By: Joshua Evans, Research Lead
Today it is common knowledge that housing is a social determinant of health and a key ingredient in the well-being of individuals and communities. Moreover, housing, like education and health care, is now widely seen as a human right. Yet, a significant number of Edmontonians are regularly denied access to housing due to factors such as low income, racism and physical impairment. This is a fundamental injustice. How can we realign our housing system so that it promotes well-being and respects the right to dignity for all?
The scale and scope of this question can be overwhelming but this should not dissuade us from tackling it head-on in Edmonton. The Affordable Housing Solutions Lab (AHSL) was created for this purpose. The goal of the AHSL is to empower Edmontonians to innovate, co-create and develop effective, local housing solutions that promote social inclusion and fulfill the right to housing. This goal has been set in response to the chronic shortage of affordable housing in the city and growing concerns around the adequacy and diversity of housing choices available to vulnerable and marginalized populations.
In this regard, we see ourselves as a catalyst: situated on Treaty 6 territory, traditional lands of First Nations and Métis people, we exist to enable the expansion of safe, affordable and adequate housing choices in Edmonton and beyond. Central to our work is a focus on non-market housing: that is housing, rented or owned, that has rental or mortgage payments below average market costs. This type of housing typically requires subsidies and more often than not is managed by non-profit organizations, cooperatives, or government.
While research is a core feature of our mission the approach we take is unique. We are a laboratory but not in the conventional sense of the term: we are a social innovation lab. Social innovation labs are spaces (not always physical) for people to come together and work on complex social challenges and come up with innovative solutions. They involve diverse stakeholders, especially those with lived experience; they are experimental (trying out new things, learning from mistakes as well as successes); and they look at problems through a systems lens to try and identify and address the root causes.
As a social innovation lab, our work is grounded in a community-based action approach and an equity-centered community design framework. We work in partnership with a diverse group of housing stakeholders to collectively generate and scale up transformational housing solutions suited to the specific needs of individuals, families and neighbourhoods in Edmonton. We are one space in the community where citizens can work collectively to identify our local housing needs and co-develop creative and well-matched solutions for the public benefit.
The work of the AHSL is continuing this summer (2020) during a period of unprecedented social disruption and uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic challenges facing Alberta are significant; however, they pose a disproportionate threat to the well-being of the socially and economically marginalized. To successfully navigate through this adversity we must think strategically while not abandoning the most vulnerable. An equitable housing system that provides adequate, accessible and affordable housing to all will be essential to the well-being and success of Edmonton. We invite you to join us in our work towards this end.