Needs Assessment in Affordable Housing


Housing affordability is a complex issue. To win support from a funder or investor, community organizations must design strategies that will make particular types of housing affordable for particular groups of people. Applied research, therefore, is essential. But where are community organizations to tap such technical expertise?

In 2008-09, Selkirk Community College carried out a housing needs assessment in support of affordable housing organizations in the Columbia Kootenay region of B.C. (right) To clarify the issue of housing affordability, now and in the future, the researchers 1) mined housing data from the 2001 and 2006 censes, 2) created a housing inventory from municipal property assessments, and 3) drew up an inventory of social housing assets. The college shared the work and costs with the Columbia Basin Trust, the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance, and the BC Real Estate Foundation.

The research showed that renters, single seniors, and single parents were most seriously in need of affordable housing. (Notably, other research shows that the private sector is not likely to respond to these market demands.) The results were publicized on-line and discussed at numerous community presentations. However, no housing units have been built. There several reasons for this, but two stand out. First, there is no umbrella housing organization with the capacity to support or carry out the additional research, planning, and project management necessary for housing proposals. Second, funding for capacity building and capital investment is scarce, regardless of the need or the proposal.

The research program showed how effectively organizations in a rural and mountainous region could share knowledge and expertise about affordable housing. But improving the local capacity to get people affordably housed – that is a different matter entirely.

This article is part of the i4 special series, Housing We Can Afford, produced in partnership with the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA). It is also one of a series of articles sponsored by the Canadian Social Economy Research Partnerships (CSERP) to celebrate its 6-year contribution (2005-11) to our understanding of the importance of Canada’s social economy to the resolution of fundamental social and economic issues. Funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) is gratefully acknowledged.

It’s a complex, yet essential task. In a rural corner of B.C., a research partnership took the lead
Penfold, George
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