Housing We Can Afford

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?

  • How to Break Our Housing Logjam: What are the best practices in terms of multisectoral collaboration - the private, public, and social economy partnerships (PPSEPs) - when it comes to affordable housing? Do they constitute the beginnings of a new "model" for delivery of affordable housing?
  • Housing Needs Assessment: What are the pre-eminent needs that a housing strategy must meet in order to make significant inroads on the current shortfall?
  • Kirklees, UK: An area-based approach to energy efficiency, housing affordability, and jobs: How has the Kirklees Project in the U.K. integrated an array of tools – credit, advice, incentives, rebates – to deliver savings to such numbers of low- and middle-income households?
  • Affordability Locked In: No affordable housing "solution" worth its salt will fail to address the monumental boost that rising land values have on housing costs. What potential do community land trusts have to fix this?
  • The Best of Three Worlds: Mutual Home Ownership Societies combine the advantages of community land trusts, shared-equity tenant co-operatives, and the Garden City movement to inject affordable housing with additional, community purpose.
  • The Co-operative Land Bank: Another way to reduce the deadweight of land values on the development of affordable housing is for organizations or authorities to acquire land and reserve it for that purpose. Land banking comes with its own peculiar applications and challenges.
  • The Reinvention of Sunnyhill: Generally, housing "solutions" are only meant to "solve" the issue of shelter.What happens when we understand housing in a much greater context, integral to community revenue streams and employment, environmental sustainability, and co-operative governance?
  • The Housing Treadmill: By examining and questioning our invisible assumptions about housing we can design living arrangements that make our living less expensive financially and much richer socially and culturally.

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).

An i4 Special Series
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