Why Social Housing Policy Matters

December 29, 2009

From homelessness to affordable housing…HISP interns weigh in on policy options that have the power to improve lives

 Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN) in partnership with the Social Housing Services Corporation (SHSC) has just released six comprehensive papers that address a wide range of social housing policies in Canada. The papers are authored by graduate student interns as part of the Housing Internship and Scholar Program (HISP) with foundational support from SHSC and funding from other organizations in cooperation with CPRN. Dr. Michael Buzzelli, Director of Housing and Environment at CPRN, oversees the HISP.

This joint initiative between CPRN and SHSC began in 2006 with the goal of building policy capacity in the housing sector and encouraging evidence-based research initiatives from quality graduate students. In total, 20 interns have successfully completed the program and many have gone on to employment in the field or to pursue further social housing-related studies. Their research papers and reviews have been downloaded from the CPRN website more than 100,000 times, garnered national media attention and helped to inform public policy on the issue.

The most recent cohort of HISP interns has continued this tradition of producing comprehensive research, sound analysis and pragmatic policy recommendations. Papers in this newly released series include:

Rehousing Vancouver’s Street-Involved Youth

by Heather Millar

From 2002 to 2008, the homeless population in Metro Vancouver has more than doubled in size to more than 2,660 people. Youth aged 16 to 24 account for a sizeable portion of the city’s homeless, estimated between 10 and 20%. Studies suggest that the youth homeless population is extremely vulnerable, facing high levels of violence and sexual exploitation as well as complex mental health and addiction issues.

This paper documents, through key informant interviews and focus groups with youth service providers, government managers and private philanthropic funders, the challenges of youth homelessness and provides best practices and policy recommendations for permanently housing street-involved youth in Vancouver and British Columbia.

Can Inclusionary Zoning Help Address the Shortage of Affordable Housing in Toronto?

by Julie Mah

This report evaluates the effectiveness of using inclusionary zoning as a policy tool to aid in delivering affordable housing in the City of Toronto. Inclusionary zoning has been used extensively in the United States to help create mixed-income communities with a promise to improve housing affordability. The author reviews the use of inclusionary zoning in the US from the 1970s to the present, and examines more recent examples from Canada’s three largest cities (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver) to determine if inclusionary zoning delivers on the promise of more affordable housing.

Mah concludes that inclusionary zoning is a promising policy but only if it is properly designed in consultation with all relevant stakeholders and if it is part of a more comprehensive housing strategy. She also advises that the policy should target specific (shallow subsidy) income groups and that affordability should be rigorously controlled through price and occupancy restrictions.

The Homeownership Component of the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program: Critical Analysis of Program Objectives

by Helen Looker

In April 2005, the federal and Ontario governments jointly invested $734 million in the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program (COAHP) with more than $28 million dedicated to the COAHP Homeownership Component. The goal of the COAHP Homeownership Component was to help 20,000 low to moderate income households transition from renting to home ownership through assisted down payments.

This paper assesses the variable uptake of the COAHP Homeownership Component and critically analyzes the presumption that home ownership represents a necessarily positive trajectory for low and middle income Canadian households. The author reviews the policy guidelines and conducts interviews with service managers in urban, metropolitan and urban Ontario, and housing experts from public and private sectors, and from the research community.

The author concludes with recommendations that call for program-related enhancements, including the facilitation of asset accumulation in low-income households and income-related supports for low-income home owners. Looker also calls for government leadership to improve the quality of housing policy within the wider economic context.

Under Pressure: Affordable Housing in Rural Ontario

by Amanda Slaunwhite

This paper examines the geographic-specific obstacles that hinder the development of affordable housing in rural communities, such as the emphasis on single-family detached dwellings and home-ownership, and the population decline in some communities that may discourage government investment in affordable housing programs. The author focuses on the particular challenges faced by youth, single parents, the elderly and low-income families to find affordable housing in rural communities. Slaunwhite summarizes existing work on rural housing in Canada and then examines the provision of affordable housing in two specific townships: North Grenville and Rideau Lakes in the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville in south eastern Ontario. The report concludes with recommendations for all levels of government to encourage the development of affordable housing in rural areas that address the place-specific challenges faced by communities that are sparsely populated.

Overcoming Challenges in Centralized and Decentralized Housing Models: Ontario and British Columbia Compared

by Carla Schuk

Social housing policy has experienced substantial changes over the past two decades. In the early 1990s, social housing devolved completely from federal responsibility to the purview of provincial and territorial governments who have differently organized and administered their respective social housing programs. This paper addresses the centralized model for social housing employed by the British Columbia government and the decentralized model employed by the province of Ontario in order to assess the challenges and advantages of each system. The report also examines theoretical models that have been adapted to overcome the trade-offs associated with these two systems. The author demonstrates that in both models there is an increasing movement toward encouraging partnerships and co-operation vertically and horizontally across levels of government, moving away from rigid models of organization and administration toward more fluid and responsive frameworks.

Recession and Stimulus Spending: A Preliminary Examination of Stimulus Spending on Affordable Housing in Ontario by Arif Jinha

(Forthcoming, January 2010)

The federal budget of January 2009 allocated almost $2 billion toward social housing, reversing a trend of funding cuts to social housing policies and programs from previous governments. This paper provides an early look at the significance of the global economic recession and the impact of one-time stimulus spending on affordable housing programs in the province of Ontario. The author interviews policy-makers from regional, provincial and federal levels of government and analyzes housing indicators to review the long-term needs for successful social housing programs. The author argues that housing is a public good unlike other durable goods in our economy and that the economic crisis creates an opportunity to think about the long-term needs and challenges for sustainable and affordable housing in Canada.

About Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN)

CPRN is a leading socio-economic think tank based in Ottawa with a non-partisan approach to policy engagement and analysis. Since 1994, CPRN has been producing high quality, independent research, informing public policy debate and providing evidence-based insights to Canadian leaders. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding resources, CPRN will close its doors on December 23, 2009.