Affordable housing is a huge and complex problem in Canada, and one that we have manifestly failed to solve over the last 20 years. In fact, since the retreat of the federal government from the financing of co-op housing in 1993, the problem has grown demonstrably worse. This is clear from the outrageous levels of debt people of low and middle income must take on to own a house in many parts of the country. It is clear from sky-high monthly costs and razor-thin vacancy rates in rental housing. It is clear from a construction sector that devotes massive energy to meeting the needs of high-income home and condo buyers as well as commercial clients while neglecting the housing demands of other income groups.
Into the space left by the private sector and the public sector has stepped the social economy with an array of innovations to address affordable housing at the local and regional level. In Canada, the U.S.A. and the United Kingdom this has been a period of great creativity with respect to the design, financing, and construction of housing that not only shelters people, but reduces their environmental impact and their debt load, making room for a better quality of life.
But the impact of these innovations has been confined to very small numbers of households. Their applicability to greater numbers remains untested, if not dismissed out of hand. Public and political discourse has largely remained fixed on measures at the municipal level that would "unleash" the private, for-profit sector on the housing dilemma, despite the past failure of this model.
It's time that changed. It's time to mine the research that has been completed by the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA), as well as the experiences of housing specialists across the social economy, in order to provoke a debate over the initiatives by means of which we can see all Canadians affordably and securely housed by 2030. To that end, a special edition of the ejournal i4 is being undertaken to help identify points of strategic intervention in our current housing mess:
By which models, practices, and policies are we going to ensure over the next 20 years the long-term affordability of housing to Canadians, especially those living on low incomes? By what means can we increase the capacity of the sector best able to deliver on this task - the social economy?
This publication is produced in partnership with the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA) and with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).