The Financialization of Housing: Multi-Family Rentals in Edmonton

The Financialization of Housing: Multi-Family Rentals in Edmonton

Welcome back to Five Days of Financialization. This is the Fifth of Five blogs the AHSL has shared over the past Five days about the Financialization of Housing and what this means for Edmonton.

Like all communities across Canada, Edmonton has a housing problem. And despite many best efforts, this crisis only continues to worsen.

How can we best understand and fix this issue of (in)access to adequate housing?

The key to understanding and effectively addressing our housing crisis is to take a human rights approach (UNHRC 2019).

One way we can apply a rights based approach is by identifying major trends and emerging challenges that negatively impact housing rights (UNHRC 2019, p 20).

One major trend that has been identified as a driver of our prolonged housing crisis, including increasingly unacceptable housing, is the financialization of housing.

In this series we have covered:

How Financialized is Edmonton’s Primary Rental Market?

Based on the work of the AHSL, we found that 37,220 primary rental or multi-family suites in Edmonton were financialized – out of the total rental universe of 78,301 (CMHC).
Estimates as of 2022

CMHC’s Housing Market Information Portal is a great resource for housing data by location i.e. Edmonton CMA, Edmonton CY (City)

Nationwide it is thought that 20% of primary purpose built rental suites are owned by financialized entities (p.iii).

In the City of Edmonton, as of 2022, the AHSL estimates that 48% of all purpose built rental suites are owned by financialized landlords – which could be up to more than double the estimated national average!
Click on the chart below to view

Note: National estimates of financialized multi-family housing range between 20 – 30%. And details on the AHSL’s methodology can be viewed here.

We know that with the financialization of multi-family housing comes less affordable rents (August 2022, ACORN 2022). Edmonton is no different.

Between 2006 and 2016 alone Edmonton lost over 50,000 ‘more affordable market’ rental suites with rents less than $999/month (City & CMA). Looking at Edmonton and the surrounding area:

  • In 2006 81% of all rental suites were less than $999/month
  • In 2016 27% of all rental suites were less than $999/month

The figure below shows average rental wage versus the percentage of multi-family suites owned by financialized landlords in the city of Edmonton between 1990 – 2022:
Click on the figure to expand

Using CMHC’s historical average rents for the city of Edmonton, rental wages were selected for studio apartments, 1 bedroom apartments, 2 bedroom apartments, and row houses with 3 or more bedrooms – which combined represented 91-93% of all primary rentals. Rental wage was calculated by multiplying the average monthly value by 12, and multiplying that value by 3.4 – generating a minimum yearly income required to afford average rent (paying less than 30% of income).

We can see that rises in rental wages seem to coincide with the increase of the amount of financialized multi-family housing. There is also a widening of cost in between each type of rental.

Between 1997 and 2008 rental wage effectively doubled. While Edmonton is often lauded for being affordable, this is not what the data tells us, and this is not the experience of over 68,000 tenant households in Edmonton living in unacceptable housing. And this is especially not the case for women.

For decades, Alberta has maintained the title of the province with the largest gender wage gap across Canada.

If we look at rental wage compared to men’s and women’s average market incomes by age it is clear that women have far less access to housing choices then men as women’s wages have not kept pace with escalating housing costs. This is especially important as this is clearly a barrier for women exiting relationships – further intensified when seeking housing alternatives with children and searching for rental suites with 2 or more bedrooms.

The three graphs below show rental wage for men and women compared with average market income by age. The second chart has the same y axis to show how big the gender wage gap is in Edmonton. The third chart offers a closer look at rental wage and women’s market income.
Click on each graph below to expand

Data source: Statistics Canada. Table 11-10-0239-01  Income of individuals by age group, sex and income source, Canada, provinces and selected census metropolitan areas. Income disaggregated by sex and age was not available for census subdivision (city) so data for Census Metropolitan Area (CMA – Edmonton and surrounding area) was used. Rental wage was calculated using average city rents by year (CMHC).

Realities are even more dire when we look at social assistance rates compared with increasing rental wages:
Click on each graph below to expand

Review panel on the financialization of purpose-built rental housing

The financialization of housing is a key structural driver of our housing crisis in Edmonton.

This is a phenomenon that is largely hidden, secretive, incredibly complex, tedious, confusing, and difficult to understand. This can make it incredibly hard to even begin to identify what is actually going on with housing in our community. In the absence of good information narratives can emerge that are in stark contrast to the realities experienced by households trying to access adequate housing. And takes us even further away from understanding the issues at the heart of our housing crisis, much less solving them.

This is an issue that has caught the attention of the Federal Government.

The National Housing Council just launched its written hearing for the review panel examining the financialization of purpose-built rental housing. The review panel is a new mechanism for rights-based participation – meaning this was intended and created for tenants and households who are most impacted by the financialization of multi-family housing.

Individuals and organizations are encouraged to send in a written submission through mail or email by June 23, 2023.

More details can be found here.

Learn more about the financialization of housing and what this means for Edmonton:

The National Housing Advocate also has excellent resources.

The Financialization of Housing: The Alberta Advantage

The Financialization of Housing: The Alberta Advantage

Why does Edmonton seem to be a magnet for financialized primary or multi-family rental housing?

Like all communities across Canada, Edmonton has a housing problem. And despite many best efforts, this crisis only continues to worsen.

How can we best understand and fix this issue of (in)access to adequate housing?

The key to understanding and effectively addressing our housing crisis is to take a human rights approach (UNHRC 2019).

One way we can apply a rights based approach is by identifying major trends and emerging challenges that negatively impact housing rights (UNHRC 2019, p 20).

One major trend that has been identified as a driver of our prolonged housing crisis, and emerging challenges such as the rise of unacceptable housing, is the financialization of housing.

The Tenant Landscape in Edmonton

Of all tenant households living in private primary rental housing in the city of Edmonton in 2021, the AHSL estimates:

  • 51% live in secondary rental suites (orange pie piece below)
  • 49% live in primary rental housing (green pie piece below)
    • 23% in financialized rental suites (dark blue bar below)
      47% of primary rental tenants
    • 26% in non-financialized rental suites (light blue bar below)
      53% of primary rental tenants
Click on image above to enlarge.
Sources: (CMHC, Statistics Canada)

Note: Primary rental housing means housing that is purpose built to be rental housing, such as apartment buildings or row house complexes (more details here).

As of 2022, the AHSL estimates that 48% of primary rental suites are financialized*.

Nationwide it is thought that 20%** of primary purpose built rental suites are owned by financialized entities.

Sources: AHSL 2023, August 2022 p.iii

The Alberta ‘Advantage’

There are a number of factors that make Alberta, and Edmonton, a highly sought after location for current and future financialized owners:

  1. 31% of current MLAs in Alberta are landlords, or have spouses who are landlords. This is more than double the estimated rate of any other province across Canada (including Ontario, British Colombia, and Saskatchewan (Mastracci 2021).
  2. Alberta is one of the few remaining provinces that has yet to sign an agreement with Statistics Canada for inclusion in the Canadian Housing Statistics Program – a dataset that addresses some significant housing data gaps including the frequency and timeliness of housing data as well as housing characteristics, property owner details, and how ownership is financed.
  3. As of December 2022, Alberta and the Territories are the only regional jurisdictions that have yet to begin any work on creating a beneficial ownership registry. And Alberta is the only region that has been publicly dismissive of the results, and implications for Alberta, from the Expert Panel on Money Laundering in BC Real Estate’s 2019 Report – Combatting Money Laundering.
    Learn more about this here.
  4. In 2021, the provincial government in Alberta created bill 78. This bill makes privatizing and selling off at least 26,100 homes (half of Alberta’s non-market housing) possible. Even though ‘affordable’ rental housing created by private developers is not actually affordable. And tenants reliant on social or non-market housing do not have alternative housing choices (Hearne & Murphy 2018; Farha et al. 2022 p.2). While details have still yet to be provided on the claim that bill 78 will create 25,000 more homes over 10 years, at minimum this would add a further deficit of 1,100 non-market homes (adding to already cumbersome wait lists in Alberta, which include over 6,000 households in Edmonton alone).
  5. There is no land transfer tax in Alberta – only registration fees.
  6. There is no HST in Alberta (only GST) – a draw for acquisitions or new developments, as well as monthly rent collection.
  7. Alberta is the only province in Canada that offers residential mortgages that are non-recourse on a wide scale. Referred to as ‘jingle mail‘, borrowers with mortgage loans with a minimum of a 20%* down payment can walk away from the home the loan was taken out for – after the house is relinquished no other assets can be seized by the lender.
    *Meaning loans uninsured by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
  8. Tenant laws in Alberta are some of the weakest across Canada and are more protective of landlords – heightening tenants’ vulnerabilities and dependence on landlords for security of tenure.
    • Areas that have weak or no rent control at all, such as the case of Alberta, are highly sought after by housing investors (p.11).
      • Landlords in Alberta cannot increase rents more than once every 12 months, but there are no limits on the amounts of rental increases. Unlike rental subsidies – which are capped.
    • Eviction orders are relatively easy for landlords to access, especially in the case of being unable afford one’s housing–which is in fact, a human rights violation.
      • There are cases where landlords have used rental increases or cancelling a tenant’s direct rent supplement as a tool to passively evict a tenant rather than fulfill their duty to accommodate a resident’s disability/disabilities.
    • It was only in 2018 that age became a protected ground, and condominiums still have until 2032 to address this.
    • There is still no mandatory pet legislation in Alberta – pets are completely up to the discretion of landlords. Where allowed, steep additional fees (large damage deposits or ongoing monthly fees) are often cost prohibitive.
    • Residents in mobile home communities have no tenant security protection under provincial legislation (Lund 2021).
    • Private landlord blacklists of tenants are rampant despite their illegality – due to the misappropriation of private information (Personal Information Protection Act, PIPA) and the clear violation of privacy rights (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, FOIP Act). Landlord blacklists are also an additional violation of human rights by also blocking access to adequate housing.
      • PIPA and Alberta’s FOIP Act are regulations that are provincially unique, and should be effective here.
        • However the onus is on renters to know/suspect they are on a list and to file a privacy complaint – and investigations can take up to 12 months.
        • In the meantime private lists can be easily deleted only to then pop up somewhere else on a number of social media platforms.
  9. Compared to other cities across Canada, Edmonton and Calgary rank high in conditions favorable to developers.
  10. Council at the City of Edmonton recently voted to give landlords who own rental buildings with 4 or more suites an 11.7% tax cut over the next 5 years without any regulation or stipulation on tenant affordability.
    • Despite:
      • Multifamily (apartment and row homes) completions intended for the rental market already being the highest proportion of all completions in 2021 and 2022 (39.4% and 43.1%).
      • And even with high vacancy rates in 2021 and 2022 (7.1% and 7.2%) multifamily rental suites had close to the same number of housing starts as single family dwellings in 2022.
    • The AHSL estimates that around half of the recipients of this tax cut, ~48%, will be financialized owners. The remaining 52%, being non-financialized owners (of primary rental housing).

Click on each graph below to enlarge:

Learn more about the financialization of housing and what this means for Edmonton:

The National Housing Advocate also has excellent resources.

The Financialization of Housing: The role of transparency

The Financialization of Housing: The role of transparency

Without knowing who actually owns our housing, how can we understand what is really going on? And how can we hold owners and landlords accountable to tenants? Find out why it is so hard to trace ownership, and how this impacts our housing crisis.

Like all communities across Canada, Edmonton has a housing problem. And despite many best efforts, this crisis only continues to worsen.

How can we best understand and fix this issue of (in)access to adequate housing?

The key to understanding and effectively addressing our housing crisis is to take a human rights approach (UNHRC 2019).

One way we can apply a rights based approach is by identifying major trends and emerging challenges that negatively impact housing rights (UNHRC 2019, p 20).

One major trend that has been identified as a driver of our prolonged housing crisis, and emerging challenges such as the rise of unacceptable housing, is the financialization of housing.

The Importance of Transparency

Despite the monumental impact the financialization of housing continues to have on our housing system and prolonged housing crisis, we still lack good data on the scale and volume of financialized ownership.

While some entities are publicly traded and share investor information openly, it can be difficult to trace ownership due to name changes, acquisitions through subsidiary companies as well as the use of numbered companies on titles. This is not by chance.

A legal tool often used is beneficial ownership. Any person or company can own property anonymously under a different name. The title can be written for a (numbered) company, (blind) trust, or even another person – a ‘straw man.’

At best, this obscures who the real owners of residential properties are – those who have the most to gain from the financialization of rental housing. At worst, this lack of transparency and accountability can result in tax evasion or money laundering, where a buyer may provide an all cash offer above asking price.

This issue has become so bad that Canada has become known as an international haven for tax avoidance and money laundering – described as ‘snow washing.’

In 2016, Transparency Canada shared the results of analyzing land titles of the top 100 most expensive homes in Vancouver to see if they could identify the owners. Almost half were held through beneficial ownership – 1/3 through shell companies.

In 2019 The Expert Panel on Money Laundering in BC Real Estate estimated that during the previous year, 72% of dirty money was laundered through real estate in British Columbia. Which resulted in a 5% increase in the cost of housing that same year.

The Expert Panel also found that across Canada, Alberta by far had the highest concentration of money laundering – an estimated $10.2 Billion in 2015 (p. 126) – 25% of the national estimate of $41.3 Billion (p. 47).

Click on the chart above to enlarge.
Data: The Expert Panel on Money Laundering in BC Real Estate. Combatting Money Laundering in Real Estate. 2019, p.126.

In Edmonton, the use of beneficial ownership through straw buyers, facilitated an unprecedented case of mortgage fraud (estimated around $30 million) that unfolded in the courts between 2005 – 2010. The fraud involved 125 properties, was the largest case of fraud in Alberta to date, and was also the first time a Canadian was convicted of economic fraud on behalf of a criminal organization.

Without being in the middle of a housing crisis it is unlikely this mortgage fraud could have unfolded in the way and to extent that it did. A continually growing number of households are unable to access adequate housing in Edmonton. Between the impacts of varying forms of financialization, structural barriers, and decades of chronic underfunding and investment by the province and federal governments, marginalized members of our community are left vulnerable to exploitation and are forced to self resolve. Either through encampments or by securing the only housing that may be available with the only landlord willing – again, without having access to adequate housing choices.

This ongoing housing crisis is also why neighborhoods and stably housed residents still continue to feel the impacts of this case, more than a decade later – by experiencing our housing crisis second-handedly. And without a clear understanding of the factors listed above, including the spillover effects of one’s housing needs still being unmet while living under a slumlord or in an encampment, this issue is often mistakenly individualized.

Today it still seems like effective deterrents are almost non-existent:

  • Real estate agents, brokers or developers are not obliged to do checks on beneficial ownership or on a buyer’s source of funds.
  • Transactions can be arranged by lawyers who are exempt from Anti-Money Laundering laws.
  • Even where reporting bodies do have rights and responsibilities, self-regulatory bodies seem largely ineffective with poor rates of compliance
    • Something regulatory agencies seem unbothered by.
  • Very few cases of money laundering cases go to trial, many of which collapse.
  • Federal agencies – FINTRAC and the RCMP – are incapable of effectively investigating money laundering.

However, there is one positive development of note. This past March, the federal government finally announced proposed legislation aimed at creating a beneficial ownership registry. Collaboration across jurisdictions will be a key in the success of any efforts.

In advance of this long awaited development, the province of British Columbia had already passed legislation (2020) and created their own land registry. Québec has plans to share a public registry. Most have done some work towards establishing a beneficial ownership registry, with the exception of the Territories and Alberta – Alberta also being the only government to publicly question the results (and likely the unsettling implications) of the Expert Panel.

Learn more about the financialization of housing and what this means for Edmonton:

The National Housing Advocate also has excellent resources.

The Financialization of Housing: What types exist?

The Financialization of Housing: What types exist?

To unpack and make sense of our housing crisis in Edmonton, learn about 8 ways housing is financialized with local examples. Which include: Mortgages; Single-Family Rentals; Multi-Family Rentals; Seniors’ Housing; Social Housing; Student Housing; Short-Term Rentals; & Mobile Home Communities.

Like all communities across Canada, Edmonton has a housing problem. And despite many best efforts, this crisis only continues to worsen.

How can we best understand and fix this issue of (in)access to adequate housing?

The key to understanding and effectively addressing our housing crisis is to take a human rights approach (UNHRC 2019).

One way we can apply a rights based approach is by identifying major trends and emerging challenges that negatively impact housing rights (UNHRC 2019, p 20).

One major trend that has been identified as a driver of our prolonged housing crisis, and emerging challenges such as the rise of unacceptable housing, is the financialization of housing.

How can we make sense of the Financialization of Housing?

To understand the financialization of housing, it can be helpful to recognize that what we know of housing tangibly and physically is only a fraction of how housing actually continues to exist in the world.

Investors have taken housing as we (still) know it, as the basis to create other items that are worth much more than the (re)sale value of the home itself.

There are many ways housing has been financialized, through a number of different forms including:

  • Mortgages
  • Single-Family Rentals
  • Multi-Family Rentals
  • Seniors’ Housing
  • Social Housing
  • Student Housing
  • Short-Term Rentals
  • Mobile Home Communities

More details about the 8 ways housing is financialized are included below:


Financialization of Mortgages: packaging homeowner loans (debt) as items (called ‘securities’) to be traded.

Also known to be the instigator of housing bubbles (Walks 2014).
*see graph at the very bottom of this section below.

Heightening Our Housing Crisis

“Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) Explained in One Minute”
  • Public policy changes in late 2006/early 2007 led to private lenders “securitizing as many mortgages as they could into MBS [mortgage backed securities] and selling them to CMHC/CHT [Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation / Canadian Housing Trust]” (pgs 264 -265).
  • This lowered lending standards as lenders who securitized mortgages were not responsible for these debts – they bundled mortgage debts together and sold them off as a package to CMHC/CHT. Instead of the usual standard of 5% down payment and 25 year amortization period, mortgages were issued without down payments and with 40 year amortization periods (pg 265).
  • Many households, who previously did not quality, were drawn into homeownership.
    • In just 2 short years mortgage debt in Canada grew by 30% from $628 billion to $828 billion (pg 265).
    • By 2009 30% of Canadian mortgage debt was securitized.
  • Pausing with the onset of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 (and due to the federal government using public funds to bail out lenders, through CMHC (Walks 2014)), the results of this included inflated housing prices unattached to income and record rates of household debt (a ‘housing bubble’) (Walks 2014, Kalman-Lamb 2017, August 2022).

  • Highlighted by the graph below, the impact on Edmonton has been sobering, and is illustrative of why our current housing crisis continues to worsen.
    • In just 3 years the average cost of an absorbed (newly built and sold upon completion) single family dwelling in the City of Edmonton Doubled (between 2005-2008).
  • Since 2009, these trends have only worsened:
    • We can see below there was already another housing bubble peaking around 2015.
    • Incomes are even further disconnected from housing costs, not only for homeownership but also for tenants:
      • Rents doubled between 1998 – 2008
      • Rents also increased another 50% between 2012 – 2015.
    • Wealth gaps have also continuously widened, especially between tenant and homeowner households.
    • Since 2015, rates of first time homeownership have been decreasing while housing prices continue to outpace incomes (2022)
    • In 2020 investors purchased between 20-30% of homes (2023),
    • And from 2014 to 2021, 1/5 of every newly issued mortgage was for an investor (2022)

Click here for a larger view of the graph below.

  • If we look at the changes in Edmonton over the last 30 years between the average price of a single detached absorbed house (city) and average employment income (cma – disaggregated by sex and age) we see that incomes have not at all kept pace with housing costs (click on graphs below to view):
    Note: absorbed meaning recently built and sold

Data: Statistics Canada & CMHC

Single-Family Rental

Single-Family Rental (SFR):
Investors and institutional owners purchase single family homes for the sole purpose of being investment properties – and to be rented out to tenants (August 2022, p5). These homes are not purpose built nor intended for the rental market, and are a part of the secondary rental market (2016). Blackstone’s model is credited as establishing SFRs as an asset class (UNHCR / Reply).

Following the 2008 financial crisis in the United States, vulture funds and investors (who had a hand in the creation of the financial crisis) purchased large swaths of single family rentals at ‘bargain prices‘ from underneath households who defaulted on sub-prime mortgages issued by predatory lenders. In some cases these landlords even rented the same home back to the same household (i.e. Detroit).

Tenants living in SFRs typically deal with a number of housing stressors including security of tenure and affordability challenges. And institutional owners of SFRs have higher eviction rates compared with other landlords (August 2022, p5).

Of Note:

  • In 2021 the first institutional investor, Core Development Group, announced their intention to spend $1 Billion investing in 4000 family homes through SFR
  • The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP is the federal employee pension plan) is also spending $1 Billion on SFR, but in the United States
  • Epic Alliance, a real estate company created in 2013, attracted 120 investors through an SFR scheme. Last year the company collapsed, $10 million has disappeared, over 500 homes are impacted, and investigations are ongoing (2022)

In Edmonton

We have very limited information about our secondary rental market.
(click here for the infographic shown on the right)

Using the most recent data from 2016, 55% of tenants were estimated to be living in secondary housing in the Census Metropolitan Area of Edmonton (CMA): ~1/3 were living in single family rental suites (~25,000 households).

By definition, the entire secondary rental market is investor owned. However, due to data gaps and a number of additional reasons that will be discussed later this week, it is incredibly difficult to know how much of our secondary rental market in Edmonton is financialized. And of that, the proportion of single family rentals.

With these limitations in mind, searching for vacancies through any number of online rental search engines or websites provides an overarching sense of SFRs. Many SFRs appear to be investment infills. However patterns of ownership are not clear. And utilities are rarely inclusive.

A number of 3rd party management companies seem to be involved with SFRs – especially for SFRs that are fully furnished, and even less affordable.

Many 3rd parties seem to offer owners the free service of inspecting an investment property to speculate what could be charged for rent. Along with an open offer of providing property management services for a fee of ~10 – 20% of monthly collected rent

The contact information for perspective tenants for a number of SFR’s appear to be real estate companies. Without effective regulation, real estate companies are afforded the mutually beneficial opportunity to concurrently speculate on property sales and tenant housing costs.

Much more work needs to be done here to really understand what is going on with SFRs and investors in Edmonton.

Multi-Family Rental

Multi-Family Rental: Apartment buildings and/or row house complexes are purchased, or built, by financial firms. These suites become units for investment and strategies are used to maximize returns on investment and profits for investors, shareholders and management. All of which is prioritized above tenant needs.
Learn more about financialized multi-family rental housing in Canada here.

The financialization of multi-family housing has resulted in record increases in shelter costs for tenants with no end in sight – while (tenant) incomes remain largely flat. This trend is especially catastrophic in Alberta because there is no rent control on rental increase amounts, nor caps on regulated utilities.

Many financialized owners such as Boardwalk (REIT) or Mainstreet (REOC) accept payment for shelter costs through credit card. This may allow tenants to temporarily make up for growing shortfalls between income and rent – but in the end tenants end up paying even more for already unaffordable shelter costs and are left saddled with escalating credit card debt.

In just 10 short years, Edmonton has lost over 50,000 ‘more affordable market’ rental suites with rents less than $999/month – both within the city as well as the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA). In 2006, 81% of suites were less than $999/month – which dropped down to only 27% in 2016 (CMA).

The figure below (click here to enlarge) shows these profound shelter cost affordability losses graphed alongside the increasing proportion of primary rental suites that have become financialized over the last 15 years:

Notes: (1) Shelter costs by tenure (%) were not available for the city of Edmonton for 2021, so CMA data was used instead (CMHC, Statistics Canada). CMA and city shelter costs were very comparable for the 2006 and 2016 censes (less than 2% difference between shelter cost categories).
(2) Shelter costs included all tenant households living in both primary and secondary rental suites.
(3) The AHSL estimated the number of primary suites that were financialized (acquired or built by financialized owners) in the city of Edmonton over time. To calculate the % of primary rental housing that was financialized in the city of Edmonton, AHSL estimates were divided by the total number of primary rental suites in the rental universe for the city of Edmonton by year (CMHC).

Although the impacts of the financialization of multi-family housing have been devastating for many households, neighborhoods and communities, it is important to remember that this is still a relatively new phenomenon.

The table below summarizes the drastic differences in primary rental housing in Edmonton comparing 1992 (with minimal financialization of multi-family rental housing) to 2022:

(# suites)
(# suites)
Asset Managers
(# suites)

ized firms
(# suites)
Total 1º
(# suites)
1º (%)27.7%6.9%13.2%47.7%
The number of primary (1º) rental suites owned by financialized firms in the city of Edmonton in 1992 and in 2022, and the % of primary rental suites owned by financialized firms in 2022.
Note: The far-right column is the total number of 1º rental suites by year (CMHC). The bottom row is the % of 1º rental suites that were financialized in 2022.
  • In 1992 asset managers held 0.2% of primary rental housing in the city of Edmonton while Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and publicly traded Real Estate Operating Companies (REOCs) owned zero (see 1st row in table above).
  • By the end of last year (Dec. 31, 2022), financialized primary housing included 47.7% of all primary rental suites in the city of Edmonton with REITs owning 27.7%, Asset Managers holding 13.2% and REOCs with 6.9% of private market primary rentals.

Reflecting national and international trends, investment sales in Edmonton during Covid surged, multi-family sales being a key driver.

As a result, between 2020 and 2022 in the city of Edmonton:

  • Financialized ownership of primary rentals increased 21.9% with the addition of 6700 suites
    • Financialized ownership of primary apartment suites increased from 43.8% to 47.7% (of all primary rental apartments across the city)
    • Financialized ownership of row housing suites increased from 35.5% to 54.0% (of all primary rental row homes across the city)

Seniors’ Housing

The Financialization of Senior’s Housing has been driven by the privatization of senior’s long term care facilities (LTCs), and neoliberal agendas pushing to privatize and reform health care (August 2022).
Learn more about financialized Seniors’ housing in Canada here.

The financialized model of Senior’s housing is based on extracting and accumulating profits (including government subsidies). Which means that prioritizing resident care is incomprehensible.

When the underlying goal of maintaining a good and dignified quality of life is usurped by maximizing private profit, quality of care becomes compromised for patients in health care settings and residents in facilities (Brown 2022).

This is reflected by minimal investment which reduces resident health and well-being, while producing poorer labor conditions – often off the backs of staff who are racialized women.

This lower level of care is also more expensive for residents (out of pocket) as well as public funders with increasing costs across the health care sector – including LTCs along with retirement homes, and collective residences with varying levels of resident care (Brown 2022).

In Edmonton, to mitigate the exorbitant amount of monthly fees for private housing, many seniors entered into life leases with Christenson Communities. Following a fire, some were displaced and waited months for their payout, only to find a significant amount deducted (2022).

The effects of the financialization of Senior’s Housing were devastating during Covid with the extreme loss of life of residents in LTCs operated by financialized owners – which could have been largely mitigated.

While non-profit LTCs provided care above and beyond what was even funded (i.e. in British Columbia, an additional 80,000 hours) for-profit homes did not even provide the hours they were funded for (Brown 2022, p.21).

Meanwhile financialized owner executives and shareholders acted accordingly with their model. While mortality rates spiked they took for themselves government funds intended to resource a resident prioritized response to COVID-19 (Wallace et. al. 2020).

It has been estimated that 42% of retirement and 22% of long-term care homes are financialized (August 2022, p.5).

In Edmonton, there are a number of financialized senior’s housing owners. Including Chartwell, Optima Living (& Axium Infrastructure), Christenson Group, Revera, and Atria. Boardwalk also has a mixed apartment complex with seniors retirement apartments.

Edmonton’s senior’s housing has been a longtime target for financialized owners, and the pandemic has not been a deterrent.

This has had a significant impact on costs. By example, seniors living in market rental standard spaces (not requiring high level care) have had significant rental increases over a relatively short amount of time:

  • In 2009, 27.1% of standard spaces had rents costing $2500 or more per month.
  • In 2021, 71.1%% of standard spaces had rents costing $2500 or more per month.

More details about these step increases in rents are highlighted in the graph below (click here to enlarge):
Data: CMHC Housing Information Portal

Social Housing

Social Housing: social (or non-market) housing exists in perpetuity – it is meant to be protected by remaining outside of the speculative (and unregulated) private market indefinitely.

The stock of non-market housing in Canada is already severely insufficient (demonstrated by waitlists). Commodifying, privatizing and/or selling any social housing when we are already at a deficit, let alone to investors, intensifies housing crises and homelessness. First, by taking away housing that were already a lifeline for too few tenants who have no where else to go. Secondly, as shelter costs in the private rental market will be skewed upwards – by higher rents attached to the volume of suites joining the private rental market.

Over the last few years some ‘affordable’ housing projects have been built through new federal programs and dedicated federal funds. However, it turns out that the majority of this new affordable housing is actually unaffordable for tenants (over half of these funds went to private developers (NHC 2022).

The majority of non-market housing was built in Canada around 50 years ago. Funds for non-market were never set aside for repairs nor maintenance.

In 2021, under the guise of the state of repair of non-market housing, the provincial government in Alberta created bill 78. This bill makes privatizing and selling off roughly half of Alberta’s non-market housing possible – 26,100 homes.

The claim was this will create 25,000 more homes – which at best would result in a further deficit of 1,100 non-market homes. With what can only be best described as magical thinking, details have yet to be provided to demonstrate how this could be done.
More background information on this here.

In Edmonton, as of 2021:

  • Over 6000 households are on Civida’s social housing wait list – even more are on social housing wait lists through other providers.
  • 68,490 tenant households are living in *unacceptable housing, more than double the 32,525 tenant households in core need (Statistics Canada)
    *Unacceptable housing is like core need (unaffordable (more than 30% of hh income), unsuitable (crowded by NOS standards) AND/OR inadequate (major state of repair)). BUT with the inclusion of households (HHs) with higher shelter costs than income, student HHs & without assuming relocation to ‘more affordable’ housing is an option / results in actually accessing affordable housing.

Student Housing

Student Housing: The financialization of housing has also materialized an an asset class of (off-campus) purpose built rentals for post-secondary students (‘PBSAs’).

Not only has this added to the gentrification of neighborhoods and intensified already increasing debt loads for students, much of this housing is not affordable either (August 2022, Revington & August 2019, Revington & Benhocine 2023).

In Edmonton

  • In 2020 Alignvest Student Housing REIT arrived in Edmonton by purchasing a building on 110 Street and Whyte Avenue. Rebranded as 1Ten on Whyte (fully furnished student housing), this building was formerly known as St. John’s Institute – initially developed as a residence for students enrolled at the University of Alberta of Ukrainian descent.

Short-Term Rentals

Short-term rentals: the acquisition or development of investment properties as short-term rentals is another key piece that is changing the landscape of rental housing for tenants.

Tenants living in areas with short-term rentals often deal with higher rental costs.

The threat of conversion of a long-term rental to a short-term accommodation because an investor can turn around a higher profit adds additional stressors threatening security of tenure for tenants. Properties used for less than 30 day occupancy are taken off the rental market and are inaccessible to local long-term tenants.

Short term rentals play a part in ‘hollowing-out’ cities from tourism displacing local residents.

Recently 7 people tragically lost their lives in an apartment fire in Old Montréal – 6 of which had organized their accommodation through Airbnb. These short-term rentals were operating illegally without provincial short-term accommodation licenses (along with unaddressed safety issues).

While investigation is still ongoing, what we do know is that the named owner Emile Benamor is a lawyer who has pled guilty to tax evasion, and has been linked to organized crime. It also appears he was in the process of pushing long-term tenants out in order to sign new leases with Airbnb hosts.

An additional layer of complexity with regulating short-term rentals are effective mechanisms to prevent short-term rentals operating illegally. This tragic case highlights regulatory gaps as (undiscerning) short-term rental platforms do not screen unlicensed owners, and municipalities do not have access to intermediary data. In addition, transparency and accountability is even harder to come by as there is a disconnect between owners and hosts – and owners can maintain anonymity by the use of hosts.

In Edmonton

As of April 27, 2023, the number of short-term rentals in Edmonton* includes:

  • 921 houses
  • 649 apartments
  • 412 secondary suites
    *Based on Airbnb, screened for suites with kitchens (suites could otherwise be long-term rentals)

Owners of short term rentals in Edmonton are meant to register for a business license. It is hard to know how many of the above are registered as the city’s open dataset of businesses licenses omitted short term rental accommodations.

Mobile Home Communities

Manufactured or Mobile Home Communities (MHCs) have been identified by financialized entities as ‘recession proof‘ investments (August 2022, p.6). A form of housing associated with lower shelter costs, residents of MHCs with financialized owners may have to deal with:

  • Lot rental fees
  • Rising service costs
  • Higher utility fees

There also appears to be a trend of mass evictions of residents from MHCs (Lund 2021). Either as an alternative to doing major repairs for owners, and/or when the land the MHC is located on is going to be redeveloped.

In Alberta residential tenancy law does not extend to residents of MHCs (Lund 2021). As a result residents are even more vulnerable to eviction and displacement.

As of 2018 in East Edmonton, over 860 residents living in Maple Oak Ridge were forced to live with unaddressed and long-standing safety issues as well as maintenance neglect (2018). Reliant on housing with lower shelter costs, residents cannot afford nor are able to do maintenance and repair required by the owner themselves.

Note: The owner of Maple Oak Ridge is Parkbridge Investment Group – which was purchased in 2010 by British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI/BCIMc), a provincial pension fund investor.

Parkridge owns 2 additional MHCs in Edmonton – Evergreen and Jubilee Landing – as well as Willow Park Estates in Leduc and Parkland Village in Spruce Grove.

Note: this blog was updated May 8, 2023

Learn more about the financialization of housing and what this means for Edmonton:

The National Housing Advocate also has excellent resources.

The Financialization of Housing: What Is It?

The Financialization of Housing: What Is It?

How can we understand the financialization of housing? What does it mean? And can this help us make sense of our current housing crisis?

Like all communities across Canada, Edmonton has a housing problem. And despite many best efforts, this crisis only continues to worsen.

How can we best understand and fix this issue of (in)access to adequate housing?

The key to understanding and effectively addressing our housing crisis is to take a human rights approach (UNHRC 2019).

One way we can apply a rights based approach is by identifying major trends and emerging challenges that negatively impact housing rights (UNHRC 2019, p 20).

Emerging Challenges

A growing number of households are unable to access housing that is affordable, in a good state of repair and with enough bedrooms (i.e. tenants).

Unacceptable Housing is housing that is directly unaffordable (over 30% of household income towards housing costs) or indirectly unaffordable (living in homes that are ‘more affordable’ because major repairs are needed and/or have fewer bedrooms than what the household needs).

Which in the City of Edmonton (2021) includes:

  • 1 in 3 households (130,885, or 33.0%)
    • Close to 1 in 2 tenant households (68,490 or 47.5%)
    • 1 in 4 owner households (62,400 or 24.7%)
Click on the image above to view what households experiencing unacceptable.housing across Edmonton looks like (credit: Mountain Math).

Major Trends

One key trend that has been identified as a driver of unacceptable housing, and our prolonged housing crisis, is the
financialization of housing.

What Is the Financialization of Housing?

The financialization of housing is the change from understanding housing as a basic need necessary for survival to housing as an item used for investment.

In other words, “when housing is treated as a commodity—a vehicle for wealth and investment—rather than a social good” (OHCHR 2021).

The beginnings of the financialization of housing in Canada can be traced back to the 1980s, alongside the rise of neoliberalism (Walks 2014, Walks & Simone 2016).

However the financialization of housing has really ramped up over the last 20 years (UNHRC 2017, August 2022).

What does this mean?

Seeking other ways to generate wealth outside of the stock markets, protected from downturns (especially after the financial crisis of 2008), investors have made ‘housing’ that alternative.

Consequently, “…massive amounts of global capital have been invested in housing as a commodity, as security for financial instruments that are traded on global markets, and as a means of accumulating wealth (UNHRC 2017, p.1).”

Click on the chart above to enlarge.
Note: Real Estate accounts for the entire right half of the above chart – dark green is commercial real estate ($32.6 tn), dark blue is agricultural land ($35.4 tn), and light blue is residential real estate ($258.5 tn).
Global GDP is dark grey ($84.8 tn).
Source: Savills Research (2020, p.1)

In 2020, the global value of real estate was estimated to be $326.5 trillion – 79% residential real estate ($258.5 trillion).

Real estate was also estimated to be worth 4 times the value of Global GDP.

Globalized markets are not aware of housing as a keystone for individual, household, neighbourhood and community well-being.

As a result of financialization, housing has become detached from:

  • local housing needs, local incomes and local economies
  • “its social function of providing a place to live in security and dignity” (UNHRC 2017, p.3)

Which, in effect, fundamentally “undermines the realization of housing as a human right” (UNHRC 2017, p.3).

So, instead of building homes that meet the adequate housing needs of individuals, households and communities, homes are built for investors, or financialized entities.

Such as:

  • Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)
    • i.e. Boardwalk
  • Publicly Traded Real Estate Operating Companies (REOC)
    • i.e. Mainstreet
  • Private Equity Firms
    • i.e. Hungerford Properties
  • Asset Managers
    • i.e. Petwin Properties
  • Hedge Funds
    • i.e. Blackstone
  • Sovereign Wealth Funds
    • i.e. Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund
  • Institutions
    • Pension Funds
      • i.e. Canada Pension Plan (Canada Pension Plan Investment Board)
    • Insurance Companies
      • i.e. The Canada Life Assurance Company (Great-West Life Realty Advisors)
    • Endowment Funds
      • i.e. Alberta Investment Management Corporation
        NOTE: AIMCo manages Pensions, Sovereign Wealth Funds as well as Endowments

Key Takeaway

The financialization of housing has created a totally different relationship to housing than people have had in the past, where local housing is not owned by local people in a local community.

Instead, housing is owned by a number of people who buy shares in a company, or by investors with access to huge sums of money looking for a surefire way to get a big return on their investment. Including banks, governments, the wealthiest 0.01%, insurance companies, hedge funds, mutual funds, and even pension funds.

Investors have taken housing as we (still) know it, as a jumping off point for the creation of other items that we cannot physically see, and are worth much more than the value of the home itself (i.e. debt, collecting interest).

Learn more about the financialization of housing and what this means for Edmonton:

The National Housing Advocate also has excellent resources.

Building a Just City

Building a Just City

Joshua Evans, AHSL Research Lead

I had the privilege of contributing to a panel organized as part of this year’s City Building Conference, an event convened by the Centre for Cities and Community at the University of Alberta. The topic of the panel was “Building a Just City.” I was joined by four amazing panelists including Damian Collins, Elaine Hyshka, Daniel Jones, and Angela Staines

The panel was convened to explore how “urban social disorder” in places like the downtown are linked to ‘structural injustice’ in our housing system, health system and justice system. To quote Iris Marion Young (2011, 52), structural injustice exists when: 

Social processes put large groups of persons under systematic threat of domination or deprivation of the means to develop and exercise their capacities, at the same time that these processes enable others to dominate or have a wide range of opportunities for developing and exercising capacities available to them. 

Building a just city demands that we identify and address structural injustices in society. Only then can we properly solve urban social problems. 

I addressed Edmonton’s housing system where there are powerful social processes limiting the housing choices of vulnerable populations in Edmonton. Affordability for low-income households remains one of the greatest challenges. Here are the main points I tried to convey and a few additional comments and reflections. 

First, Alberta is one of the richest provinces in Canada. Moreover, hundreds of millions of dollars (including public dollars) have flowed into the arena-led redevelopment of Edmonton’s core and this has catalyzed gentrification of the downtown and surrounding mature neighborhoods, a process which itself is linked to housing affordability problems (Walks et al. 2021). Simultaneously, we have tens of thousands of Edmonton households with incomes below the poverty line, many of whom struggle to meet their housing costs. According to the last census, in 2020 14.7% of households (or 80,605 households) had incomes below the low-income measure (before-tax). This amounts to an increase, since the last census in 2015, of 12,795 households (see Statistics Canada). 

The last census also offers some insight into the affordability burdens experienced by renters in our city. In 2021, 32,525 renter households were found to be in ‘core housing need,’ meaning they were paying more than 30% of their income on shelter costs and were living in unsuitable and/or inadequate housing. An estimated 82% of these households (or 26,640 households) were living in unsubsidized, market housing (Statistics Canada). 

Second, affordability problems in the rental market point to a lack of supply when it comes to low-cost rental housing. Edmonton has experienced a boom in rental housing construction. The purpose-built rental universe has expanded significantly in Edmonton (CMHC 2022), outpacing construction intended for ownership.

Source: CMHC 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021

Despite growing at a pace not seen since the early 1990s, the primary rental market witnessed a net loss of rental units affordable to households with incomes less than $36K/year (to the tune of 1,486 units). In the fall of 2021, only 15% of the primary rental market was affordable to households with incomes below $36K/year (CMHC 2021, CMHC 2022). This trend has been recently noted in research by Ron Kneebone at the University of Calgary.

The private sector is not able or willing to provide rental housing at a price that low income households can afford. Instead, it has focused on building luxury apartments and buying up older rental stock, renovating it, and raising rents. 

Source: CMHC 2020, 2021, 2022

Third, Edmonton has fallen behind most of its peers in Canada when it comes to the supply of subsidized housing. While poverty rates vary from city to city, the supply of subsidized housing in Edmonton is still far lower than cities with comparable poverty rates (for example, Ottawa). The reason for this undersupply is historical: Alberta neglected to build new social housing as the population rapidly expanded. For example, between 1996-2002, Alberta added ZERO units of new affordable housing. Edmonton is experiencing the effects of this neglect 20 years after the fact. 

Source: Statistics Canada 2022

Each of these count as significant policy failures. The City of Edmonton supported a downtown revitalization project without ensuring adequate community benefits. The provincial government has failed to regulate the rental market allowing predatory investors to step in and gouge renters. This is occurring in the wake of three decades of underinvestment in social housing, all while the population of Alberta has boomed. As a result, the supply of affordable rental housing for those in greatest need is scarce for many and non-existent for some. 

Together these processes produce ‘structural vulnerability’ experienced disproportionately by Indigenous peoples, people living with disability, and low income households. A structural vulnerability exists when a group or individual is at risk due to systemic barriers that prevent access to essential goods or services. It is this structural vulnerability that underlies so-called ‘urban social disorder.’ 

Here, the ‘iceberg’ metaphor is illustrative. Structural processes create barriers to adequate housing (and justice and health services). These barriers produce ‘structural vulnerability,’ a condition shared by a large and growing segment of the population (the part of the iceberg below the waterline).  

When housing is precarious, or absent altogether, other issues and problems are magnified. The unsheltered (the part of the iceberg above the waterline) are left to self-manage in full public view where they are blamed, shamed, and criminalized. 

Pointing to this population as the cause of ‘social disorder’ is a form of scapegoating and does little to address structural vulnerability.  

Scapegoating this population also serves those in power because it allows them to avoid responsibility for the failures that have given rise to the much broader problem of structural vulnerability. 

Building a just city demands that we correct structural injustice thereby diminishing the structural vulnerability that gives rise to urban social problems. A first step is to address the policy failures that have contributed to housing injustice in Edmonton. 


Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (2019) Rental Market Report. CMHC. Ottawa, ON.

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (2020) Rental Market Report. CMHC. Ottawa, ON. 

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (2021) Rental Market Report. CMHC. Ottawa, ON. 

Walks, R. A., Hawes, E., & Simone, D. (2021). Gentrification in large Canadian cities: tenure, age, and exclusionary displacement 1991-2011. Urban Geography, 42(5), 603-633.

Young, I.M. (2011) Responsibility for Justice. Oxford University Press: London, UK. 

An Interview with Cheyenne Greyeyes and Celina Vipond 

An Interview with Cheyenne Greyeyes and Celina Vipond 

What is home? Wisdom from nêhiyawêwin

Indigenous-led housing is a critical solution to homelessness in Canada. Here in Edmonton, MacEwan University professor Dr. Cynthia Puddu has been leading a study exploring how one housing organization, Niginan Housing Ventures, is fostering spiritual reconnection within their housing programs (for more information on this study click here).

This project involved two research assistants from MacEwan – Cheyenne Greyeyes and Celina Vipond. Cheyenne and Celina have played a pivotal role in the learnings emerging from this project. Their thinking and reflection recently culminated in a publication in the journal Radical Housing.

You can find the publication here.

Cheyenne and Celina kindly agreed to share some of the thinking behind their article and some of their other interventions; namely, a call to action for giving land back to urban Indigenous peoples in Canada (link at the end of this post).

Why did you write this paper?


While working on a research project on Indigenous youth coming out of care, we were reading papers on Indigenous housing and social policy for a literature review and working with an Indigenous community organization. Our proximity to these topics and experiences began to develop our thinking about the impacts of colonization and how interruptions in cultural transmission and continued displacement have impacted Indigenous homelessness. We noticed that despite reforms in social policy, Indigenous peoples are still disproportionately experiencing poverty, health disparities, and housing insecurity. From this came the idea that policy based in Eurocentric paradigms is not desirable nor suitable for Indigenous peoples, which has been exemplified by Canada’s history of residential schools, 60s scoop, and now the child welfare system. It is our belief that policy for Indigenous peoples should be based in Indigenous paradigms, and this sparked our motivation to write a paper about Indigenous worldviews so that it may be disseminated to those interested in changing social policy.

We also acknowledged how traditional systems still live on in one form or another despite the heavy influence of colonization and assimilation. When discussing this, we made the connection that breaking apart and translating nêhiyawêwin (Cree) transmits knowledge, beliefs, and values regarding these traditional systems of being. This provided a guide for our discussion on Indigenous worldview, and we were fortunate to speak with Elders on their understandings of our chosen words and gain other valuable teachings.


In conversations around housing in Canada, the topic of Indigenous homelessness is frequently brought up. People often only mention the breakdown of Indigenous family, the strain on housing services, or what I call a deficit discourse. Much of academic papers and government research is focused on this deficit discourse so in response, I wanted this paper to become a space where we can talk about Indigenous strength and uniqueness as a solution of healing from colonial trauma. Within the paper “What is Home? Wisdom from nêhiyawêwin”, we aimed to express how unique and beautiful Indigenous family and home are, highlighting the importance of our languages, the connection to our lands, and the knowledge of our Elders.

We drew from nêhiyawêwin and Elder’s teachings as our primary sources, to establish and validate that our knowledge lives within the language and oral histories. We wanted to highlight the beauty of Indigenous wâhkôhtowin (kinship) and the difficulties of colonial interruptions on Indigenous family structures in Canada.

What do you hope readers learn from your paper?


We hope that our readers would come to a more robust understanding of Indigenous paradigms specifically in relation to conceptions of home, family, kinship, matriarchy, and relationship to the land. All of these concepts have implications for social policy including housing.


We wanted to dispel the myth that Indigenous issues can be fixed with Western solutions and instead need the incorporation of Indigenous paradigms of matriarchy, Indigenous kinship, relationship to the land, and language revitalization. Overall, we wanted to challenge the reader to expand their concept of family and demonstrate why good-hearted efforts can fail when they do not consider Indigenous worldview. By acknowledging the inherent differences between Indigenous and Canadian concepts of home and housing, the reasons why social policy have failed become more obvious. For Canadian readers, I thought a perspective paper would be of interest to social workers, housing workers, or anyone wanting to make a positive impact supporting Indigenous initiatives. This paper was published through an international journal so we knew some of our audience could have had little contact learning about Indigenous cultures on Turtle Island nor our specific struggles. We wanted them to have a representation worthy of our resilient and beautiful peoples.

What are you working on presently?


Our latest interest has been in how we can put these paradigms into practice, or what idyllic Indigenous housing solutions could look like. We built off of the case studies of Camp Pekiwewin in Edmonton and naawi oodena in Winnipeg to demonstrate how renewed treaty and pathways to Indigenous land claims could result in these solutions.


Throughout the writing of our Radical Housing publication, Celina and I worked on our new project for the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness conference. We presented in November 2022 on issues regarding Indigenous housing initiatives, LandBack, and a framework for a housing structure here in Edmonton. I will be convocating from my undergraduate program in psychology with minors in anthropology and sociology this spring and hope to continue writing on Indigenous issues and conducting Indigenous researach.

You can watch Celina and Cheyenne’s CAEH presentation here.

Reflecting on the AHSL Experience in Edmonton

Reflecting on the AHSL Experience in Edmonton

This past February, Dr. Joshua Evans delivered a presentation exploring the AHSL’s experimentation with the ‘social innovation lab’ approach.

A social innovation lab brings diverse stakeholders together who work collaboratively to address complex social problems.

In 2021-2022, the AHSL established a social innovation lab called The Pivot. This social innovation lab was unique in the way it integrated a human rights-based approach and in the way community participants used this approach to identify a list of actions that would, if implemented, address Edmonton’s housing crisis.

You can use this passcode (f#Z1A.+X) and watch the presentation here.

Below is an infographic describing the process the AHSL came to call “The Pivot.” To access a larger version click here.

“We are stronger together”

“We are stronger together”

Tenant Organizing and the Right to Adequate Housing

Security of tenure is an essential part of adequate housing. Yet tenants too often are powerless in our housing system – a system in which landlords and real estate interests are themselves highly organized and well-resourced.

More attention is being paid to tenant circumstances and the need for tenant empowerment as a growing number of tenant households are being impacted by housing challenges, heightened by financialization. Including relentless (and illegal) do not rent lists, unresolved pervasive pest issues, ongoing unchecked rental increases (which incomes cannot keep pace with), renovictions and growing homelessness. These issues are of particular concern as we now have federal legislation that recognizes the Right to Housing (2019), but are lacking the proper mechanisms at each order of government for access to adequate housing. In fact, without working to implement the right to housing, some of our recent federal housing programs have actually worsened unaffordability (due to the vast majority of loans going to private developers instead of non-profits), while many current provincial initiatives are actually in clear violation of the human right to housing. Including functional cuts to income support (i.e. supplementary benefits), cuts to AISH, policy changes to social support (no longer a 30 day warning with changes made), decades of chronic underfunding of supply and demand side housing (social assistance as well as capital projects with non-market housing), cutting off social assistance to recipients without access to a residential address and criminalizing homelessness, Bill 78 and the threat of losing already insufficient non-market housing stock, etc.

While these circumstances are dire, one effective response is tenant organizing – both as a means of building collective power, as well as a self-made mechanism for (potentially) accessing adequate housing

Our own history of tenant associations dates back at least 100 years provincially and at least 70 years locally including: the Edmonton Tenants’ Protective Association (~1950), Westview Village Tenants Association (~1975), Edmonton Tenants’ Association (1970s1980s), the Edmonton and Area Tenants Association (1990s), and Alberta ACORN (2021 –)). While continuity seems to be an ongoing challenge, tenant associations remain incredibly relevant and important mechanisms for tenants – and was one of the key areas for action identified in our Pivot process

As the next event in the AHSL’s ongoing series on the Right to Housing, the AHSL organized a panel to learn about where and how tenants have been organizing and mobilizing across Canada today, to inform tenants about additional possibilities when organizing locally. 

Featuring representatives from:

  • Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network
  • Alberta ACORN
  • Herongate Tenant Coalition
  • Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario

our invited panelists generously shared their insights from tenant organizing in response to one landlord across a number of primary rental properties, to many landlords (in primary and in some cases, secondary rental suites) at the neighborhood, city, as well as provincial level. Attendees learned about some of the first steps to take toward organizing, ideas and tips on how to engage with neighbors, and how to creatively address inadequate housing needs in a timely and effective way through a collective plan of action.

Although organizing can be incredibly hard, especially while dealing with housing insecurity and precarity, the main message from our speakers was that tenants hold the power when collectively organizing.
– The power of tenants finding common ground and standing together collectively can last over time – when highly organized, tenants are more effective collectively than politicians or the courts.
– An organized movement creates equity for tenants by placing pressure and onus on landlords or housing providers to engage and meaningfully collaborate with tenants. Concern about public image may also increase accountability to tenants.
– Remember you are stronger together – do not try to do anything alone.
While landlords are not legally allowed to retaliate, collectively taking action and voicing concerns together means the landlord is not able to pick on just one person.

Panelist Organizations:

Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network (HTSN)
HTSN’s focus was on helping Hamiltonians form tenant associations spurred by widespread concerns such as building disrepair, pests, and discrimination. HTSN’s pillars were direct action, mutual aid, and solidarity and organized an annual city-wide tenant conference and launched a tenant newsletter. Ultimately, the HTSN decided their energies were better spent organizing within their own living circumstances and disbanded in 2021.

Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO)
ACTO’s mandate is to advance human rights in housing for low-income Ontarians by providing legal advice and representation, law reform, community organizing, education, and training. Mandana has been instrumental in organizing neighborhood residents, starting numerous community building initiatives, establishing and coordinating networks and coalitions, and has supported many resident-led groups and associations. 

Herongate Tenant Coalition (HTC).
HTC was formed as a response to mass evictions brought about by Hazelview’s plan to redevelop the Herongate community. 

Alberta ACORN
ACORN is a community union made up of low and moderate income people. Their mission is to build empowerment for those who typically do not have power in their communities, such as tenants. ACORN is a pan-Canadian organization which launched its first Albertan chapter, Alberta ACORN, in 2022.

Key Learnings from the Panel

I want to organize. Where do I even begin?

It can be hard to know where to start when it comes to organizing. The panelists shared that the best place to start is by talking to those around you. An easy win can be organizing with those that are already vocal about the issues they are experiencing, but it is important to involve everyone. One suggestion was to go door to door to discuss issues that individuals might be experiencing with the building or complex. Having these initial conversations can draw out common ground and concerns that tenants may face.  

An initial challenge that may hold some back is a lack of understanding of what is allowed. One panelist shared that in their door knocking experience, many people initially said that they did not have any problems in their home. But, when they came to understand that their situation was illegal or unacceptable, they were more willing to get involved in organizing.

Some may be hesitant to get involved because there is not enough trust established. A panelist shared that trust is especially important in neighbourhoods or buildings with large immigrant populations who may have experienced political oppression in their countries of origin. This may cause a degree of reticence to getting involved in organizing. A casual, friendly approach, plus free food, go a long way to encourage people to get involved. Additionally, creating a presence and visibility of tenant challenges in the rental complex helps to demonstrate the collective care people have for their neighbours. 

Does organizing work?

When well-organized, a collective of tenants can be more effective than political action or going through the court. We might have stronger protections today, but these protections can shift over time and become weaker in the future. The power of tenants can put pressure on landlords to engage in a meaningful, collaborative dialogue with their tenants and create a healthier negotiable environment for everyone. One panelist, who lives in Ontario, spoke to the power of organizing against rent increases. When facing a rent increase, one option is to contest the increase in the tribunal system as an individual. This process can take months, and has no guarantee that you will win the case. Working collectively with neighbors to directly engage with the landlord represents an alternative. 

Note: in Ontario, the Landlord and Tenant Board sets a yearly cap on the maximum amount that landlords can increase rents by. In Alberta we have no limits on the amount landlords can increase rents, only that increases can only occur for ongoing tenants every 12 months – only rental increases before that time can be contested).

How should I start?

Try talking to 2 or 3 people in your building. These initial conversations could start with a friendly conversation with a neighbor you meet in a shared space in your building, such as the building lobby. Who knows how far a message could spread if each of these 2 or 3 people (including yourself) brings one more person into this conversation? The panelists stressed that striking up a conversation gets easier the more you do it: try just jumping into it by knocking on a neighbor’s door. If you are uncomfortable, ask someone to go with you – be they a friend who might not live in your building, or one of your neighbours.

Having an ask can be helpful when door knocking. For instance, asking for signatures for a petition or letter to the landlord can help focus the conversation and spark ideas about how to respond to issues that tenants are facing. 

Where can these small actions take us?

Once you have signatures from interested neighbours, you can share your petition that outlines your concerns and asks to your landlord (i.e. in person at their office). If you do not get a response to your petition, you could try to get media coverage (tv, newspaper, and/or radio) to expose your living conditions. Tenant groups have used additional, oftentimes creative, tactics to draw public attention to landlords who are not fulfilling their duties. 

Need more ideas? Reach out to other tenant organizing groups for advice, they will have ideas for you.

Tenant organizing might seem formidable. But engaging in the process together with neighbours as a united front can help. Plus, the next time you are facing an issue in your building, you will be less intimidated and more willing to respond and act together. As well, landlords are not allowed to retaliate. Collectively taking action and voicing concerns together presents a united front and protects individual tenants from being individually targeted. 

It is important to note that housing issues are just as critical to address between market rental housing (with primary purpose built rental housing as well as secondary rental housing) and the non-market sector. Despite some small differences  (i.e. named as ‘housing provider’), the nature of the landlord/tenant dynamic relationship, and the legal documents that mediate that relationship, are the same. This includes negative concerns, such as evictions (in fact, in Ontario, some social housing providers evicted tenants at the highest rates during the pandemic). Because social housing providers receive public funding, there can often be a lot of concern about public image. Tenants forming independent unions often make non-market landlords more susceptible to pressure, and thus, more accountable to tenants. 

Resources & Information:

Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network

Alberta ACORN

Herongate Tenant Coalition

Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario

Organizing Guides

Herongate – Tips for Organizing / HTSN – Organizing Guides / FMTA – Tenant Organizing Manual / FMTA – Tenant
Association Toolkit
/ R.E.N.T. – Tenant Organizing Manual / 280 Wellesley St. E. Tenants’ Association – Tenant Organizing Best Practices (Slides)

Hamilton Tenant Solidarity Network: Recommended Resources & Organizing Guides

Hamilton Tenant Solidarity Network: Recommended Resources & Organizing Guides

The AHSL recently hosted a panel on Tenant Organizing as part of our Right to Housing Series.

For those interested in learning more about this topic, the Hamilton Tenant Solidarity Network (HTSN) generously shared some recommended readings, a documentary, and adaptable organizing guides:

Recommended reading:

“Rent Striking the REIT: Reflections on tenant organizing against financialized rental housing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada” (2019) by Emily Power and Bjarke Risager. Radical Housing Journal.
Article about the 2018 Stoney Creek Towers (Hamilton) rent strike against InterRent Real Estate Investment Trust.

“The Housing Monster” (2012)
Illustrated book that describes the root causes of the housing crisis and processes of gentrification.

“Demanding the Right to the City and the Right to Housing: Best practice for supporting community organizing” (2020) Martine August and Cole Webber.
Short report outlining the organizing principles and campaigns by Parkdale Organize (Toronto), Herongate Tenant Coalition (Ottawa), and the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network and the ways community legal clinics and other non-profit agencies should (and should not) support community organizing.

Recommended viewing:

This is Parkdale” (2017) Submedia and Parkdale Organize.
Documentary about the 2017 Parkdale (Toronto) rent strike against MetCap, a landlord backed by the Alberta Investment Management Corp. (AIMCo), the province’s public sector worker pension fund.

Organizing guides created by HTSN over the years (feel free to adapt these to do outreach in your building):

Renter Realities and Another Housing Policy Paradox

Renter Realities and Another Housing Policy Paradox

Update: On March 27 2023, from what appears to be pressure from the commercial real estate sector, changes to Canada’s Prohibition on the Purchase of Residential Property by Non-Canadians Act were implemented:

  • This legislation / ownership ban no longer applies to vacant land that is zoned for residential and mixed use (with no regulation on what purpose the land can be developed for)
  • The threshold for a company to be considered ‘foreign-controlled’ has been relaxed with an increase from 3% ‘non-Canadian’ ownership to 10% ‘non-Canadian’ ownership
  • The rules prohibiting ownership of residential property for residential development have been reversed. Including for publicly traded companies created in Canada that are foreign controlled

In addition, newcomers with a work visa with a minimum of 183 days remaining are able to purchase property.

More details here.

The Federal Government of Canada recently revealed the details of a ban on foreign/non-Canadian purchasing residential properties. This legislation was initially proposed in April’s 2022 budget to ‘curb foreign investment and speculation’ – a source of increasing housing costs.

Starting on January 1, 2023 until January 1, 2025, ‘non-Canadians’ are restricted from directly or indirectly (through corporate structures) purchasing residential property located in a census metropolitan area or a census agglomeration.

‘Non-Canadian’ is defined as individuals who are not permanent residents or Canadian citizens – with some conditional exceptions for temporary residents with study permits, work permits, foreign nationals with temporary resident visas or status as well as refugee claimants already referred to the Refugee Protection Division.

‘Non-Canadian’ also includes corporations or ‘entities’ established outside of federal or provincial law, or controlled by ‘Non-Canadian’ entities or individuals.

Penalties for breach of this ban include fines of up to $10,000 as well as a potential judicial sale order of residential property.

What is Excluded?

  • Vacant land (without a habitable and immovable dwelling)
  • Recreational property / vacation homes (located outside of a census metropolitan area or census agglomeration)
  • Buildings with three or more dwelling units

What does this mean?

Acknowledged in the 2022 Federal budget, a growing number of households continue to be unable to access safe, affordable and adequate homes (p.35). “Foreign investors and speculators are buying up homes that should be for Canadians to own. Rents in our major cities continue to climb, pushing people further and further away from where they work (p.35).”

Unfortunately the 2-year ban and the additional interventions proposed in the 2022 Federal budget are seemingly untethered to the root causes and household experiences of inadequate housing.

Financialization of Housing

One of the key drivers of our prolonged housing crisis is due to financializing housing. The phrase ‘financialization of housing‘ is used to describe the “…structural changes that have occurred in recent years whereby massive amounts of global capital have been invested in housing as a commodity, as security for financial instruments that are traded on global markets, and as a means of accumulating wealth (p.1).”

The financialization of housing is the commodification of housing – distancing housing from being an essential human right and a social good, and instead regarding housing as a vehicle for investment and a means of generating wealth. Instead of building homes to meet the adequate housing needs of individuals and households, homes are built for investors and institutional owners (i.e. pension funds, hedge funds, mutual funds, endowments).

The consequences of financializing housing are staggering and for tenants include increasing housing costs (often outpacing household incomes), reduced habitability/quality of life and higher rates of eviction and displacement – which disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and racialized persons as well as economically disenfranchised households (Crosby, 2021; August, 2022; Lewis, 2022; Acorn, 2022).

Yet we still lack good data on the scale and volume of financialized ownership – for both non-Canadian as well as Canadian entities (i.e. Core Development Group (Younglai, 2021; Alini, 2021)). While some entities are publicly traded and share investor information on the location and details of the multi-family housing they own – which would primary rental housing (residential apartments or row housing purposely built for renter households) – it is more difficult to determine the ownership of multi-family buildings privately owned by financialized entities.

Further, there is no data on financialized owners of secondary rental housing (housing intended for homeownership that is rented including single family homes, semidetached/row homes/duplexes, and other dwelling types like accessory suites). Despite secondary non-purpose built rental housing being a significant supply for tenant households – including an estimated 51% of tenants in Edmonton, as well as ~56% across Canada in 2021 (Statistics Canada, CMHC; Canada and Edmonton).

Without a base of good information, the creation of piecemeal legislation to address increasing housing costs by investment and speculation solely through non-Canadian entities (while also exempting sales of residential buildings with three or more dwelling units) is contradictory and the latest example of a housing policy paradox.

To address some of the data gaps and limitations on the scale and impact of financialized ownership (Arsenault, 2022), the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab (AHSL) has been working to compile a local database of financialized owners of our primary (purpose built) rental buildings in Edmonton. As well, the AHSL has also created some estimates of the secondary rental housing supply in Edmonton by Census year.

Some of these findings are shared Edmonton follow below, and provide some insight on the potential implications of this new federal ban.   

Will tenant households in Edmonton benefit?

To address this question, it is important to get a clear picture of our housing rental market.

Composition of Rental Homes in the City of Edmonton

When the topic of housing affordability, and discussion of solutions through our market rental ‘housing supply’ comes up, this is often done with the assumption that all market rental housing is the same. While this may have been the case in the past, there are a few different forms that have emerged that all have different implications for renters. Namely primary rental housing that is financialized (purpose built rental housing owned by financialized owners) as well as secondary rental housing (not purpose built for rental housing and may or may not be owned by financialized entities).

Figure 1 highlights the differences in these forms of rental housing in the City of Edmonton over 20 years, comparing 2001 with 2021.

The number of tenant households living in secondary rental housing was approximated by subtracting the total number of renter households in the City of Edmonton in the 2001 and 2021 censes from the estimated total number of occupied primary rental units from CMHC’s rental survey in 2001 and 2021 (using CMHC’s housing market information portal).

Figure 1: Move the slider to see the (occupied) rental supply differences in Edmonton over a 20 year period (2001 – 2021), specifically the proportional changes between primary (financialized and not financialized) and secondary rental suites.

There are a number of things that are important about these observable differences in our market rental housing stock over the past 20 years.

Firstly, secondary rental homes tend to be much more expensive than primary (non-financialized) rentals (1). While rents tend to be higher, utilities are also less likely to be included with monthly rents and are additional costs on top of elevated monthly rents.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation started sharing secondary rental market data for Census Metropolitan Areas in 20072016. In 2017 this data collection was ended abruptly and the was the only secondary housing data collection that has continued is the condominium apartment survey – despite condominium apartments being only 1/5 of secondary housing in Edmonton (CMA) in 2016.

As well, many secondary rentals are managed by 3rd party firms – including individual households that may have one or two additional homes that are rented out, small mom and pop multi-family apartment owners, private family-run residential companies, as well as institutional owners and financialized entities.

A number of real estate firms have been creating their own or purchasing existent 3rd party residential management companies – with a vested interest both in increasing homeownership costs as well as increasing renter costs. Many 3rd party firms offer a free service of speculating what owners might charge for monthly rents, with the option for an additional 10-20% to manage the unit on behalf of the owner. Despite estimates that over half of all tenant households in Edmonton currently live in secondary rentals, there is no data at present on the proportion of secondary rentals that are managed by 3rd parties – nor of the impact of this on housing affordability.

Secondly, with a few exceptions, the vast majority of financialized owners of primary rental stock in Edmonton are actually Canadian entities. The AHSL has estimated from that as of 2022 there are around 35,000 primary rental units that are financialized through asset management organizations, REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts), REOCs (Real Estate Operating Companies) or private equity firms. Of these 35000 homes, 93% are Canadian owned.

Thirdly, the affordability of our primary rental housing stock has been really affected by the volume of existing and newer builds purchased by financialized owners, with a significant loss of our ‘more affordable’ rental housing. For example, in 2006 the monthly shelter costs for approximately 82% of all rental units was $999 or less per month – this dropped down to 29% in 2016 (2).

Fourthly, related to broader discussions around financialization, one hidden trend regarding tenant affordability is that there are a number of financialized owners who accept payment of rent through credit card, such as Boardwalk (which is a REIT) and Mainstreet (which is a REOC). While rents can be increased every 12 months in Alberta, appeasing shareholders and investors, an untold number of households are remaining housed by incurring deepening credit card debt. And this is in addition to countless households who continue to make ends meet and deal with income shortfalls by paying for utilities and other essentials such as food, health care, transportation, clothing, et cetera, through credit card(s). Without the income to keep pace with the cost of living essentials, paying off credit cards becomes increasingly impossible with high interest rates accumulating even more debt.

None of this information is being collected or tracked over time in relation to housing affordability. While Equifax does release quarterly reports of consumer credit trends and insights by province and select cities (for mortgage debt and non-mortgage debt), this information is not disaggregated by housing tenure (whether homeowner or tenant). At present, there are no solutions and policies for housing affordability that factors in household debt. Which is a glaring omission considering the average individual non-mortgage debt for Edmontonians is $24,255 (Q3 2022).

Policy Paradox

Based on the current realities of the rental market and what tenant households are coping with in Edmonton, the federal ban will largely have little to no impact on addressing the key drivers that continue to increase housing unaffordability and decrease access to adequate housing (Sotheby’s, 2022).

Between 2001 to 2021, almost 50% of our primary rental housing was been lost to financialized owners (Figure 1). The amount of primary financialized rental housing over that time period has increased over 1300% and seems to be continually rising. Again, as the ban does not include buildings with 3 or more units, the financialization of our primary rental housing will not be addressed at all, despite it being a key driver of our housing crisis.

However at the household level, this policy disproportionately impacts migrant households and is punitive, confusing, discriminatory, xenophobic, and will impede access to homeownership. Although we are still waiting for data from outstanding provinces (such as Alberta), current estimates from 2020 indicate that around 4% of homes are non-resident owned (based on available data from Ontario (3.4%), British Columbia (4.7%) and Nunavut (2.7%)) (Canadian Housing Statistics Program).

(1) CMHC Housing Portal, Edmonton CMA: Secondary Rental Market (condo and ‘other) and Primary Rental Market (rental universe, historical)
(2) CMHC Housing Portal, Edmonton CMA – Population, Households & Housing Stock: Shelter Costs (historical) for renters)

Additional Resources that may be of interest:
McQuillan, L. Canada’s ban on foreign property buyers won’t apply to many workers, international students. CBC: Dec. 21, 2022.
McQuillan, L. Will Canada’s ban on foreign homebuyers make houses more affordable? Some experts have doubts. CBC: Dec. 30, 2022

Blog updated February 17, 2023

Tenant Realities & Realizing the Right to Housing in Edmonton

Tenant Realities & Realizing the Right to Housing in Edmonton

Part of the work of the AHSL is exploring access to adequate housing.

Within this context, tenant organizing is an area of increasing interest that community members, community partners, and the public (especially renters) are interested in learning more about. Particularly as tenant organizing and collective bargaining is one way that households and individuals may be able to access their Right to Adequate housing.

While Alberta has a mixed history with collective organizing in the form of labour unions, there is a history of tenant associations dating back at least 100 years. Locally, there have been a number of groups including the Edmonton Tenants’ Protective Association (~1950), Westview Village Tenants Association (~1975), Edmonton Tenants’ Association (1970s1980s), the Edmonton and Area Tenants Association (1990s), and more recently, Alberta  ACORN.

This ongoing interest in tenant organizing is reflective of longstanding issues (i.e. lacking rental increase regulation) heightened by changes due to the financialization of housing.

To give some perspective on this, in 2006, 75.4% of Edmonton renters lived in primary rental housing (i.e. purpose-built rental housing) and 24.6% of renters tenants lived in secondary rental housing (i.e. condos, secondary suites, etc). In the case of the former (renters in primary rental housing), 7.6% lived in housing that was owned by a financialized entity (i.e. Real Estate Investment Trust, Asset Manager, Pension Fund, etc). Also of note, 81% of primary rental homes in Edmonton and surrounding area cost tenants $999 or less per month. 

In 2021 these numbers were very different.  An estimated 49.6% of renters lived in primary rental housing and 51.4% of renters (over half) lived in secondary housing. With regard to the former (tenants in primary rental housing), ~22.2% lived in housing that was financialized – an increase of nearly 15% from 2006. As well, the proportion of primary rental homes in Edmonton and surrounding area that cost $999 or less per month dropped down to 26%.

We are looking forward to the discussion in our upcoming panel on tenant organizing, and thank all for their interest in this event.

Protect, Enhance, Grow: Investing in Edmonton’s Community Housing Sector

Protect, Enhance, Grow: Investing in Edmonton’s Community Housing Sector

By: Bon Swanson & Joshua Evans, Affordable Housing Solutions Lab


Like food, water and education, adequate housing is a fundamental human right. Today, Canada’s housing system is unable to fulfil this basic human right for everyone. Housing deprivation among vulnerable populations remains a pressing issue in Canadian society. It has been more than two decades since activists called upon all levels of government to declare homelessness a ‘national disaster’. Yet, after twenty years of federal and provincial investments in local programs to end homelessness, housing insecurity and homelessness remains firmly entrenched in our biggest cities, Edmonton included. If human rights are used as a measuring stick then Canada’s housing system is severely impaired if not broken. 

Housing owned and operated by the government, nonprofits, and cooperatives has long been seen as a solution to housing insecurity and deprivation in Canada. This ‘community housing sector’ has been operating in Canada for more than 75 years. In Edmonton, this sector plays an integral role in the housing system. Community housing has provided subsidized housing to low-income households since the late 1960s. However, the growth in demand for this community housing has outpaced its supply.

Moreover, some of the existing supply is not physically accessible for those living with a disability or those with specific cultural needs. Expanding community housing in Edmonton is a key ‘area of action’ when it comes to the fulfilment of the right to adequate housing. This blog post aims to share community input gathered by the AHSL on this area of action. 

How we got here

Since its inception in 2019, the AHSL has been operating in an evolving context of international human rights legislation, Canadian law, and housing policy to develop and support the progression of housing innovation in Edmonton. The AHSL exists to empower citizens to innovate, co-create and develop effective local housing solutions. Beginning in the fall of 2021, we began working with a diverse group of housing stakeholders to address the following question: What actions might help ‘pivot’ Edmonton’s housing system towards the realization of the right to adequate housing? 

The AHSL collaboratively approached this process with inclusion, equity and social justice in mind. In this regard, we made a conscious effort to involve various stakeholders while also centering the perspectives of those in need of adequate housing or ‘rights holders.’  

What we heard

In the end, six areas of action were identified by Pivot participants (for description click here). One of the ‘areas of action’ that emerged through the Pivot process was the following: 

To address the shortage of affordable and accessible housing, governments, working in partnership with nonprofits and cooperatives, need to protect, renovate and grow community housing, especially the supply of deeply subsidized units (i.e. rent-geared to income) that are universally accessible

Participants recognized that action towards this end faces numerous barriers and challenges. Canada’s various levels of government are closely tied, with overlapping roles and responsibilities that necessitate collaboration. One area of overlap with significant implications for Canada’s housing sector is the province’s control over municipalities (in Alberta this control is exercised through the Municipal Government Act). Participants flagged a breakdown in cooperation between the province and municipalities as a key threat to expanding supply. Perspectives on what should be done vary between the two jurisdictions, leading to inaction on expanding the housing supply. 

Participants pointed to one area of municipal jurisdiction that poses both a threat and an opportunity: zoning. Cities can use zoning to influence the types of developments that are allowed to take place. In the case of housing, an overwhelming majority of development is profit-motivated and undertaken by the private sector. While development means that there is housing being built, this stock is not necessarily affordable. Further, in some cases older, naturally affordable housing stock is demolished to build new buildings, potentially degrading affordability and reducing the number of affordable options available. While most of this development is occurring in the private, market-rate rental sector, the loss of naturally affordable housing stock puts increased pressure on community housing sectors to provide affordable housing to our neighbours who need it. Municipalities can use zoning to influence how much community housing is built, and how many subsidized housing units are incorporated into new builds.

The expiration of housing subsidies poses another threat to expanding the supply of community housing in Edmonton. The majority of community housing is owned and operated by not-for-profits who rely on subsidies to provide housing; without stable funding, community housing providers may be forced to close their doors, reduce their services, or make operational reductions that infringe upon the right to housing of those who rely on their existence. The need to renew these subsidies, which come in many forms, was top of mind for participants. Indeed, without stable programming, affordable housing providers will have no choice but to focus on merely maintaining their housing portfolios rather than on much-needed expansion.

In the face of these challenges, the supply of community housing must be expanded to realize the right to housing in Edmonton. Participants noted a variety of goals that will help to pivot Edmonton in a better direction. These goals include (a) protecting against the loss of existing affordable housing, (b) enhancing the adequacy of affordable housing, including community housing, and (c) growing the overall supply of community housing. 

  1. Protect

When it comes to protecting the existing stock, the City of Edmonton should gain a better understanding of the affordable housing inventory currently available. This will help to address gaps in housing and allow precise tracking of where and what stock is being lost through redevelopment. Participants also noted that decisions surrounding what is being built and where should be made by people with expertise and familiarity with Edmonton’s housing landscape. This way, rights holders and experts can meaningfully guide community housing developments that address the needs and preferences of those that will reside there.

In the Edmonton context, where the waitlist for community housing is years long, the existing stock of market rental housing must be equitable for tenants. Participants proposed that the city should require rental licensing to provide oversight to Edmonton’s rental sector. Not only would licensing protect tenants and shed light on landlord-tenant relations, but it would also provide valuable information on landlord-property relationships. Privately owned and operated rentals are an inescapable part of Edmonton’s rental market, but they can be better regulated to protect tenants and to aid in the progressive realization of the right to housing. 

Private developers undertake the majority of housing developments in Edmonton. Demand for land increases the cost of land and applies extra pressure to community housing providers who already have less capital and resources to develop deeply affordable housing. The lack of affordable land in accessible locations is a major barrier that inhibits community housing developers from building in neighbourhoods where their tenants already reside. The City of Edmonton and the Government of Alberta can help to relieve this roadblock to development by mobilizing underdeveloped city-owned and provincially-owned land found across the city, providing affordable housing providers with a step up to keep their costs low, and as a result, their housing as affordable as possible for their tenants.

  1. Enhance

Affordable rentals are made for tenants, but far too often tenants are not meaningfully involved in the planning, design, and operation of affordable housing. We asked participants to comment on how meaningful involvement of tenants could be put into practice in Edmonton. We heard from the participants that tenant engagement should not be treated as an afterthought, but rather as an essential part of the development process. To ensure that tenants are meaningfully involved, professionals should be educated – including persons who develop and design housing – regarding tenants’ complex needs and how they can change over time. Professionals should also come prepared with tools to ensure that tenants are appropriately engaged and recognize inequities in the development process between market and non-market developments.

While it is important to engage tenants and the many other stakeholders involved in housing provision, it is essential to ensure that not just the most prominent voices are heard. It is crucial to the success of development to consider the little things that increase the quality of a build, including finishing that might otherwise be overlooked, such as lowering the height of light switches to accommodate those who cannot easily reach them at standard heights. It is also important to decolonize the process of engagement so that all stakeholders are coming from a level playing field; by ensuring an equitable process, we can make communities that work for everyone. Further, while some buildings or units may need updating or retrofits, it is valuable to understand that tenants ought to have control over their own space and be able to customize their homes as they see fit, which includes having the choice to stay where they are if they so choose and not be forced to move.

Beyond ensuring that tenants’ voices are heard and the engagement process for developments is equitable, more must be done on a municipal level to ensure that the progressive realization of the right to housing for tenants is achieved. Participants in the Pivot highlighted that the City of Edmonton should take a proactive approach to outline tenant expectations and legislate mandatory resident involvement requirements in the community housing development process. This would help ensure that the suitable types of supply are built, in the right locations, and with amenities that are important to tenants included. Additionally, tenants should have more say over changes that affect their ability to maintain their housing, such as rent increases. The City of Edmonton should also do more to champion healthy living guidelines and promote and normalize various styles of living in line with the tenets of the right to housing. 

  1. Grow

While protecting and enhancing the existing supply of community housing are valuable goals, it is also important to expand the supply of affordable housing in general (and community housing in particular) to ensure that everyone has a home that meets their needs. Individuals living with disabilities are overlooked, under-consulted, and forced to reside in housing that is incompatible with their needs. To ensure that we are building the right supply for everyone, individuals with disabilities need to be consulted so that units are designed with universal design principles in mind. Being involved in the design process must go beyond giving a green light to floorplans, but must be carried through to the finishings of a building, to the fixtures and flooring. There is no “one size fits all” for housing, though often the way we develop community housing assumes that there is. By collaborating with future tenants, we can help to make sure that the housing supply we are building is sensitive to the needs of everyone. 

Growth needs to take many forms to ensure an adequate housing supply that meets the needs of tenants today and in the future. It is essential that not only the physical supply of housing is expanded, but also the financial capital that is put into housing. With the “naturally” affordable housing stock decreasing over time, we must take investment into affordable housing seriously. This requires investment in community housing. Housing must also meet the needs of a future climate. Climate change is affecting the way we think about housing and the number of people who need it. With rising sea levels and extreme weather events increasing across the globe, Canada will need to accept an increasing number of immigrants and refugees, and with that, provide an increasing amount of affordable, sustainable, and equitable housing. We need to expand the data that we have about housing and understand the gaps in knowledge that currently exist to ensure that we support an appropriate level of community housing starts.

Concluding Thoughts

As researchers, we know that rights holders have many of the answers to the complex issues with our housing supply. Researchers cannot come up with solutions without their input and participation. We ought to use our position of power and influence to elevate and advocate for those who are systematically marginalized in an organized and impactful way. Research can help to fill the knowledge gaps that we know exist, while also uncovering more knowledge gaps that can help us to understand the housing crisis more comprehensively. In this regard, researchers need to work directly with municipalities to craft policies and action plans that are evidence-based and rooted in the experiences and priorities of rights holders.

Based on the experiences of rights-holders, it is clear that there is a shortage of affordable and accessible housing and that governments need to protect, renovate and grow community housing, especially the supply of deeply subsidized units (i.e. rent-geared to income) that are universally accessible. Actions taken to address this need must ensure an adequate housing supply that meets the needs of tenants today and in the future. 

Pivot Progress Report & Upcoming Final Pivot Event

Pivot Progress Report & Upcoming Final Pivot Event

Making the Pivot: Designing Participatory Action Research for Housing Justice in Edmonton, Alberta

Like water, food, education and healthcare, adequate housing is essential to human dignity and wellbeing and is therefore a human right. This was recognized nearly 75 years ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states, in Article 25, that: 

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

The moral sentiments expressed in Article 25 were given legal force through the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which the Government of Canada ratified in 1976. Article 11 of the ICESCR states that signatories agree to recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of these rights. In addition, Article 2 of the ICESCR states that signatories, like Canada, should use the maximum of its available resources, take appropriate means, and adopt legislative measures to realize these rights. The latter (legislation) was only implemented very recently, in 2019, when the National Housing Strategy Act became law in Canada. This legislation recognizes the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right. It states that:

it is declared to be the housing policy of the Government of Canada to (a) recognize that the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right affirmed in international law; (b) recognize that housing is essential to the inherent dignity and well-being of the person and to building sustainable and inclusive communities; (c) support improved housing outcomes for the people of Canada; and (d) further the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing as recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 

This legislation directs governments in Canada to align housing policies and programs with the recognition of the right to adequate housing as it is understood in international human rights law. This requires that governments urgently take reasonable action and give priority to those groups in greatest need of adequate housing (The National Right to Housing Network 2022). The human rights approach outlined above calls upon leaders in all levels of government to recognize the housing crisis in Canada as a human rights crisis requiring urgent action. But what is needed goes beyond recognition:  

  • What actions might help shift Edmonton’s housing system towards the realization of the right to adequate housing? 
  • What knowledge gaps or practical tools are required to support these actions? 
  • What role is there for research in this process? 


In the fall of 2021, the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab (AHSL) implemented an equity-centered public engagement process to address these questions. The AHSL called this process “The Pivot.” This process takes its name from the idea that Edmonton’s housing system needs to ‘pivot’ in a different direction, one that ensures the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing for all. 

A full summary of the rationale for The Pivot process, activities undertaken, and the input received thus far can be found in the interim report:

The overarching goal of The Pivot was to (a) identify collective actions that support the realization of the right to adequate housing and (b) identify ways in which the AHSL can support these actions through community-based research activities. Input gathered through activities completed thus far provided the basis for the identification of six general areas for action. These areas for action address the root causes and/or systemic barriers contributing to housing injustice in Edmonton. These areas for action are: 

  1. Expand Supply and Increase Accessibility of Non-Market Housing

There is an extreme shortage of subsidized, non-market housing in Edmonton. This supply deficit is the result of years of government underinvestment. In addition, there is a critical shortage of affordable rental housing that is accessible to people living with disability in Edmonton. This supply deficit is the result of ableist attitudes that shape decisions regarding building design and accommodation. To address the shortage of affordable and accessible non-market rental housing, governments need to protect, renovate and grow community housing (public housing, non-profit housing, cooperative housing), especially the supply of deeply subsidized units (rent-geared to income) that are universally accessible. 

  1. Regulate the Private Rental Market

The private rental market is not providing a balanced supply of adequate housing. Housing is increasingly now seen as an investment and this has encouraged the financialization of the rental housing market via REITs producing outcomes such as ‘renovictions’ and price inflation. Where affordable rental housing can be found it is often substandard and poorly maintained. This harms low-income groups seeking housing in the private rental market. To address this market failure, governments need to introduce regulations that protect renters from price gouging, prevent further loss of affordable rental housing and ensure that the existing stock is physically safe and protects against the cold, damp, heat, rain, wind, other threats to health and structural hazards. 

  1. Empower Tenants 

In Alberta, there is no limit on the amount by which a landlord can raise the rent. Moreover, landlord discrimination, harassment and negligence is occurring, especially among vulnerable populations, and individuals have been evicted into homelessness, even from community housing. Participants noted that existing legislation and institutions provide minimal accountability for landlords and little recourse for tenants. These stand as reminders that some Edmontonians lack basic security of tenure, a fundamental component of the right to adequate housing. To address this systemic insecurity, the Alberta Residential Tenancies Act needs to be changed in a way that protects security of tenure for tenants, especially in terms of eviction. In addition, governments need to genuinely engage with affected groups when developing housing and homelessness laws, policies, and programs. 

  1. Engage and Educate Landlords

Exclusion, denial of property restitution, and harassment are common experiences among vulnerable populations living in Edmonton. Landlords – both private and social – bare responsibility in ensuring that the provision of housing and housing-related services is non-discriminatory and culturally adequate. This responsibility is defined in the National Housing Strategy Act  and in other federal, provincial (for example, Alberta Human Rights Act) and municipal laws. To address this responsibility, landlords – both private and social – need mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion training as well as training in trauma-informed practice to fulfill duties under existing laws.  

  1. Continue to Organize and Advocate

Actions such as expanding supply, regulating the private market and empowering tenants will face resistance. Facilitating these actions will require the support of an effective coalition of community organizations, advocates, experts, and the citizenry at large which can put pressure on all levels of government to progressively realize the right to adequate housing. Edmonton has a long history of advocacy and organizing with regard to housing and is in a position to build upon these strengths. Continued efforts are needed to scale up and nurture an understanding of housing as a human right and why it is a matter of public concern. Moreover, continued community organizing and advocacy is required to keep systemic issues in the limelight and show that more effective housing approaches are within our reach. 

  1. Monitor Progress

Edmonton’s understanding of the housing system is limited by gaps in knowledge. Moreover, accountability when it comes to systemic issues is often limited or lacking. Both of these deficiencies are barriers to the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing in the community. Local and regional monitoring and accountability mechanisms are needed to determine whether or not a government is meeting its human rights obligations. In addition, governments need to be adequately resourced so that they have the capacity to implement these monitoring and accountability mechanisms. 

The areas of action outlined above provide direction while also raising questions such as what might specific actions look like in each of these areas and what types of knowledge, information and tools are needed to take these actions?

On March 25 2022, the AHSL will facilitate a final virtual workshop to engage the community in conversations regarding these questions. Input gathered during this event will inform the design of community-based action research projects supported by the AHSL in 2022 and 2023. 

You can register for the March 25 event now:

Sustainable housing, sustainable community: Exploring Edmonton’s North Glenora affordable housing project

Sustainable housing, sustainable community: Exploring Edmonton’s North Glenora affordable housing project

Written By: Arlene Oak, Associate Professor, Department of Human Ecology, University of Alberta & Sara Dorow, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta

Opened in 2018, the non-profit North Glenora Townhomes housing development, comprised of 16 three- and five-bedroom townhomes, is one of Canada’s first and largest net-zero, multi-family residential developments. The story behind this award-winning project is a multi-faceted tale of collaboration, innovation, and environmental and social sustainability.

The impetus for the development came from a local Presbyterian church. Through a combination of dedicated effort and fortuitous timing, Westmount Presbyterian partnered with the Edmonton-based Right at Home Housing Society and Habitat Studios, a leader in the design and construction of “green” homes. The congregation agreed to have their large and environmentally inefficient, 1950s church building demolished and replaced by a smaller, net-zero church (that now also contains a daycare centre). The removal of the original building and adjacent parking space freed up land on which the townhouses could be built – townhouses that feature an advanced, eco-friendly design through the inclusion of geothermal heating and solar panels for electricity.

The families who rent the housing are all recent refugee families to Edmonton, identified and supported through a partnership with a local non-profit organization. As such, along with featuring advanced, eco aspects of home building, the project also supports social innovation through community development. Provision of this family-friendly, secure housing has not only brought stability for its residents in a market short of affordable family housing, but also allowed the neighbourhood elementary school across the street to remain open through new enrollments.

The North Glenora development is considered a success by its creators, occupants, design critics, and the press. At the same time, any housing project that aims to meet the multi-pronged tests of affordability, inclusivity, community relevance, material and aesthetic appeal, low footprint, and energy savings raises the question: what are the trade-offs and limitations? This and other questions are being explored through an interdisciplinary research project based at the UofA.

The research project –initiated by professors in the Departments of Sociology and Human Ecology – includes interviews conducted with the project’s main institutional actors (church members, builder, non-profit partners), townhome occupants, community members, and others, alongside an analysis of documents and other media.

The research explores the obstacles and opportunities that have been, and continue to be, encountered in the North Glenora project, with the aim to better understand the complex social and material collaborations that form the background and ongoing contexts for the development and use of innovative and affordable community housing.

Takeaways from Making the Pivot Part 1: Taking action to secure the right to adequate housing in Edmonton

Takeaways from Making the Pivot Part 1: Taking action to secure the right to adequate housing in Edmonton

This first virtual workshop was intended to develop some shared understanding of key concepts (equity, inclusion, and justice), establish guidelines for brave spaces in the conversations going forward, and reflect on our own social positions and relative access and power.

Key Concepts

Equality vs. Equity

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Equity ensures that everyone has what they need and to do so starts with identifying the barriers and root causes of why people are starting at different points. Equity seeks to intentionally eliminate barriers to achieving equal outcomes. This is different to equality where everyone has the same amount of something despite differences in their existing needs and assets.


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Inclusion is a state of belonging, when persons of different backgrounds and identities are valued, integrated, and welcomed equitably as decision-makers and collaborators.


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We define justice as a process, not an outcome, which (1) seeks fair (re)distribution of resources, opportunities, and responsibilities; (2) challenges the roots of oppression and injustice; (3) empowers all people to exercise self-determination and realize their full potential; (4) and builds social solidarity and community capacity for collaborative action. Justice is when we seek transformational change, fundamental to which is removing factors which create inequities in the first place.

In small groups discussion we brainstormed how equity, inclusion and justice relate to/advance one of the 7 criteria of adequate housing. In this exercise participants reflected on how implementing the above principles can be integrated with a right based approach to housing.

Brave Spaces

The concept of brave spaces grew out of safe spaces, both set ground rules/guidelines for conversations and behaviour. Brave spaces are in response to safety not being guaranteed and looking different for everyone. Brave space acknowledges the bravery required to engage difficult conversations without promising the illusion of collective safety which can often support the status quo through notions of a right to comfort for the people with the most power through avoiding uncomfortable situations. Brave spaces acknowledge participation in these conversations requires different levels of risk and courage because of the inequitable forms of power at play. Brave space requires us to collectively agree to hold this space to uproot the systems of oppression that continue to be barriers to accessing the human right to adequate housing.

In a menti activity participants reflected on what a brave space would look/feel like to them. Some of the themes that emerged were non-judgement, being curious, listening more than speaking, speaking the truth, understanding and acknowledging biases and power dynamics and sharing lived experiences.

Social Positions and Access to Power

There are many possible approaches to analyzing and discussing the different dimensions of power. In this workshop we examined four dimensions of power:

  1. Personal power – Often derived from charisma, self confidence, self respect, networks of support, and individual characteristics that we and others value.
  2. Collective power – Solidarity, community, empowers others, supportive, builds creative action. Can be leveraged to dismantle systems of inequity and oppression.
  3. Institutional power- The ability or official authority to decide what is best for others. The ability to decide who will have access to resources. The capacity to exercise control over others. This can also include position within organizations, seniority, influence over policies and processes, professional networks, access/proximity to most powerful (often it’s top-down power, power over)
  4. Social power – Derived from aspects of our social identity such as gender, race, class, citizenship, etc. These aspects of our social identity can yield more or less power depending on the context we are in. 

Analyzing these four forms of power helps us to make sense of the challenges we face as well as the ways power can be leveraged to address those challenges. Individually participants reflected on the intersectionality of these 4 elements of power in their lives and their relative access to power as a result.

Housing Innovation: The Cost of Land Acquisition

Housing Innovation: The Cost of Land Acquisition

Our third post in a series of blog posts around our deep dive, ‘How to Build More Affordably” and the lessons we learnt. Find the first post and our overview video here.

Written by: Shafraaz Kaba, Principal, ASK For a Better World 

In our exploration of the major costs in affordable housing, the cost of land acquisition stood out as a line item to focus on. Our Innovations team considered several opportunities for reducing the monetary outlay for obtaining land including partnering with school boards, churches, and religious organizations who all may have surplus lands. Municipalities also tend to have surplus land or properties for sale. All of these organizations would likely work with a housing not-for-profit or charitable organization to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. In this short video, Anne Stevenson from Right at Home Housing Society explains a couple of opportunities she has found working with church groups:

Also, when looking for land and development opportunities, our Innovations team that was focused on Retrofits discovered that there are many factors that should be considered before land or a building is acquired. Sometimes there will be hidden pitfalls in property or a building such as hazardous materials (asbestos, lead, PCBs, hydrocarbons, etc) or even the lack of utilities, access or mobility. Land may not have fire hydrants nearby or electrical transformers or power lines that could significantly increase development costs to bring the service to the site. 

Here is a portal to obtain an excellent guide and checklist by the Rural Development Network that helps provide some way of vetting sites and buildings for expensive issues:

Here is a portal to obtain an excellent guide and checklist by the Rural Development Network that helps provide some way of vetting sites and buildings for expensive issues:

Other links and resources that reflect on land and property issues:

Hotels converting to housing in Calgary:

Pivot Information Session

Pivot Information Session

On October 14 the AHSL held an information and Q&A session about the upcoming Pivot initiative on Zoom. This was recorded, and can be viewed here:

We appreciate all of the thoughtful questions from our attendees, and will be updating this blog entry shortly with some additional information in response.

If you were unable to attend our information session and/or have any remaining questions not addressed in our information session or Pivot landing page, please get in touch and email us at

Please also send us an email if you are interested in collaborating more directly with the Pivot and have ideas to share – we welcome all feedback.

If you would like to join the Pivot and attend our first event, the Orientation, we invite you to register through the following link:

Pivot Invitation

Pivot Invitation

We are excited to begin our (pilot) Pivot process and are seeking a diverse group of 40 – 60 individuals to join us.

We are pleased to invite…   

  • First Voice Advocates / Individuals with Lived Experience
    • aiming for at least 50% of all participants
  • Academics
    • Professors, Postdoctoral Researchers, PhD Candidates/Students, Masters Students, Undergraduate Students & Staff
  • Architects
  • Builders
  • Designers
  • Developers
  • Engineers
  • Housing Advocates
  • Housing Management Bodies
  • Non-Market Housing Providers/Operators
  • Planners
  • Policy Decision Makers
  • Public Sector Representatives
    • Municipal
    • Provincial
    • Federal
  • Private (Market) – Individuals & Organizations engaged in Rental and/or Homeownership
  • Researchers
  • Skilled Tradespeople
  • Any additional individuals / organizational representatives with technical expertise of our housing system and housing provision

For more details on the Pivot, please watch our Information and Q&A Session (recorded Oct. 14).  

If you have any questions, please contact

Housing Innovation: Contracting the Design and Construction Team Differently

Housing Innovation: Contracting the Design and Construction Team Differently

Our second post in a series of blog posts around our deep dive, ‘How to Build More Affordably” and the lessons we learnt. Find the first post and our overview video here.

Written by: Shafraaz Kaba, Principal, ASK For a Better World 

One of the simplest ways to reduce the cost of housing is to consider how design and construction services are contracted or procured from architects, engineers, contractors and trades. For affordable housing, there are far more values-aligned ways to hire the professionals involved in designing and constructing multi-family developments. Instead of the usual practice of first hiring the architect or builder, and then developing drawings that will be priced by trades and inevitably come in over budget, there are new contracting mechanisms that allow for the design and construction team to collaborate together to meet the desired project budget and timeline. 

These include “Progressive Design Build” and “Integrated Project Delivery.”  Both of these methods foster a high degree of collaboration and integration between all team members. Essentially when the trades work directly with the design team understand what they need to build, for how much, and by what date, the entire team works together to accomplish these goals. It takes the guesswork out of a typical tender or bid process where the trades have no interaction whatsoever with the design team.

Lean design and construction is another key aspect of reducing project costs. Unlike manufacturing, the design and construction industries have barely increased in productivity over the last hundred years. The Lean Construction Institute has identified that 70% of projects are over budget and behind schedule. Also, 30% of the materials brought to a construction site are put in the dumpster. This is an embarrassing amount of waste.  Utilizing the methods and team culture of Lean can greatly reduce this waste by smarter specification, ordering of material and on site utilization that not only save costs, but time as well. Lean culture paired with a values-based design and construct method can yield unbelievable savings.

Mike Johnson explains his experience with Lean IPD on a project in this short video:

Here are some resources on Lean Construction, Integrated Project Delivery and Progressive Design Build:

Lean Construction Blog

Integrated Project Delivery Alliance

IDP Action Guide for Leaders

Progressive Design-Build

Edmonton Lean Community of Practice

IDP White Paper: Creating a Zero Carbon Building Under Budget and Ahead of Schedule: IDP Makes it Possible

Learning from Our Deep Dive on How Can We Build More Affordably?

Learning from Our Deep Dive on How Can We Build More Affordably?

The Affordable Housing Solutions Lab culminated in the prototyping phase this Summer. It has been a flurry of activity over the winter and spring, as the Innovations teams focused on new construction and retrofit sites and workshopped almost on a weekly basis. During these sessions, the Innovation teams went down a few rabbit holes but ultimately discovered a number of processes and prototypes we’re now ready to put to the test. 

We learned from various industry experts that prefabricated, modular or panelized construction is challenging without very big investments in factories and automation. We also discovered retrofitting existing buildings may open a can of worms that, if not carefully vetted, would not yield an affordable result. Even how we look at financing and property management can yield phenomenal cost savings month over month. Through six major innovations, the Innovation teams have found not only a way to making housing cost two-thirds what it does now, but offers up new and more effective ways to realize projects through collaboration and partnerships.

Have a look at our Innovations summarized in this short 16 minute video.

Over the course of the next few months, we will provide deeper dives into each innovation and provide resources and case studies to demonstrate these amazing opportunities.  So, stay tuned to the Pivot blog for more!

Municipal Policy Levers for the Creation and Maintenance of Affordable Housing

Municipal Policy Levers for the Creation and Maintenance of Affordable Housing

Street Map, Edmonton Alberta (1924)

By. Ariel MacDonald M.A., Research Assistant, Affordable Housing Solutions Lab

Municipalities are often “stuck between a rock and a hard place”: they are closest to the problem of housing affordability but often lack the financial resources and authority to tackle it. What levers do municipalities have at their disposal?

The levers available to municipal governments are primarily planning and land-use regulations and policies (Zhang, 2020, BC Housing Research Centre, 2017; Ellery, 2019; Tsenkova & Witwer, 2011). In many instances the aim of these levers is to incentivize or compel private developers to build affordable housing (Tsenkova & Witwer, 2011; SHS Consulting, 2020). Below is a description of ten such municipal policy levers.

  1. Inclusionary Zoning 

Inclusionary zoning requires developers to include a certain amount of affordable housing units in residential developments over a certain size (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017; Ellery, 2019; Tsenkova & Witwer, 2011; Pierre, 2007; Courville, 2015). This can be either through a financial/funding contribution or through purpose built housing stock (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017). Inclusionary zoning is frequently mentioned as a policy lever; this is in part because it can be implemented as a zoning regulation change that ensures integrated affordable housing throughout a community (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017).

  1. Increased Density Allowances

Municipalities can use increased density allowances or a ‘density bonus’ to increase the supply of affordable housing (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017; Ellery, 2019; Tsenkova & Witwer, 2011; Pierre, 2007; Courville, 2015). Increased density allowances or a ‘density bonus’ is a policy whereby if a developer includes a certain amount of affordable housing in their development they are permitted to build more dwelling units for the allotted area or are allowed an increased height allowance (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017; Ellery, 2019; Tsenkova & Witwer, 2011; Pierre, 2007; Courville, 2015). Increased density allowances are usually a part of inclusionary zoning.

  1. Regulatory Incentives

Municipalities can provide regulatory incentives for developers to include affordable housing in their residential developments (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017; Tsenkova & Witwer, 2011). Municipal development and planning approval processes can be “a significant barrier to building housing, including affordable housing, as it adds to the timelines and costs” (SHS Consulting, 2020, 24). Municipalities can reduce the development cost of projects that include affordable housing; this can include waiving application fees, permit fees, planning application fees and development charges and reducing or waiving minimum parking and parkland dedication requirements (Kimmell & Corliss, 2018; BC Housing Research Centre, 2017; Tsvenoka & Witwer, 2011). Furthermore, municipalities can expedite approvals, which in turn can save time and “lower financing costs and risks” (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017, 11). Expedited approvals can be applied to levers discussed above such as density bonusing; municipalities can allow for greater densities and remove time-intensive re-zoning requirements for affordable housing developments. Finally, streamlining the development process can remove barriers to implementing innovative solutions, like converting hotels that are vacant due to COVID-19 into affordable housing, “prefabricated homes, Passive Housing design, tiny homes, container housing, co-housing and secondary suites” (SHS Consulting, 2020, 24). Regulatory incentives can be employed in a variety of ways by municipalities to increase the supply of affordable housing. Although this lever can appear to be relatively straightforward it is often more complicated to implement. 

  1. Intensification 

Municipalities can rezone properties for increased density and a greater variety of housing types in order to intensify the use of the existing built up areas and increase the housing supply (BC Housing Research centre, 2017).This can include “[s]econdary suites (attached or detached), zoning for rental buildings, smaller lots, lot subdivisions, stratification or residential atop commercial” (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017, 9). Intensification can complement or work parallel to density bonuses and some of the innovative solutions described in the section above. Intensification creates more housing supply and can increase the diversity of housing options within the existing built up area and as a result increasing housing affordability. Intensification can add to the overall housing supply, thereby theoretically increasing the overall affordability of housing. 

  1. Covenant Tools 

Placing restrictive covenants on land targeted for affordable housing can ensure the provision of affordable housing over time (Kimmell & Corliss, 2018; BC Housing Research Centre, 2017). Placing covenants on land can “restrict who can live on a property and how much property can be sold or rented for” (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017, 15). The long term nature of covenants means they can target geographic areas where affordable housing could be beneficial to low income individuals, for example close downtowns and in proximity to amenities such as transit centres (Kimmell & Corliss). Covenants are slower and more difficult to implement than the solutions described above as they require legal expertise and are relatively rigid (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017). Covenants are not typically used on their own; they require re-zoning and therefore are almost exclusively employed in conjunction with inclusionary zoning and density bonus when an area is being rezoned.

  1. Community Land Trusts 

Community land trusts (CLT) are “private non-profit corporations created to acquire and hold land for the benefit of a community and provide secure affordable access to land and housing for community residents” (Ellery, 2019, 3). When applied to housing, CLTs can reduce the cost of home ownership because the price of a home purchased from a CLT does not include the value of the land (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017; Ellery, 2019). Part of the purchase contract is an agreement to sell the home back to the CLT. 

  1. Land Banking

Land banking is a mechanism for accumulating parcels of land for redevelopment in the public interest. Many Community Land Trusts (CTL) leverage lands acquired or already owned by a municipality, often as part of a land bank (BC Housing Research Centre, 2017). Housing can then be developed on the land by the municipality or other partners (often not for profits). This format means land ownership is directly tied in perpetuity to an owner that has a desire and/or mandate to create and maintain affordable housing.

  1. Housing Funds

Municipalities can assist in the creation of purpose built affordable housing through a variety of financing and procurement options. Most financing options for affordable housing include funding agreements with provincial and federal governments. Municipalities can also create dedicated funds for the creation of affordable housing (Ellery, 2019; BC Housing Research Centre, 2017). These housing funds “are distinct funds established to receive dedicated public revenues, which can only be spent on housing” and money is gathered via “gaming funds, land sales, development levies and more” (Ellery, 2019, 13). Housing funds can accrue from in lieu contributions; for example, from inclusionary zoning (discussed above). The procurement of affordable housing with Housing Funds can take many forms. Housing Funds can be used to directly finance the development of affordable housing by a municipality or partner organization such as a not-for-profit or a for-profit entity such as in the case of a public-private partnership. 

  1. Rent Subsidy Programs

A rent subsidy is cash assistance paid to households that demonstrate need. Rent subsidy programs can take different forms. Voucher systems provide a set amount to households who can choose where and what to rent. Other programs are modeled after rent-geared to income models and involve paying a subsidy to private market landlords for an amount equal to the difference between market value rent and 30% of the household’s monthly income. 

  1. Public Housing 

Many municipalities are owners and managers of affordable housing. Some of this municipally owned “public housing” is managed by “arms-length” housing management bodies. One of the advantages of public housing models is that municipalities can leverage public lands for new projects. In addition, municipalities may have access to cheaper credit thereby lowering the finance costs for construction. 

Works Cited

BC Housing Research. (2017). A Scan of Leading Practices in Affordable Housing.

Courville, R. (2015). The Growing Need for Social and Affordable Housing: A Municipal Perspective. Master’s Thesis, York University.

Kimmel, J., & Corliss, C. (2018). Levers of Housing Affordability: Strategies and Tools for Planners. The Western Planner.

Pierre, N. (2007). A Safer Haven: Innovations for Improving Social Housing in Canada. Canadian Policy Research Networks.

SHS Consulting. (2020).  Final Report of the Alberta Affordable Housing Review Panel.

Tsenkova, S., & Witwer, M. (2011). Bridging the gap: Policy instruments to encourage private sector provision of affordable rental housing in Alberta. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 20(1), 52-80.

Ellery, R. (2019). Promising & Innovative Practices in Affordable Housing. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Zhang, B. (2020). Social policies, financial markets and the multi-scalar governance of affordable housing in Toronto. Urban Studies, 57(13), 2628-2645.

Who’s Invited…

Who’s Invited…

Who is Invited to our Access to Housing Choice Series?

We are pleased to invite…

  • all members from our diverse disability communities
  • all disability allies and advocates (including friends and family members)
  • all housing advocates
  • academics
  • architects
  • builders
  • civil servants
  • designers
  • developers
  • engineers
  • manufacturers
  • non-market / public housing sector (all involved)
  • planners
  • policy decision makers
  • private (market) rental & homeownership sector
  • researchers
  • skilled tradespeople
  • students
  • anyone else directly or indirectly involved in our public and private market housing sectors

…to join us to take action on housing inclusion through our 3-part zoom webinar series—“Access to Housing Choice”—on July 9, July 16 and July 23 (all from 1:00pm-4:00pm).

This series is led by disability and housing advocates Roxanne Ulanicki, Donna Bulger, Michelle Bissell, Nadine Chalifoux and Shima Robinson, in partnership with Voice of Albertans with Disabilities, the John Humphrey Centre for Peace & Human Rights, and the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab (Pivot/Activities Homepage, UofA Homepage).

To register for July 9 (Disability Awareness Workshop): click here

To register for July 16 (First Voice Perspectives): click here

**Each session has been designed sequentially, building to creating and taking action in the third and final event. Therefore the registration link for July 23 (Putting Knowledge into Action) will sent by email to attendees who participated in both the July 9 and July 16 sessions.

  • The workshop on July 9 will be recorded and publicly posted
  • Those unable to attend on July 9 can watch the July 9 recording and join us on July 16

For any questions, please contact

Access to Housing Series: Core Principles

Access to Housing Series: Core Principles

We ask all attendees participating in our Access to Housing Series to respect & uphold our Core Principles:

  • Housing is a human right
  • Listen to understand, not respond
  • Be compassionately curious, not critical
  • Right time, right place, right people – to move a conversation forward
  • Courage to invite people in, rather than judge or call people out
  • The wisdom of many is stronger than the wisdom of one
  • Speak for yourself and not others
  • Respect confidentiality of the space
  • Trust in each other

The Affordability of Rental Apartments and Townhouses in Edmonton in 2020

The Affordability of Rental Apartments and Townhouses in Edmonton in 2020

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation released their annual rental market report a few months ago. The report analyzes market trends in large population centres in Canada for the year 2020. Included in the tables that accompanied the release of the report is data on the number of apartments and townhouses in the primary rental market by household income (organized into quintiles). Some of the data has to be interpreted with caution; however, it does provide us with a starting point for understanding the affordability challenges that many Edmonton renters face. Here is a version of the table:

The generally accepted affordability threshold for housing costs is no more than 30% of your monthly income. When it comes to the rental stock reported on in this table, an estimated 83% of the rental stock is unaffordable to those households living on less than $36,000/year. Put another way, an estimated 17% of the rental stock in the primary rental market is affordable to household living on less than $36,000/year. How many households fall into this category today? We will have to wait for the upcoming census data to answer this question.

In the absence of this data we can use other proxies. For example, households that rely solely on income support from Alberta Works and Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) receive less than $36,000/year. In December 2020, the Alberta Works and AISH caseloads reported for Edmonton were 23,772 and 24,262 respectively. When it comes to affordable accommodation, the housing needs of this population are likely not being met by the private rental market, a sector that is supplying less than 12,000 units for rent under $900/month.

  • Joshua Evans, Research Lead, Affordable Housing Solutions Lab

Social Architecture: Cures for COVID Isolation – A Virtual Symposium

Social Architecture: Cures for COVID Isolation – A Virtual Symposium

On April 21, 2021, seven panelists joined the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab and Green Violin Community Development Company to discuss a post-pandemic world where architecture and planning can provide solutions to safely connect people and communities again. Leaders from Architecture, Urban Design, and Community Programming came together at an intersection where we might find solutions that take us from Social Isolation to Reconnection.

We were joined by:

  • Howard Lawrence, Abundant Communities
  • Keren Tang, Participatory City
  • Jonathan Rockliff – RPK Architects
  • Barry Johns – Barry Johns Architecture
  • Laura Cunningham- Shpeley – Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues
  • Shafraaz Kaba – *ASK for a Better World
  • Robert Lipka – City of Edmonton

A recording of the symposium can be found here.

A screenshot taken from our virtual symposium.
Tough Enough to Survive? – A Virtual Symposium on Durability in Affordable Housing

Tough Enough to Survive? – A Virtual Symposium on Durability in Affordable Housing

On March 10, 2021 representatives from eight community housing providers gathered for a virtual meeting to discuss innovations in building design and construction. The conversation was rich and went beyond the physical structure of housing to explore the meaning of durability in the fullest sense of the term.

The virtual event was co-sponsored by the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab, Green Violin Community Development Company and Engineering at Alberta. The graphic below captures some of the learning that emerged out of the event.

The organizers would like to acknowledge the creative work of the Engineering Connects team who took notes during the event and translated these notes into the graphic above. This team included:

  • Sebastian Holmes 
  • Ashmit Kaur Gulati 
  • Clinton Nash 
  • Keaton Dixon-Reusz 
  • Danielle Morris-O’Connor 

Fellow Reflection: Yasushi Ohki

Fellow Reflection: Yasushi Ohki

Written by Yasushi Ohki

The Fellowship Program brings together experiential partners, researchers, practitioners, housing providers, policymakers, planners and housing advocates to collaborate over a 6-month term. During this time, Fellows work together to identify and explore innovative affordable housing solutions and to provide the lab direction with regard to community learning activities. These blog posts will describe how each of the Fellows became interested in housing and why they think housing is important.

  1. How did you come to be involved in the field of housing?

I became involved in the field of housing because of my education and interest in house design (my architecture degree) and then my subsequent career in land development where our customers for serviced city lots were single and multi-family builders. I have been building houses “on the side” for my entire career as well. And then when I worked at the City in the Housing and Homelessness Section, it really opened my eyes to the spectrum of housing needs that were necessary in Edmonton, yet not being met by the development industry. That’s when I really started collecting ideas and turning my focus onto housing solutions.

  1. Why is housing important?

Housing is important because a secure place to sleep is the foundation to getting a person’s wellbeing reserve refilled. And from that wellbeing springs forth more opportunities to function and contribute to our community and our society.

  1. In your opinion what is innovative when it comes to affordable housing?

Innovation comes in three forms: how we pay for our own housing (the economics of securing housing for ourselves); how our own housing interacts with other housing (the urban built environment); and what is our housing constructed out of (green construction technology and durability).

Examples of the economics of securing housing innovation would be the mixed-market model on a land trust parcel of land with market values of the housing being suppressed.

Examples of how our housing interacts with other housing is the Co-Living House arrangement where common areas are shared, but micro suites are self-contained and secure.

Examples of green construction technology is embedding highly insulating glass in a monolithic wall system and challenging our concept of what is a the purpose of a “window”

Fellow Reflection: Eric Storey

Fellow Reflection: Eric Storey

Written by Eric Storey

The Fellowship Program brings together experiential partners, researchers, practitioners, housing providers, policymakers, planners and housing advocates to collaborate over a 6-month term. During this time, Fellows work together to identify and explore innovative affordable housing solutions and to provide the lab direction with regard to community learning activities. These blog posts will describe how each of the Fellows became interested in housing and why they think housing is important.

  1. How did you come to be involved in the field of housing? 

I would like to begin by first acknowledging that I grew up with privilege, and that safe affordable housing has never been an issue in my life that I have had to search out. It has always been a given for me. 

For many years I volunteered with a program that provided support, mentorship and guidance to youth growing up in, and ageing out of care. I was struck by the fact that as the youth approached the age where they would be exiting the child welfare system (and government support) one of their biggest concerns was usually around finding affordable sustainable housing. This was especially true for LGBTQ2S+ youth who faced extra challenges in discrimination or bullying in foster placements or in searching for independent living apartments.

Following my retirement in 2007 I became more involved in community projects, and this led me to pursuing a Bachelor of Social Work degree in 2010. I completed my senior practicum with SAGE in 2012, and in this role much of my activity centered around finding housing for seniors with low incomes and/or needing extra living supports in housing. Following graduation, for several years I worked part-time at SAGE, as required, to fill in for staff who were absent for vacation of long-term leave. Again, most of this work was centered around housing. 

  1. Why is housing important?

Each time that I have moved, my search for housing revolved around the desirable features of a community I would like to live in, commute time to work, etc. and I have always had a good variety of choices within the budget range I had set for myself. 

Over the years my involvement with youth projects and seniors housing has given me a glimpse into what housing challenges are presented to those without the privileges that I have. I have seen youth who have recently aged out of the child welfare system living in shelters while attending post secondary education. I was astounded by their ingenuity and resilience in adapting to these difficult circumstances, their sense of relief when they were able to find stable housing, and more importantly how this stability allowed them to focus on their goals and improve their quality of life in almost every aspect. The same has been true in seeing seniors move from shelters or unsuitable/unaffordable housing into stable subsidised senior’s housing. Without housing as a given, it is difficult to imagine being able to establish healthy regular routines or to plan for the future.

  1. In your opinion what is innovative when it comes to affordable housing?

Over the last 10 years, I have been encouraged to see a gradual societal increase in awareness of the importance of affordable culturally sensitive housing. Since 2013 I have been involved with a group of volunteers to promote safe and inclusive housing for LGBTQ2S+ seniors. Each year housing providers have been more receptive to our suggestions to create more inclusive spaces, not only in terms of individual’s sexuality, but also to cultural traditions such as smudging or respect for faith based dietary restrictions. 

What I think is innovative is that as a society we are now starting to see a growing movement that understands that affordable inclusive housing, across the age spectrum, should not be viewed as a handout or charity but as a societal responsibility. Further, that this housing should not be considered as “people storage” but should be viable communities.

Fellow Reflection: David Prodan

Fellow Reflection: David Prodan

Written by David Prodan

The Fellowship Program brings together experiential partners, researchers, practitioners, housing providers, policymakers, planners and housing advocates to collaborate over a 6-month term. During this time, Fellows work together to identify and explore innovative affordable housing solutions and to provide the lab direction with regard to community learning activities. These blog posts will describe how each of the Fellows became interested in housing and why they think housing is important.

  1. How did you get involved in the housing sector?

In my youth I had some experiences with precarious housing, living in slummy places and even couch surfing for a while in my twenties. While I never considered myself homeless, I could definitely empathize with people who were.

Working at the Boys & Girls Club in Whitehorse I became involved with the Whitehorse Youth Coalition who were advocating to open a youth shelter downtown, and this experience really helped frame the idea that community needs to speak more vocally about a collective responsibility to house vulnerable people.

When I moved back to Edmonton I eventually found myself working as a community developer at e4c, helping people with mental illness remain stably housed through building relationships in their neighbourhoods. Again, the notion of community being the key to supporting vulnerable people, especially to access safe, inclusive and affordable housing, has been a driver of my work to this day.

2. Why is housing important?

A place to rest in comfort and security, to gather with family and friends, to feast, to be creative, to call home. The personal and communal nature of housing is an essential for daily living. Housing is a human right.

The relentless commodification of housing has only sharpened how unaffordable and inaccessible it is for people living in poverty. The systems we’ve created to favour profits over people have led to exorbitant prices for homeownership, leaving people with less means to adapt to an often hostile cycle of poverty, a landscape of exploitation, discrimination and substandard living conditions.

Canada used to be a leader in post war affordable housing, creating cooperatives and well-built apartments that made sure citizens with limited income could rent safe, quality homes. One can trace the steep increase in homelessness and housing unaffordability to 1993 when the federal government devolved responsibility for public housing to its provinces without an adjacent strategy to ensure affordability. Coupled with the bottom line to build quickly and cheaply, many city apartments that are barely affordable have now become run down and difficult to maintain in good shape.

Regulation favours developers and property owners of affordable who don’t even live in their buildings, which built to conventional standards require too much maintenance, gobble utilities and have generally short lifespans.

The challenges of affordable housing are complex, involving an intersection of community safety, construction industries, government services, and property management. Very rarely are individuals in need of affordable housing involved in the policies to build such, and this is fundamentally its biggest problem – a lack of human centred design.

3. What is innovative about affordable housing today?

Net zero is a standard we should all aspire to. Reducing our ecological footprint and ecosystem costing are new ways that can help us achieve true conservation values in our homes. Local and social procurement are changing the way we build ethically. There are many systemic innovations that are imperative to achieving equitable access to affordable housing.

What is interesting about innovation in today’s housing sector is that old ways are being exalted as new revelations. Building sustainably requires using and reusing simple materials at hand, or taking advantage of natural light for better heating using passive house architecture, or channeling grey water to upcycle. These, among many other sustainable practices, are often rooted in the ways of our ancestors. In Mexico, hempcrete and compressed plastic bricks are becoming very popular as building materials. Shipping containers make great building blocks for modern design. Tiny homes are being adopted as a great approach to building small neighbourhoods for homeless veterans. There are endless variations on how to maximize existing materials, or to deconstruct old homes for parts, that emulate traditional homebuilding from past eras.

Similarly, the whole notion of neighbouring has been renewed in recent years through asset based community development (ABCD). With car centric suburbs and gentrification dominating the latter half of last century’s “community building”, people have become isolated and disconnected, and the emerging movements of ABCD and abundant communities are really changing the conversation about creating community where we live, embracing diversity and inclusion, and focusing on people’s strengths as contributing to their citizenship.

Resilience is innovative too! What can we learn from the needs, the vulnerabilities, and the vigorous adaptations of people who are unhoused? Their lived experiences are powerful stories that can teach us a lot about where society needs to move, to adapt to a hopeful future of human rights and sustainable community development.

Fellow Reflection: Roxanne Ulanicki

Fellow Reflection: Roxanne Ulanicki

Written by Roxanne Ulanicki

The Fellowship Program brings together experiential partners, researchers, practitioners, housing providers, policymakers, planners and housing advocates to collaborate over a 6-month term. During this time, Fellows work together to identify and explore innovative affordable housing solutions and to provide the lab direction with regard to community learning activities. These blog posts will describe how each of the Fellows became interested in housing and why they think housing is important.

  1. How did you come to be involved in the field of housing? 

I am a consumer of housing. I’ve been looking for wheelchair accessible housing since 1986.  

There is no market for wheelchair accessible housing in Edmonton.  There is also not a market for visitable housing.

I know this because I have been looking for it for 35 years

I have written countless letters, met city councillors, MLA’s.  I even served on the board of a non-profit housing society until I was removed for checking into the CEO’s credentials.  (He bought his MBA online for $750) 

I have been told many times, by builders in particular, that I have no right to tell people how to build or develop housing. They laugh when I describe a barrier free neighbourhood.  Most landlords have denied me accommodations.

I’ve been by government that this is a capitalist society and the “free” market will provide and adjust to what consumers need.  I’ve been needing housing since 1986.  

Finally, in 2004 I did find wheelchair accessible housing.  I found Artspace Housing Cooperative. 

Artspace is a housing development on the east side of downtown Edmonton.  

It consists of an eight-story high rise and a row of townhouses.  Twenty nine out of eighty-eight units are adapted for people who use wheelchairs.  

Artspace also owns a homecare company which provides services authorized and funded by Alberta Health Services. 

These services make it possible for many people with disabilities to live independently as opposed to living in long term care or in unhealthy, co-dependent relationships.  

Our members with disabilities are able to participate more in the community whether it be working or volunteering. 

Simply, we use less healthcare dollars by sharing these resources amongst our members. 

This housing development opened for tenants in 1990.  The wheelchair accessible units rarely come available for rent.  Those of us who live here joke about only leaving here in a coffin.  No one moves out because there is literally nowhere else to go.

A majority of members have very sad stories about where they lived before finding Artspace.  One of our most recent members had been living in a hospital for 5 months because there was nowhere that could accommodate him.

Housing is essential to living a good life here in Canada.  Everyone should have access to housing that enables them to live independently and pursue work and/or careers.

I retired at the age of 36 for medical reasons and I believe lack of accessible housing was a major barrier to success.

I have done most of my advocacy work since I have found accessible housing myself. People who are marginalized by housing cannot be expected to advocate for themselves when they are experiencing a lack of freedom and mobility.

Even today, conversations around accessible housing unnerve me because I think the conversation will be reduced to how we can do “more” with less money and reducing my life to a dollar sign.

So, I’m involved in the area of housing out of necessity.

2. Why is housing important?

Housing in a northern climate is an absolute necessity.  

If we want our economy to thrive, people need to live in housing that enables them to work and participate in society.

It’s pretty hard to live a meaningful life if you have minimal access to the community around you.

People with disabilities need to be meaningfully included in society because it is a violation of our human rights and just irresponsible to not include us.   

Housing is the solution not the problem.

3. In your opinion what is innovative when it comes to affordable housing?

Barrier free /Visitable design for all housing from today forward.  

The Right to Housing in Edmonton: What are your Rights when Renting?

The Right to Housing in Edmonton: What are your Rights when Renting?

The Affordable Housing Solution Lab (AHSL) is pleased to share our 1st activity in a series focused on the Right to Housing in Edmonton. This video is a zoom recording of a Feb. 24/21 lunch & learn panel session featuring the topic: ‘What are your rights when renting?

Invited panelists:

* Dr. Damian Collins, University of Alberta

* Sarah Eadie, Edmonton Community Legal Centre

* Roxanne Ulanicki, AHSL Fellow

* Nadine Chalifoux, AHSL Fellow

Background: Housing is universally accepted as one of our essential human needs and is the cornerstone for individual as well as community health and wellbeing. Thus, adequate housing is an essential human right and a lack of access is an affront to basic human dignity.

Despite Canada’s remarkable wealth and prosperity, according to our 2016 Census it was estimated that 4,373,555 households (~32%) struggled with one or more forms of housing need (adequacy, suitability and/or affordability)—including 50% of all tenant households (23% in core housing need, disproportionate to the 13% able to access some form of subsidized housing). Further, it is estimated that at least 235,000 individuals experience homelessness each year.

Housing instability and houselessness disproportionately impacts disenfranchised households including proportions of our Indigenous populations, households dealing with low-incomes, seniors, lone-parent families, people with disabilities, marginalized youth (many who are a part of our LGBTQ2S+ communities), newcomers and migrants. This has been especially compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as by provincial cuts (in Alberta) to income supports, AISH, rental subsidies and non-market housing programming and capital funds.

Similar to trends across Canada, in Edmonton we know that tenants are particularly vulnerable to housing inequity as 35.5% of households in the city are renters, yet within this tenure group, 50.2% are in some form of housing need and 37.7% are in core housing need (2016 Census). With this in mind, we planned this first session to focus on tenant rights in Edmonton.

Recently, the Government of Canada committed to the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing. This commitment places obligations on many different stakeholders in our housing system. It also begs the following questions we aim to explore over the coming months:

* What are we talking about when we refer to the right to adequate housing in Edmonton?

* How are these rights protected in Edmonton?

* What work remains to be done?

Sources of Interest: – The UN’s Definition of Adequate Housing…​ – CMHC’s Housing Portal, City of Edmonton…​)

Contact: If you would like to connect with the AHSL, including sharing any ideas for future Right to Housing events, please send us an email to:

Reflections on Deep Dive Workshop #3

Reflections on Deep Dive Workshop #3

Screen shot of the collaborative work of the “New Housing Team”
Screen shot of the collaborative work of the “Retrofit Team”


The Edmonton Affordable Housing Solutions Lab is nearing the completion of the prototyping phase. Two teams have been working diligently since December in creating prototype solutions with one team considering an existing building retrofit checklist and the other developing a framework for new housing. The teams have leveraged the diverse skills and experiences from their participants which included people working in the built environment as builders, contractors, architects as well as people working directly with those who need affordable housing. These two teams have undertaken deep dives that have provided insight into the systemic problems with funding formulas, land “commodification” as well as the restrictions from building codes and zoning. Issues such as accessibility and visitability, along with energy and environmental sustainability have also been discussed in detail. 

The two teams will be creating checklist tools for the project developers to utilize in how to find the right project that addresses affordability, accessibility and sustainability. The new housing team has even developed a framework for a social enterprise that can remove cost/profit centres that are a barrier to constructing affordable homes. This idea uses the model of a co-operative organization or enterprise to build modular home components to be delivered to housing cooperatives assemble/construct them. Learning opportunities and partnerships with trade schools and the manufacturing sector are an important part of making this co-operative model work.

After creating these checklists and frameworks for project developers, the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab will be looking for project developers and social housing agencies to test the ideas and provide constructive feedback for refinement and improvement. It is the hope of the participants in the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab to inspire new integrative and collaborative ways to build more homes.

Shafraaz Kaba, Workshop Facilitator

Fellow Reflection: Shima A. Robinson

Fellow Reflection: Shima A. Robinson

Written by Affordable Housing Solutions Lab Fellow, Shima A. Robinson

The Fellowship Program brings together experiential partners, researchers, practitioners, housing providers, policymakers, planners and housing advocates to collaborate over a 6-month term. During this time, Fellows work together to identify and explore innovative affordable housing solutions and to provide the lab direction with regard to community learning activities. These blog posts will describe how each of the Fellows became interested in housing and why they think housing is important.

1. How did you come to be involved in the field of housing? 

I was brought onto the board of a housing organization called House Next Door that provides supportive housing for adults living with mental illness in 2013. This began my journey to learning about the many ways in which housing is made available and made accessible through community coordination with public service organizations and nonprofit organizations. I am still a member of the HNDS Board of Directors. I am also a former resident of their housing program. I know first-hand from lived experience of houselessness the issues and barriers that exist or can arise for folks who face challenges that are under-considered or lack full support of the public sector.

2. Why is housing important?

Of course, housing is important because it is necessary for thriving in our current society and it is a human right. Affordable housing is key because we are seeing a growing wage gap along many matrices: between the rich and the poor, men and non-men, and along racial lines as well. The quality and moreover accessibility (which is a determinant of quality) of housing being built is a measure of the success of our society. It is an issue that implicates all levels of government and affects the lives of all citizens. Quality of housing, taken holistically, is the measure of a society’s means, moral identity, integrity, and it’s character.

3. In your opinion what is innovative when it comes to affordable housing?

Affordable housing that is built and maintained as per the needs of its tenants or owners is key when it comes to innovation. People have variable needs, and different ideas of comfort. The idea of affordable housing should not be dominated by conceptions of austerity and the “bottom line”, but rather, should be about fulfilling the requirements for the maintenance of a home for a person. A home is more than housing, it is the place of repose, generative of energy, meaning and sense of worth for its occupant. This challenge is structural but also has to do with the financial planning pertaining to the maintenance of affordable housing. New policy, new rules about how housing is secured and remains so is much needed to address chronic issues of unaffordability which is about more than money. It is about suitability of arrangements for the folks who are in most need. Suitability is determined by understanding their challenges and barriers that exist in their lives. It is a deeply sociologically informed approach, which take into account the identities of people who need affordable housing initiatives, that will bring about permanent success for supportive housing initiatives.

Upcoming Event: Tough Enough to Survive, A Virtual Discussion Panel

Upcoming Event: Tough Enough to Survive, A Virtual Discussion Panel

The Affordable Housing Solutions Lab would like to invite you to a symposium on durability in affordable housing.

Join us on March 10th! Find all the details and register here.

Affordable By Design? Exploring ‘Durability’ in Affordable Housing

About this Event

Organizations that operate affordable housing need a building that is efficient and durable and which meets all the essential safety and health requirements of the residents who live there. Innovations in building design and construction can help organizations achieve the goal of providing affordable housing in perpetuity.

This symposium will explore how future building design and construction practices can be informed by the experiences gleaned from currently operating buildings. We have 8 guest panelists that will engage in a discussion panel followed by a Q&A.

The specific theme for this symposium is ‘durability.’ Over the course of the symposium, experiences from builders, developers, and affordable housing organizations will be shared. The aim is to condense the learning that emerges into a Handbook for Durable Design, which can be disseminated to affordable housing organizations and developers.

Our panelists:

Cam MacDonald, Right at Home Housing Society

Mark Hoosein, Capital Region Housing

Rob Appleyard, Brentwood Communities

Cole Lehto, Homeward Trust Edmonton

Cheryl Whiskeyjack, Bent Arrow

Dave Ward, Ambrose Place

Greg Christenson, Christenson Communities

Murray Soroka, Jasper Place Wellness Centre

Fellow Reflection: Nadine Chalifoux

Fellow Reflection: Nadine Chalifoux

Written by Affordable Housing Solutions Lab Fellow, Nadine Chalifoux

The Fellowship Program brings together experiential partners, researchers, practitioners, housing providers, policymakers, planners and housing advocates to collaborate over a 6-month term. During this time, Fellows work together to identify and explore innovative affordable housing solutions and to provide the lab direction with regard to community learning activities. These blog posts will describe how each of the Fellows became interested in housing and why they think housing is important.

1. How did you come to be involved in the field of housing? 

I’ve always been involved in housing and homelessness since I was 9. It’s been close to my heart as I have suffered from the lack of affordable, appropriate and accessible let alone safe housing a good deal of my life.

2. Why is housing important?

I grew up in poverty so we lived in social housing, which is where I became aware of the dire need housing was for so many Edmontonians. That was 9, now I’m 45. I became active in it in Drayton Valley when I found myself bouncing from place to place, couch to couch, back and forth from my mom’s average. There was zero housing initiatives for impoverished and homeless individuals/families at the time. Most active when I returned to Edmonton after a year at a job, I suffered deep grief and ended up homeless, jobless, and without my car 10 years ago last December. I’ve always felt the large gap housing has been. I don’t want anyone to suffer the trauma of being homeless or without adequate, appropriate, accessible, safe and affordable housing.

3. In your opinion what is innovative when it comes to affordable housing?

If you asked me 40 years ago, I’d say nothing is innovative about affordable housing.  Today I am encouraged by the many innovative ways affordable housing is being achieved:  from private developers pairing with not for profit housing providers to create not only affordable housing that is not sub-par but also net-zero and even rent to own options for the poorer populations. Also seeing the City of Edmonton not passing the problem to federal and provincial governments but purchasing unused properties and land for affordable, permanent supportive and near market housing developments. Taking accountability for its citizens. I always believe that a city should help the solution to eliminating the drain on services by vulnerable, and impoverished citizens giving them the opportunity to gain an equal opportunity to succeed as those who are in a better life situation. “A community is that of people who have extra to share with those who have less. Thus making the community equal. No one needing help and no one too better off. An equal community creates confidence, positivity, and growth equally.”

Introducing the AHSL Fellows (2020-2021)

Introducing the AHSL Fellows (2020-2021)

The Affordable Housing Solutions Lab is based at the University of Alberta and MacEwan University. The purpose of the lab is to support Edmontonians in the innovation and development of effective local affordable housing solutions.

This work is undertaken in partnership with a diverse group of housing stakeholders. The aim is to collectively generate and scale up transformational housing solutions suited to the specific needs of individuals, families and neighbourhoods in Edmonton.

The lab itself encompasses a number of different activities. One of the lab’s activities is called the Fellowship Program. The Fellowship Program brings together experiential partners, researchers, practitioners, housing providers, policymakers, planners and housing advocates to collaborate over a 6-month term. During this time, Fellows work together to identify and explore innovative affordable housing solutions and to provide the lab direction with regard to community learning activities. 

The collective knowledge and depth of diverse housing experience shared amongst our inaugural group of Fellows is unique and reflective of some of the breadth and depth within our local capacity. 

We would like to introduce you to some of our fellows. In the weeks to come, we will be sharing a series of blog entries authored by our fellows. These blogs will describe how each of the Fellows became interested in housing and why they think housing is important. In preparing their blogs, we asked each Fellow to respond to the following 3 questions:

1. How did you come to be involved in the field of housing?
2. Why is housing important?
3. In your opinion what is innovative when it comes to affordable housing?

Reflections on Deep Dive Workshop #2

Reflections on Deep Dive Workshop #2

The second workshop in our deep dive created space to learn from others in innovative ways, and to break out into two teams to tackle the challenge.

We started the day off by hearing from our first guest speaker, Mark Erickson, from Studio NORTH. Mark shared the project they had developed which won the City of Edmonton’s Missing Middle Challenge a few years ago. This prompted our group to see an example of innovation in the housing space and gave us some energy for the next part of the workshop.

The rest of the morning was spent in one of two groups: Team New Build and Team Retrofit. Both these teams went into breakout rooms and spent the remainder of the morning thinking about the values they would like to focus on, the scope of their ‘prototype’ or ‘framework’, and brainstorming ideas around how they could think about new builds or retrofitting.

In the afternoon, we were lucky to hear from Lynn Hanley at Communitas about their experience in social housing and innovation in the affordable housing space. This was an opportunity for our participants to ask questions, engage deeper, and learn from someone with deep knowledge.

After this, we went back to our groups and were prompted by Lynn to think about who are we really designing for and what does our ideal design look like or include?

As we wrapped up our second workshop, one of the major themes that kept being discussed was how can one prototype or framework or idea address such a large problem? This is something we have been grappling with since we started our work in the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab. Our approach is to bring diverse thinkers together, learn from people with lived experience, and try novel ways of looking at complex problems. We think that through facilitated exercises, people can be nudged to come up with new ideas and that is what we are trying to do through this deep dive.

Our two teams are meeting weekly before our third workshop to continue to brainstorm and develop ideas for a prototype or framework. Stay tuned for updates from our next workshop and participants!

Upcoming Event: The Right to Housing In Edmonton – What Are Your Rights When Renting?

Upcoming Event: The Right to Housing In Edmonton – What Are Your Rights When Renting?

The Affordable Housing Solutions Lab (AHSL) welcomes you to join us on Zoom for the first in a series of events on realizing the right to housing.

No need to register, you can just join in the Zoom link here: We look forward to seeing you!

Edmonton Rental Market – Year in Review (2020)

Edmonton Rental Market – Year in Review (2020)

Image Source: IQRemix; Link:

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation released their annual rental market report a few weeks ago. The report analyzes market trends in large population centres in Canada for the year 2020.

Here are three highlights from the report for metro Edmonton:

  • Vacancy goes up, average rent stays the same

The vacancy rate in the primary rental sector reached levels (7.2%) not seen since 1995. This vacancy rate equates to roughly 5,188 units. While vacancy reached levels unseen in 25 years, the average rental cost remained roughly the same at $1,153.

  • Supply increases, with addition of higher rent units

The supply of rental units increased by 3.1% for a total of 72,061 units. The average rent for the new units added to the rental stock was 31.2% higher ($1,513) than the average rent of the purpose-built rental stock as whole.

  • Rental market still remains unaffordable for households in deep poverty

Only 15.1% of the rental stock in metro Edmonton is affordable to renter households with low incomes (households with annual income of less than $36K). Housing affordability stress is likely significant among households with children in this income category as only 2.5% of two-bedrooms and none of 3+ bedrooms are affordable to them.

Take-away: Affordability challenges persist alongside an increase in supply.

Joshua Evans, Affordable Housing Solutions Lab

Guest Spotlight: “If Minivans Were Manufactured Like Houses”

Guest Spotlight: “If Minivans Were Manufactured Like Houses”

Written by Yasushi Ohki, Executive Director of Green Violin.

Yasushi was raised in Edmonton and has called it home since completing degrees in civil engineering (University of Alberta) and architecture (University of British Columbia). For over 22 years, he has worked in the land development industry, including greenfield development, infill residential construction and project management. Yasushi has also spent a good portion of his professional life in civil service, first in Strathcona County’s Current Planning Department, then in the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Infrastructure, and finally in the City of Edmonton’s Housing and Homelessness Section. Yasushi brings to his work a love of urban design and a keen eye for how people interact with architecture, combined with a sensitivity to the realities of building construction and maintenance. He continues his work in community development with the establishment of a trio of sustainability-oriented organizations: the Green Violin Community Development Company, the Rose Cello Affordable Housing Society, and the Prairie Sky Property Management Corporation.

If Minivans Were Manufactured Like Housing

We can increase the capacity of existing roads, we can efficiently transport more people, our whole family can travel together! It’s such a great idea. Let’s get a minivan – not so fast, this is Edmonton and if  minivans were manufactured like houses – it wouldn’t be that easy.

SPRING:  First of all, is your property even allowed to have a minivan? Check your property zoning. Luckily, City Council has approved a new zoning bylaw that encourages density and minivans are allowed to be built as a discretionary use. That means that you must engage your immediate neighbours and get them to support your application to have a minivan. Most of your neighbours, even the friendly ones, start to feel uncomfortable. They agree that minivans are a great idea for increasing capacity, they just don’t want to see one in their neighbourhood. Some neighbours are outright rude and say they don’t want the kind of people that minivans attract. They say that it will bring down the value of their own cars that they enjoy. You’ll have to deal with them later at Council or at a special board that hears appeals.

SUMMER:  You are convinced you are doing what is good for the city and good for the environment. You engage a minivan designer and start looking for a minivan builder. At the same time, you submit your proposed design for your minivan to the City and by this time, you don’t even object to the City’s minivan planners who say you need to change the roofline and remove most of the windows on one side, you also have to lower your minivan so it doesn’t sit too high above the cars in your neighbourhood. In addition, you have to agree that no more than three unrelated individuals will ever use the minivan at the same time, and you cannot rent your minivan out for sharing. Six months have passed since deciding on a minivan but you are still determined. You have your permits approved and you are ready to start building.

AUTUMN:  Your minivan builder is busy and you have to wait for them to show up at your property. Eventually the tires arrive, followed by some of the bodywork. The seats appear one day and disappear the next. You buy some insurance against theft. One builder rep shows up but not all the components are on site so he leaves. It rains. You look out of the window as  your parts start to rust a bit. Eventually enough of the components arrive that the trades start to appear and assemble your minivan. For most of the autumn you excitedly sit in the half built shell and imagine all the road trips you will take.

WINTER:  Months pass. Parts come and go. Some parts fit, some parts don’t. Trades come and go. Some are good, some are not. Your dream minivan is looking okay, but it’s taking so long. Finally the interior finish is nearing completion, your minivan is inspected and is found to be roadworthy. Sure some painting needs to be touched up, and a few of the lights don’t work, and the left tire still leaks. These are owner maintenance items so you are handed the keys. It took some time, and a lot of effort but you are making a difference. You are part of the solution. Congratulations you have now own a minivan!

CONCLUSION:  You are not happy with the process. Minivans should not be built this way. If we do not change the process and time to provide minivans, there will not be as many as the City needs in order to fulfil the City Plan. This is imperative to meet affordability goals, climate goals and livability goals.  There needs to be a revolution. There will be a revolution. We cannot grow without it.

Reflections on Deep Dive Workshop #1

Reflections on Deep Dive Workshop #1

What does success look like? This was our guiding question for our first deep dive workshop with industry experts and folks from the non-profit housing sector.

Over an afternoon Shafraaz Kaba, our stellar facilitator, led our group through a series of exercises to answer the question, “what does success look like?”. There were a few themes that people identified as essential to success:

  • coming up with realistic ideas,
  • incorporating sustainability,
  • being inclusive,
  • knowing our end-user,
  • designing with innovative financial models,
  • and thinking about long-term policy implications.

We also spent time discussing what barriers we may face as we go through this journey, this included things such as:

  • zoning bylaws,
  • availability of land,
  • funding,
  • community perceptions/buy-in,
  • and an equitable approach to involving people with lived experience. 

This workshop was an opportunity for us to learn from each other and build a shared vision of the design journey. Our upcoming workshops will divide the group into two teams: a new build team and a design team. These teams will explore how we can build affordably with a focus on sustainability, inclusiveness, and community. Ultimately, the prototypes will strive to reimagine new housing that can address the needs we have heard from people with lived experience and suitable to the Edmonton context.

Stay tuned for updates from our next workshop and blog posts from our participants!

Illustrated notes taken by Rhea Kachroo, Solutions Lab Strategist.
Our rad participants!

Upcoming Event: Housing Post-Pandemic

Upcoming Event: Housing Post-Pandemic

Not Back to Normal: Housing Post-Pandemic

Part of the Pandemonium: Urban Studies and Recovering from COVID-19 lecture series from Simon Fraser University.

Normal was not good enough before the pandemic — especially when talking about housing affordability, access and sustainability. Our Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy is currently under review, toward a revised Metro 2050 plan. How should we think about key aspects of this and other local and regional plans, in light of the pandemic? For example, strategy 4.2 of our regional plan seeks to “develop healthy and complete communities with access to a range of services and amenities.” For those struggling, now as before the pandemic, to find housing that is suitable for their household, affordable and in good repair, and located in a neighbourhood where they can access what they need, changes are needed in the direction we are heading, away from what was sadly considered “normal” pre-pandemic.


Yushu Zhu
Assistant Professor, SFU Urban Studies

Guest speakers

Laura Colini
Senior Policy Advisor, EU UIA/URBACT

Niamh Moore Cherry
Associate Professor, School of Geography, University College Dublin

Erin Rennie
Senior Planner, Metro Vancouver

Rebecca Schiff
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Health Sciences, Lakehead University

Sierra Tasi Baker
Sky Spirit Consulting

Register here.


What does it take to make a home?

What does it take to make a home?

By: Shafraaz Kaba, Principal, ASK For a Better World

Along with our facilitator, Shafraaz Kaba, we are beginning to work with industry experts and folks from the non-profit housing sector to think about housing affordability. We will document this journey here. Please see below for our first post detailing the start of this journey.

What does home mean to you? How about housing? And what is affordable housing? What is a shelter? Is homelessness and the lack of affordable housing triggered by our failure to deliver social supports to the vulnerable, those with low incomes, and hard to house? Or is it a function of failure of policy and ineffective funding models that do not deliver the type, scale and number of units required? Perhaps it is also a function of land values and gentrification. Speculation and the never-ending need to develop neighbourhoods for profit push out folks who cannot afford the inflation of rents. In our polarized, partisan world, are we losing the idea of creating community? Affordable housing has been a subject that has been the study of countless architectural theses, and even the focus of many architectural and builder practices. Through the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab, we will collaborate to test prototypes for Edmonton.

The Affordable Housing Solutions Lab is a partnership between MacEwan University, the University of Alberta, the Edmonton Community Development Company, and the City of Edmonton. The vision of this lab is to ensure all citizens in Edmonton have access to safe, adequate and supportive housing. It hopes to empower Edmontonians to innovate, co-create and develop effective, local housing solutions that promote social inclusion and fulfill the right to housing.

Housing. Home. Shelter. We will begin to document our prototypes through this blog. Over the course of an Edmonton winter, watch our progress and hear from the various participants on our prototyping teams. Perhaps our ideas can inspire the people working in the local housing industry, and create new models for equity and humanity.

To provoke some ideas, here is a short, 28 minute documentary on “What it takes to make a home.”

Graduate Student Opportunity (Master of Arts) – Community Housing Futures

Graduate Student Opportunity (Master of Arts) – Community Housing Futures

Dr. Joshua Evans is seeking a full-time, master’s student to join the Community Housing Canada team beginning May 2021 or September 2021. This is a 2-year, fully-funded graduate opportunity ($23,282.24/year) and is based in the Human Geography Program (Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta.

Working under the supervision of Dr. Evans within the Area of Inquiry entitled “Imagining Community Housing Futures,” the successful applicant will complete graduate course work (9 credits) and thesis research on innovations in Community Housing. The expectation is that the student’s research will examine dominant ways of understanding community housing while also identifying alternative ways of foreseeing its transformed purpose and function. In this regard, thesis based research may involve a variety of approaches including theoretical-engagement with alternative practices or practical engagements with theoretical alternatives.

Students with an undergraduate degree in Human Geography, Planning, Sociology, Political Science, Anthropology, History or a related discipline are encouraged to apply.

Application information (including application deadlines) can be found here.

For your more information regarding this opportunity please contact Dr. Joshua Evans (

This position will contribute to the work of “Community Housing Canada: Partners in Resilience” an academic-community partnership supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Grant Number: 890-2018-1013). The partnership is directed by Professor Damian Collins at the University of Alberta (host institution), in collaboration with Capital Region Housing (lead community partner).

ABSI Connect: The AHSL Story

ABSI Connect: The AHSL Story

Our friends over at ABSI (Alberta Social Innovation) Connect, are a collective of Alberta-based organizations and individuals who want to address the root causes of today’s most pressing issues and believe this requires working and learning together. They work to find, connect, celebrate, and support Albertans who are creating and testing new ways of approaching society’s most pressing problems.

Rhea Kachroo, the Solutions Lab Strategist at AHSL, sat down (virtually) with Barbara Weber, the Facilitator at ABSI Connect to talk about the process of the lab, what we’ve done so far, and where we’re headed. The entire article can be found here.

To learn more about ABSI Connect and the work they do, click here.

Webinar: Community Approaches to Affordable Housing

Webinar: Community Approaches to Affordable Housing

Join Joshua Evans, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, for the latest Science Connects Webinar as he examines various policy approaches to housing affordability.

Housing is a social determinant of health and a key ingredient in the wellbeing of individuals and communities. Moreover, housing, like education and health care, is now widely seen as a human right. Yet, a growing number of Canadians 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 wellbeing and respects the right to dignity for all? This webinar will examine various policy approaches to housing affordability. Using examples from Edmonton, Alberta, it will emphasize the critical role of community housing in Canada’s current and future housing system.

Watch the webinar here.

The Human Right to Adequate Housing

The Human Right to Adequate Housing

By: Damian Collins and Sophie L. Stadler (Human Geography Program, University of Alberta and Community Housing Canada Research Partnership)

Adequate housing is a human right because it is central to dignity, autonomy and wellbeing.  It means more than just having a roof over one’s head – it also means having a home, and a foundation for pursuing goals. A home gives people identity, purpose and ties to place that support inclusion, community and participation.  In this way, it also provides a “bedrock” for the realization of other human rights. As Jeremy Waldron explained in a landmark essay on human freedom, “everything that is done has to be done somewhere” (p296), and to lack a place of one’s own is to be “comprehensively unfree” (p303). The realization of the right to adequate housing is thus vital and valuable for every human being.

The Foundation of the Right to Housing

The right to adequate housing is part of the Economic Social and Cultural (ESC) right to an adequate standard of living. It was first articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25(1)) in 1948. This right was then expanded upon in the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11(1)) in 1966:

“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right…”

CESCR General Comment No. 4 (1991) provides a substantive understanding of the entitlements and obligations associated with the right and defines the minimum criteria for “adequate” housing, outlined in Table 1. It provides an international standard for assessing housing policy.

Right to Housing ComponentContent
(a) Legal security of tenureLegal protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats.
(b) Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructureReliable provision of (access to) necessary resources and services, including: safe drinking water, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, sanitation and washing facilities, means of food storage, refuse disposal, site drainage and emergency services.
(c) AffordabilityRecognition that housing costs must be commensurate with income; provision of subsidies and support for those in need; protection against rent changes.
(d) HabitabilityProvision of housing suitable to environment, adequate protection from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind etc., also structural hazards and disease vectors
(e) AccessibilityAccommodations to ensure equal access by all groups including those historically disadvantaged (mobility impaired, sick, etc.)
(f) LocationHousing located so as to ensure access to employment options, health-care services, schools, childcare centres and other social facilities; also distance from potential health hazards
(g) Cultural adequacyOffering a diversity of housing types, with built forms that enable expression of cultural identity; inclusive of modern technologies.
Table 1: Content of the Right to Adequate Housing

Common Breaches of the Right to Housing

Successive UN Special Rapporteurs on Adequate Housing have identified homelessness as a severe breach of the right to housing.  This status stems from the many negative consequences that follow from being deprived of housing, including poor health, discrimination and social exclusion. The right to housing provide a powerful – and international – vocabulary for making this ‘private’ suffering visible. It also provides a foundation for making the elimination of homelessness “a cross-cutting human rights priority in socioeconomic policy, planning and development” (Farha, 2015, para 5).

Forced evictions, and evictions that are likely to result in homelessness, are also common breaches of the right to housing. To underline the seriousness of the issue, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released General Comment 7, which focuses solely on forced evictions – “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the permission of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection” (Para 3). However, the right to housing does not prohibit evictions “in the case of persistent non-payment of rent or of damage to rented property without any reasonable cause” (Para 11), provided due process is followed.

Obligations Imposed by the Right to Housing

As an ESC right, the right to housing requires governments to take actions to realize the right progressively and to the maximum of their available resources, on the basis of non-discrimination. It obliges the state to ensure adequate housing through legislative, administrative and budgetary measures. To fulfil the right to housing, a National Housing Strategy is “almost invariably required” – a step Canada finally took in 2017 with the launch of A Place to Call Home. One of the benefits of a National Housing Strategy is that it sets a framework for legislation “that imposes clear-cut and strong obligations on the responsible actors (both in the public and private sector) that engages them to support this fundamental right” (Moons & Hubeau, 2016, p661).

Heffernan et al. (2015) elaborated on the state’s duty to fulfill the right to housing in Canada, stating federal and provincial governments should take “deliberate actions to amend laws, policies and programs in the areas of: (a) affordable housing; (b) income support to ensure affordability of housing; and (c) physically accessible housing for persons with disabilities and housing with supports for community living for persons with disabilities” (p23).


The right to adequate housing is a fundamental international human right that has been recognized for over 70 years. Its breach has serious consequences, and homelessness is its most severe violation. It imposes duties on states to respect, protect, and fulfil the right by taking immediate actions to prevent discrimination in housing, and to commit the maximum available resources to ensure progressive realization of its other components. A National Housing Strategy grounded in human rights offers a critical path forward.

What is the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab?

What is the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab?

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.