Housing, or the lack thereof, takes many forms. Some people acquire housing through the private market, either in the form of ownership or rental. For many other people, particularly those with lower incomes or who are in vulnerable situations, housing in the private market is unaffordable or unavailable. That's where non-profit housing comes into play.
Community housing (sometimes referred to as social housing) is housing that is offered at below market rates so that it is more affordable. Community housing is typically provided by organizations whose mandates are to offer affordable housing. Rents are typically subsidized by public sources (be they federal, provincial/territorial, or municipal) so that rents can be maintained at a level that is affordable to the tenants. Rents are usually calculated using a "rent geared to income" model that calculates rent as a manageable proportion of a tenant's income.
Many community housing providers also offer supports for their clients. "Supportive housing" can take many forms: supports for seniors, LGBTQ+ supports, Indigenous cultural supports, supporting those with mental health and addictions, those with disabilities, women fleeing violence, etc. These supports are typically offered in partnership with various community entities. Community housing is much more than bricks and mortar.
Sadly, over 235,000 people in Canada experience homelessness in any given year. Working with a "Housing First" philosophy in mind, many community housing organizations work with homeless-serving agencies and organizations to find permanent, long-term housing and supports for people that would otherwise be homeless.
The Housing Continuum helps explain the different types of housing available.
Emergency Shelter: Offers short term crisis support to those who are experiencing homelessness. Some people do rely on shelters for longer periods of time.
Transitional housing: "Transitional housing is a temporary solution that aims to bridge the gap from homelessness to permanent housing". Transitional housing is usually used as a form of supportive housing for treatment, and mental health.
Community housing: Also known as social or subsidized housing. Community housing can take many forms, for example: purpose-built low-income housing developments, subsidized units in market-rate buildings, or market-rate apartments paid for in part by provincial rent supplements.
Affordable Rentals: According to CMHC, a household that spends less than 30 percent of its net income on a home is considered to be in affordable housing.
Affordable Homeownership: Just like affordable rentals, affordable home ownership costs should be less than 30 percent of the homeowner's income. There are government programs and non-profit organizations who offer low-income homeowners subsidies and financing.
Market Rental Housing: Landlords choose a rent price they want to charge. No subsidy or discount.
Market Home Ownership: Owners purchase a home without discount or subsidy and are responsible for maintaining their property.