-built rental housing is unlikely to be financially feasible without government assistance, which they felt was difficult to obtain when competing with larger cities for the same funding sources.
North at Home participants of all stripes identified the following fundamental issues facing renters:
- A lack of affordable rental housing
- Limited rental choices, often leading to tenants dealing with poor housing conditions, disrepair, or unsafe surroundings
- Lack of availability of social housing
Added to these challenges is a growing need for housing supports and the high cost of repairs – partly due to faster weathering in the northern climate.
Upon completing its consultation period, the North at Home project identified five key priorities to help improve housing outcomes in Ontario’s North:
- Retaining current stock. More funding for rental repairs and homeowner assistance and improved enforcement of repair and maintenance regulations for rental housing.
- Conversion of buildings. Converting vacant buildings as a faster, more cost-effective way to develop affordable housing.
- Prioritizing non-profit development. Increased non-profit development to ensure long-term affordability and meet the needs of low- and moderate-income households.
- Partnerships and coordination of services. Integrated services to help tenants access supports.
- Eviction prevention. More services and programs to help people remain housed.
Learn more about North at Home and its findings.
All those who live in Canada deserve access to safe, affordable, appropriate housing. The challenges facing rural, remote, and northern communities are of critical importance for Canada’s housing and homelessness sector. Addressing them requires that we step outside of a cookie-cutter approach to community housing and focus on innovative solutions that meet the unique challenges faced by these communities. We encourage readers to visit the links in this article to learn more.
This post was written in collaboration with RDN and ACTO.