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, Chair, 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

Image Source:https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/infographics/visualizing-health-equity.html

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.

Inclusion

Image Source: https://www.dawsoncollege.qc.ca/academic-matters/articles/delve-into-the-realm-of-inclusion-a-udl-journey/

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

Justice

Image Source: https://www.paperpinecone.com/blog/teaching-difference-between-equality-equity-and-justice-preschool

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:

https://www.ruraldevelopment.ca/publications/guide-to-developing-affordable-housing

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

https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/city-of-edmonton-launches-1-5-million-grant-program-to-convert-problem-properties-into-affordable-housing

Hotels converting to housing in Calgary: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/affordable-housing-1.5875921

https://therealdeal.com/2020/07/04/retail-to-residential-conversions-are-in-cards-at-americas-doomed-malls/

https://bdaily.co.uk/articles/2020/10/26/is-turning-office-and-retail-to-residential-housing-the-future-of-the-high-street

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-30/a-case-for-turning-empty-malls-into-housing

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 houselab@ualberta.ca

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 houselab@ualberta.ca

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. https://www.bchousing.org/research-centre/library/housing-affordability/scan-leading-practices-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. https://www.westernplanner.org/2019articles/2018/9/4/levers-of-housing-affordability-strategies-and-tools-for-planners

Pierre, N. (2007). A Safer Haven: Innovations for Improving Social Housing in Canada. Canadian Policy Research Networks. http://www.nipawinoasis.com/documents/49103_EN.pdf

SHS Consulting. (2020).  Final Report of the Alberta Affordable Housing Review Panel. https://open.alberta.ca/publications/final-report-of-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. http://www.guelphwellingtonlip.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/GWLIP-Promising-and-Innovative-Practices-in-Affordable-Housing-2019-Final-Report.pdf

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 houselab@ualberta.ca

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