Some frequently asked questions about the Housing Assessment Resource Tools project.
General questions about the Housing Assessment Resource Tools project
HART is funded by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) through the Housing Supply Challenge (data-driven round). In the initial funding round, we developed a prototype with the City of Kelowna, which we expanded nationwide in the second round of funding with the collaboration of 13 partner governments.
Housing Needs Assessment Tool
Questions related to our Housing Needs Assessment Tool.
We use a custom order of census data from Statistics Canada. The census provides the most reliable, nationwide, disaggregated data currently available, and it is completed every five years, which means it is possible to update regularly.
The census does not currently include homeless people in its calculation of core housing need. Statistics Canada plans to address this issue in the 2026 census.
The census and CMHC do not currently have a method for calculating suppressed demand (households who move out of an area – or do not move there in the first place – because of lack of adequate options). This is an issue we are seeking to address in a comparable and replicable way for the next stages of the HART project.
Income categories are a more effective and accurate way to group households – they better reflect the shelter costs and housing needs of the populations they represent. Furthermore, using categories as percentages of Area Median Household Income, you can compare communities across Canada with far greater accuracy, and understand affordability over time more easily.
Our Housing Needs Assessment provides you with household sizes, but in order to convert these into unit sizes, you must use our dataverse to view household types and apply a unit size conversion, found in our methodology (Appendix D).
Land Assessment Tool
Questions related to our Land Assessment Tool.
Our land assessment data comes from a variety of sources, because accessing it is different in every province or territory. For example, in British Columbia, land assessment data province-wide is public and free. In Ontario, a private company owns all the land assessment data which needs to be purchased for a limited time. In Alberta, we were unable to find the data for provincial land holdings. For the most part, our land information was assembled from a combination of federal, provincial, and municipal governments. Some of this information is proprietary, so we can’t display it online, but we’ve provided these partners with detailed maps. You can learn how to replicate a similar land assessment through our eLearning course, or get in touch!
We will not be making the data available for download. In many cases we needed to sign agreements with governments and institutions in order to access the data on the condition that we do not share the raw data publicly.
Yet we were able to access a fair amount of data through open data portals. A sample of those data portals are linked here.
It varies by data source. Our data on land ownership generally comes from the institution that utilizes the data for property assessments so they are reasonably up to date. Our open data sources tend to be less regularly updated.
Land development can proceed more quickly than the data is updated, so there will be sites that we identify as vacant which are no longer vacant. Moreover, there are many other factors needed to determine whether a site is suitable for development that we do not incorporate into our land assessment.
Although we do not have the resources to comprehensively evaluate the thousands of land parcels we have identified, we hope that our work provides a starting point for local experts and citizens to further explore opportunities to add non-profit housing within their communities.
Since there is not a nationally available source of government-owned land, we developed our Land Assessment Tool with the collaboration and data supplied from our 13 partners. For this reason, we have detailed and comprehensive maps for those partners, but we are unable to complete similar maps on a national scale. You can learn how to replicate a similar land assessment through our eLearning course, or get in touch!
For each community that we’ve partnered with, we started by building a comprehensive inventory of government-owned land within their jurisdiction. Then, in collaboration with our partners, we developed a set of criteria that we used to identify candidate parcels. There is some variability in the criteria we used for each community based on data availability and local contexts. Generally, the criteria fell into one of three categories:
- Parcel geometry: we considered minimum lot sizes, and removed long, narrow parcels that are likely corridors.
- Current use: we excluded some parcels based on their current use, including parks, agricultural land, utility structures, and waste and water treatment facilities.
- Exclusion areas: we exclude parcels that fall within designated natural areas, floodplains, and heritage districts.
There are many considerations to evaluate when determining whether to build on a land parcel, what that building will look like, and who will pay for it. We have not performed such an evaluation. Parcels included in our land assessment are intended to be an initial estimate of sites that may be suitable for non-profit housing development. Please refer to our methodology for more detail on our processes for identifying land.
In addition to vacant land, our Land Assessment Tool considers parcels that contain one- or two-storey buildings. These parcels may be underutilized in the sense that the buildings can be redeveloped to support housing on top of them. These co-developments are efficient ways to make use of land that already has some services connected to it. We use satellite imagery to estimate building heights.
We deliberately include sites in zones that may not currently allow housing in order to take an expansive approach to what may be possible. Zoning can be changed, and we think that rezoning to enable non-profit housing is a good reason to do so.
Land is often the most expensive component of a new housing development. Without this significant expense, the rent that allows the project to breakeven is significantly reduced. This has proven to be a powerful tool for governments who own land on behalf of their citizens. Governments also have a responsibility to provide housing for those citizens unable to afford market-priced housing.
The NHS Act sets out the Government of Canada’s housing policy which recognizes that the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right affirmed in international law. It also commits Canada to further the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing. This right is recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Many non-profit organizations, including communities of worship, have significant land holdings that tend to be well-located, with older buildings in need of replacement, and have an interest in supporting the local community. We endeavored to include non-profit-owned land in our land assessment, but we were unable to to identify these lands in a comprehensive manner.
The HART Land Assessment Tool maps are created in collaboration with our local government partners. We rely on our partnerships with local governments to understand local land use regulations that affect the development potential of government-owned land. In most provinces across Canada, land ownership information is not openly available. Our partners helped us acquire this information, and other data not available through open data portals. For communities outside our partnerships, we lack this information about the local context and access to proprietary data. If you are interested in conducting a similar land assessment in your own community, please refer to our methodology or contact us.
Property Acquisitions Tool
Questions related to our Property Acquisitions Tool.
Our Property Acquisitions Tool provides communities with the tools to choose the ‘best’ acquisition strategy or strategies based on their resources. Some strategies require communities to have broad legal powers, others require significant data infrastructure or funding. The tool provides options based on what is currently available.
Unfortunately, data constraints across Canada make this incredibly challenging. While the CMHC has the per-unit rents of buildings within its purpose-built rental universe, it does not share this with researchers below the census tract level, and other public sources are limited. There are few private sources of this data, generally limited to newer buildings (not often affordable enough) or within very limited geographies.
The central benefit of having a non-profit entity, whether a land trust or a non-profit organization, be supported to acquire is the removal of property from the speculative market. Moreover, ownership by these entities puts them in a position of control over the future development of these sites, increasing the chances that truly affordable housing gets developed, even if they must do so in partnership with other parties.
The acquisition policy database is global in scope but has particular focus on North America within Canada and the United States. This is particularly relevant given the federated nature of the Canadian and United States governments on the issue of housing. As a result, we look at municipal, provincial/state, and federal programs in detail. We also have coverage in Europe and Asia. One point of note is that very few acquisition strategies have been observed in smaller population centers, though this need not be the case.
While funding is a key means of accelerating the success of an acquisition strategy, it is not the only strategy. In fact, municipalities can launch an effective acquisition strategy without guaranteed long-term funding. Pilot programs have proven effective, and often become critical points of data to use when presenting the case for funding to higher orders of government. Secondarily, there are non-capital strategies such as the implementation of a Right of First Refusal for non-profits (with capital) to have a seat at the table when strategically valuable properties come on the market. Even having a strategy for monitoring properties can be a key tool for supporting acquisition. You can find more detailed information in our How-To Guides.
Acquisition is often mistaken as merely a means of protecting existing units, but acquisition is first and foremost a land acquisition policy. This can provide critical support to efforts implementing land back programs, while also providing much needed housing in a way that is consistent with for Indigenous by Indigenous. Acquisition can also support the development of the social housing sector as a powerful housing provider, rather than just a ‘manager’, and can even support the development of pools of social capital which are particularly underdeveloped in Canada (relative to the US).