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.

Although Alberta has an interesting history with labour unions, Edmonton had a short lived renter’s group in the early 1990s called the Edmonton and Area Tenants Association. And more recently, ACORN has been expanding into Alberta (Alberta ACORN).

This growing interest in tenant organizing is reflective of the changes in our renter landscape, and many renters feeling the impacts of 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 institutionally owned by a Real Estate Investment Trust or Housing Fund. 

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 institutionally owned by a Real Estate Investment Trust or Housing Fund – an increase of nearly 15%.

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

Expanding, Growing, Renovating: Investing in Edmonton’s Community Housing Sector

Expanding, Growing, Renovating: Investing in Edmonton’s Community Housing Sector

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

Introduction 

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

Background
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? 

AHSL

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

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

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 https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publi…​ – CMHC’s Housing Portal, City of Edmonton https://www03.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/hmip-pi…​)

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: houselab@ualberta.ca

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”

Update:

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


		Tough Enough to Survive: A Virtual Discussion Panel image

		Tough Enough to Survive: A Virtual Discussion Panel image

		Tough Enough to Survive: A Virtual Discussion Panel image
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: https://ualberta-ca.zoom.us/j/92730439565. We look forward to seeing you!

Edmonton Rental Market – Year in Review (2020)

Edmonton Rental Market – Year in Review (2020)

Image Source: IQRemix; Link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/iqremix/42276507674/in/photostream/

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.

Moderator

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.

Partners

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.”

https://www.cca.qc.ca/en/articles/76286/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 (jdevans@ualberta.ca).

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).

Summary

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.