Policy Implications

How can communities across the country use the HART tools to initiate policy change?

HART has produced a series of tools to help communities understand and address their housing need, but translating data into policy impacts can be challenging. The policy implications we’ve compiled provide an expansive view of the opportunities available to different communities wishing to improve housing outcomes.

Challenges and opportunities for different communities

Large cities (100,000+)

Large cities face high land values, more households in inadequate housing, and extreme shelter cost increases in the last decade. They also have large urban planning or housing departments with the capacity to do data and policy development in-house.

Policy implications:

  • Zoning Reform
  • Leasing Government land for non-profit housing
  • Streamlining complex approval mechanisms
  • Acquisitions for preserving affordability
Suburban and Ex-urban communities

Suburban and ex-urban communities face increasing land values and rapidly increasing shelter costs as a result of increased demand from people “driving until they qualify”. They often have fewer resources to respond to this demand, but benefit from more streamlined partnerships as a result of smaller networks. Because land values have not yet reached city levels, there is greater viability of non-profit projects.

Policy implications:

  • Zoning Reform
  • Leasing Government land for non-profit housing
  • Building capacity of planning departments
  • Acquisitions for preserving affordability
  • Densification to protect agricultural and conservation lands
Rural, northern, and indigenous communities

Rural, northern and indigenous communities face extremely high rates of inadequate housing, and struggle to add supply due to additional cost of bringing in workers and materials to build. While land values are much lower than in larger communities, so are incomes and government revenues. These communities benefit from strong community attachment and a local labour force, which can be particularly useful for some policy mechanisms.

Policy implications:

  • Building capacity of planning departments
  • Review of pre-fabricated modular housing, which particularly benefits rural and northern communities

Creating subtargets and policies addressing them

HART’s tools suggest an approach used by an increasing number of local governments, which is to create sub-targets based on income categories, towards a goal of ending homelessness and providing affordable and adequate housing for all.

We also suggest For Indigenous By Indigenous sub-targets for non-market housing (the proportion would depend on the HNA, but 20% used in Toronto is a good guideline), as well as minimum expectations of 35% 2+ bedroom homes for all new purpose-built rental housing, including 10% 3+ bedroom homes, in order to meet the needs of families.

We lay out here specific policy implications for each income category, separated by each level of government.

Very low income (0-20% of Area Median hh Income)
  • 3% of population
  • 69% in housing need
  • Max rent $420pm

Generally, Very Low Income households are reliant on social assistance or other fixed income. In Canada’s major cities and spillover regions, there is no market housing – not even rooming houses – affordable to this population group. In some rural or declining areas, there may be rental options, but they’re likely to be limited if they do exist. If they are aging in place, they may own a home.

  • Enabling mixed-use co-development of city-owned properties by building housing on top of a government service (like post offices, libraries, fire halls).
  • Creating a process for the disposal or long-term lease of city-owned land assets for the development of affordable housing as-of-right.
  • Partnering with non-profit housing providers to preserve and increase the stock of social and affordable housing – especially rooming houses.
  • Partnering with non-profit housing providers to acquire existing affordable buildings.
  • Promoting regulated multi-tenanted housing forms (e.g. boarding houses or single room occupancy).
  • Implementing rental only zoning.
  • Implementing new/enhanced processes or systems such as case management using By-Name Lists.
  • Encouraging alternative forms of housing construction such as modular housing, manufactured housing, and prefabricated housing.
  • Implementing revised parking requirements such as reduced or eliminated parking spaces for new developments.
  • Implementing incentives like density bonusing, to encourage affordable housing and conversions from non-residential to residential.
  • Reducing and streamlining urban design and character guidelines, by eliminating height restrictions, visual character requirements, view cones, setbacks, etc.
  • Waiving public hearings on all affordable housing projects that conform to the official community plan.
  • Create an Affordable Housing Office to coordinate applications and assist non-profit landowners to develop.
  • Review pre-fabricated modular housing options, which particularly benefits rural and northern communities.
  • Providing well-located provincial/territorial land for affordable housing, including housing on top of health centres, schools, liquor stores, rapid transit stations etc.
  • Allowing local governments right of first refusal to acquire housing at risk of losing affordability.
  • Increasing social assistance to the poverty line/low income cut off (50% of provincial median household income).
  • Providing adequate non-profit funding for vulnerable populations, including those with different cognitive or mental health abilities and those with addictions, high acuity tenants, emergency shelters, senior care including homecare, assisted living and long-term care.
  • Provincial contributions to acquisitions and new build programs.
  • Renter protections from evictions, rent control, rent banks to prevent homelessness.
  • Providing well-located federal land for affordable housing; including Department of National Defence land, post offices, and underutilized office buildings.
  • Drafting multilateral agreements with targets to end homelessness, linking social assistance rate rises to housing benefits and support services to health transfers.
  • Creating a designated non-profit housing financing program, with an emphasis on providing low income housing (preferably 2% financing for 35 years).
  • Allocating retrofit funding for low-cost housing to retain affordability.
  • HST exemptions for deeply affordable housing.
Low income (21-50% of Area Median hh Income)
  • 18% of population
  • 37% in housing need
  • Max rent $1,050pm

Generally, Low Income households are reliant on the equivalent of one full time minimum wage (One-quarter of Canadian adults earn within $3 of minimum wage). In Canada’s major cities and especially in the north, there is virtually no market housing affordable to this population group. In some smaller communities or declining areas, there may be some available market-rent housing that is affordable, but not new build. First-time homeownership is not an option for these households, although older homeowners may be aging in place, and non-profit housing is not affordable without some further subsidy in most jurisdictions.

  • All of the above with less emphasis on case management and multi-tenant housing such as rooming houses, or housing types such as tiny homes.
  • While there are some very low income households that have children, it is low income households that most need affordable large units. So implementing land use changes mandating a minimum number of family units (units with more than two bedrooms) or allowing for office conversions to residential with minimum family unit requirements will help.
  • There is still a need to subsidize homes beyond savings from using government land and non-profit development, as well as eliminating of application fees, development charges and property taxes.
  • All of the above plus Increasing minimum wage to an amount that allows adequate affordable housing.
  • All of the above
Moderate income (51-80% of Area Median hh Income)
  • 18% of population
  • 11% in housing need
  • Max rent $1,680pm

Generally, Moderate Income households are working in professions such as healthcare, education, construction, including single-earner households. In Canada’s major cities, there is little market housing affordable to this population group. First-time homeownership is not an option for these households, although older homeowners may be aging in place, but older non-profit housing could be affordable.

  • All of the above; it is at this level that further housing benefit or other subsidy may not be necessary to provide affordable rents.
  • Promoting infill developments (adding new units to existing communities) with increased housing density and a variety of unit types (e.g. duplexes or secondary suites).
  • Implementing disincentives, costing or fee structures to discourage such things as unit vacancy, underdeveloped/ idle land, and low-density forms of housing.
  • Aligning development charges with the costs of infrastructure and servicing without disproportionately relying on new build instead of existing residents.
  • All of the above.
  • All of the above plus: Tax exemptions (e.g. accelerated depreciation) for market rental, with additional tax incentives for moderate-income affordable housing.
Median income (81-120% of Area Median hh Income)

Median Income households have a range of household income sources, often with two earners. In Canada’s major cities, new market rental is still sometimes unaffordable. First-time homeownership is generally not an option for these households in large cities, although spillover or declining communities may have more affordable homeownership. Non-profit housing will be affordable without any further subsidy.

  • 21% of population
  • 1% in housing need
  • Max rent $2,520pm
  • All of the above; Median income households may still need to access non-market housing, particularly larger households. Their rents may be able to cross-subsidize lower-income households.
  • Median income households require more purpose-built rental options.
  • Delegated approvals may still be necessary.
  • All of the above.
  • All of the above.
High income (120%+ of Area Median hh Income)
  • 40% of population
  • ~0% in housing need
  • Max rent over $2,520pm

High Income households are quite often older adult households with a range of income sources, including two earner households. In some of Canada’s larger cities, first-time homeownership may not be attainable to some higher-income households, and larger affordable rental options may be hard to find even for higher income households.

  • Ownership options may still not be affordable for many higher income households. Rental (and possibly limited-equity homeownership with perpetual affordability through a community land trust) should be pursued in new home development.
  • All of the above including renter protections
  • All of the above including financing and tax exemptions for both non-market and market rental.

If you’d like to discuss these policy implications, or how your community can better support housing outcomes, please get in touch. We also have our innovation map that shows how other communities across Canada have made impacts on housing affordability already.

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