TBEP 5 | Eviction Prevention

One of the main goals of community housing is to provide more affordable homes for those in need and, ultimately, to help them keep those homes. But what are the eviction prevention practices in place that people can rely on when the going gets tough? In today’s episode, Cynthia Belaskie and Robbie Brydon are joined by Dr. Damian Collins of the University of Alberta. Damian is involved in research with Community Housing Canada and recently published the article, “When We Do Evict Them, It’s a Last Resort”: Eviction Prevention in Social and Affordable Housing. He discusses various eviction prevention strategies and draws some comparisons between what’s at stake in the community housing sector versus the private sector when it comes to being evicted. He also breaks down the six major challenges the community housing sector faces, coined as the “areas of inquiry.” Join their discussion as Damian iterates the importance of housing not only for those in need but in the development of society at large.

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Preventing Evictions in Community Housing With Damian Collins

Eviction Prevention In Social And Affordable Housing

What are we going to talk about?

Evictions are a big deal. They come up in people’s lives. They’ve been becoming a bigger deal as rents have been rising in major cities across the country, beyond major cities as well. Usually, we think about that from market housing. We talk about rent evictions and all the various ways that landlords will try, get tenants out of place or the challenges that they face in the process.

What about people who aren’t in rented housing? What about the community housing sector, social housing, nonprofit housing, co-op housing, even? People who are there often have already struggled in the market sector. Evictions can have even more serious consequences in their lives. That comes to a big question, how are community housing providers deciding who to evict or not?

To answer that, we sat down with Damian Collins. He is a Professor of Human Geography in the Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta. He’s the Director of Community Housing Canada, which is a research project that is part of the Collaborative Housing Research Network. His work explores the way that public policies, public services and public spaces support human health and wellbeing.

Let’s see what he has to say.

Damian Collins, it’s good to have you on the show.

Thank you, Robbie.

Damian, can you tell us a little bit about Community Housing Canada and what you are up to with this project?

Community Housing Canada is one of several major research initiatives that has been funded under the National Housing Strategy. We’re focused on the community housing sector. That term is not necessarily understood by everyone but what it refers to is the non-market parts of the housing system. It’ll include social housing, affordable housing and co-op housing. Those are the three main types of community housing. Together, they account for a little over 4% of all of the housing stock in Canada. What we have a specific interest in doing is promoting the sustainability and the resilience of that sector so that it can meet the needs of people on low and modest incomes.

A quick definitional question off the top for you. When you say affordable housing, are you including those units that are 10% to 20% below market that are usually operated by private entities that come in with some agreement to build units?

We do increasingly see affordable housing defined in terms of being about 10% to 20% below-market rates. There’s a large number of providers of that kind of affordable housing. Some are primarily not-for-profit. Occasionally, for-profit providers as well. Increasingly, we do see that is the type of affordable housing that’s being offered.

That’s within the social and affordable label that that’s included in your 4% count there. Four percent doesn’t sound like a big number. When you think of all of the housing units in Canada, that’s substantial. Can you talk us through some of the themes that your group is grappling with to try and dig into what this 4% looks like and where changes need to happen?

It is a relatively small proportion of the total housing system. In addition, community housing has been experiencing a number of stresses, primarily financial stress due to changes in government policy and also due to aging buildings. A lot of Canada’s community housing stock was built in the 1960s, 1970s and has now become relatively aged. There are challenges associated with that.

There are some questions hanging over the sector as it tries to meet the needs of lower and moderate-income Canadians. One of the things we’re seeing is that the need for community housing has been increasing due to hardship, vulnerability and the unaffordability of market housing. The ability of the sector to supply community housing has been challenged and a fundamental concern that we have that the demand outstrips the supply. That’s apparent in things like long waiting lists for social and affordable housing. People are waiting years, for example, to be able to access the housing they need.

How are you tackling this? How are you carving up the questions you’re going to tackle in this ongoing research project in community housing?

It is a big project that will be undertaken for years. It has several aspects to it. Luckily, we had fellow researchers across Canada who have joined us from different provinces and different universities. We’re dividing up the labour between ourselves. What we’ve done is we’ve broken the challenges that the community housing sector faces down into six broad categories and we call them areas of inquiry.

The first one, the one that I’m responsible for personally, is looking at the role of the community housing sector in realizing the right to housing. Under Canada’s National Housing Strategy, housing is now recognized as a fundamental human right. That’s consistent with international law but it’s quite new and domestic law. I’m fundamentally interested in the role of the community housing sector in trying to ensure that every Canadian household can realize that right to housing. That’s my personal and professional focus.

The need for community housing has been increasing due to hardship and vulnerability and the unaffordability of market housing. Click To Tweet

We have five other groups. The second is looking at improving the environmental performance of community housing buildings. The third is looking at the role of community housing in encouraging and fostering social inclusion. The fourth is looking at different models of community housing. There are three broad models, which are social, affordable and co-op housing. Within each of those, there are different variations that are possible so we’re looking into that.

Five, we’re looking at the future of community housing and what that will look like in Canada whether it will be a larger sector than it is. Finally, an overarching theme we have is looking at the role of community housing and addressing vulnerability. That comes from the National Housing Strategy, which places a strong emphasis on identifying and addressing the needs of households who are vulnerable due to their social or economic circumstances.

In that last category of things, you’ve got a paper out looking at the question of eviction prevention in community housing. Let’s talk a little bit about that. First off, the second author in that paper is Esther de Vos. I know Esther from my days in Edmonton. I am a huge fan of her so good job working with her. There’s a bunch of work that’s been done on evictions and eviction prevention out of the private rental market but not as much that’s been done out of the non-market housing. Could you tell us a little bit about why it’s important to take a look at this particular slice of the market?

Thank you, Robbie, for mentioning Esther de Vos. This paper that we’ve published is a partnership between academic researchers here at the University of Alberta where I work and folks who work in the community housing sector, specifically at Capital Region Housing. It’s renamed Civida, which is the largest provider of social and affordable housing in Edmonton. It was an example of an academic community partnership where we brought our interests together.

What we found was that eviction prevention and eviction more generally is fairly well studied in the private rental market. It’s a big issue in the private rental market. Eviction prevention from social and affordable housing has not received the same attention. We thought it was important to address that. One of the main reasons for that is vulnerability.

We know that a lot of relatively vulnerable households are clustered in the community housing sector. Often, they’re vulnerable in the first instance because of low income. They might have other factors that contribute to their vulnerability as well such as being single parents, for example, being recent migrants to Canada or people who might be struggling with health issues that complicate their ability to afford rent and to maintain a tenancy.

What we see is that there are a lot of people for whom social and affordable housing is essential. If they weren’t in that housing, there’s a real risk that they’d be experiencing some level of homelessness. Eviction is a common pathway into homelessness especially for folks in the social and affordable sector for whom there aren’t many alternatives.

That’s an interesting point that 4% of Canadian households we talked about are represented by the sector. That becomes somewhere in the order of 15% when you look at renter households. If you look at low-income renter households, it’s a much larger percentage even than that. As Cynthia has pointed off the top of this, 4% sounds a little bit small. When you’re thinking about the people who are most vulnerable, this is a much bigger percentage of that group in terms of who the housing providers are.

That’s right, Robbie. In fact, vulnerable households have become increasingly concentrated in the social and affordable housing sector partly because of provincial regulations that require social and affordable providers to prioritize people who are the most vulnerable, on the lowest incomes, who have already experienced an eviction from the private market and people who otherwise would have little way of entering the housing system. Over time, there’s been a concentration of vulnerability in the sector.

TBEP 5 | Eviction Prevention

Eviction Prevention: At first glance, the reasons for possible eviction are very similar [for both sectors]; however, the differences come when we look a little bit more closely.

Damian, I’m interested in this idea of this layering of vulnerability and the impact that that has on people especially when they’re experiencing evictions. What does that look like? How is being evicted from community housing different from being evicted from a private housing situation? What did your work find? How is it similar? Where is it different?

At first glance, there are some important similarities. I pointed out two similarities in particular. The first of which is that by far the most common reason for being evicted from both private and community housing is rent arrears. People who are unable to pay their rent are vulnerable to being evicted. That’s true across both sectors. That would be followed by a distant second reason, which is behavioural issues are related to the tenancy, disrupting the peace and quiet of neighbors and causing damage to the units, those issues.

At first glance there, the reasons for possible eviction are similar. However, the differences come when we look a little bit more closely. The social and affordable housing sector has the mandate to support people who are vulnerable whereas a private-sector provider might be laser-focused on getting the rent each month. It’s a little bit more complicated in the social and affordable sector because they have a mandate to help and assist people to maintain their housing.

What that means is that although the payment of rent and proper behaviour is still important to social and affordable housing providers, they tend to be more flexible. They have a desire to prevent eviction, if at all possible. They have various strategies that they have developed to try and minimize the possibility of evictions occurring. We do see some important differences once we look below the surface.

How did you look below the surface? What were your methods like for this study?

Our study was focused on Edmonton, Alberta, which is where both the University of Alberta and Capital Region Housing, now Civida, are located. We conducted quite in-depth interviews with ten community housing providers here in Edmonton. Ten doesn’t necessarily sound like a lot but we included some large providers. The great majority of housing units that are provided by social and affordable providers were captured in our sample. Altogether, our ten providers accounted for about 12,000 units of social and affordable housing.

In this paper, you typify what the possible eviction prevention strategies are. You break this down into the concept of primary and secondary prevention practices. Can you tell us a little bit about what that distinction is between primary and secondary and to what extent operators work in either space?

We found this distinction between primary and secondary prevention practices to be quite useful. It was an important concept in this research that we’ve published. The primary prevention is focused on the tenants at large, the entire population of people who are living in social and affordable housing. It seeks to strengthen the tenancy and prevent problems before they occur. It has a preventive focus. It’s trying to address the entire population in a way that reduces the chances of problems arising later. That’s the focus of primary prevention. I can give some examples of that.

The main example of primary prevention that we identified was financial management. Entering into relationships with tenants drastically reduces the likelihood that rent will be paid late. For example, third-party payments of rent if tenants are drawing some form of social or income assistance. Secondly, setting up automatic payments so that rent is always paid in full. Those would be examples of primary prevention practices.

Secondary prevention is quite different. Secondary prevention kicks in when a specific household is at imminent risk of losing its housing. In that case, the eviction process would already have been initiated for this particular household for whatever reason that might be. Secondary prevention measures kick in to try and sustain this housing and to prevent an eviction from occurring even though the process has begun.

Eviction is a common pathway to homelessness, especially for folks in the social and affordable sector with few alternatives. Click To Tweet

Can you give us some examples or an example of what these secondary eviction prevention practices would look like?

The number one threat to a tenancy is rent arrears. With secondary prevention practices, we see options available for addressing that. Emergency financial assistance for a household that is at risk of eviction, for example. Also, providers are accepting repayment plans. If a month of rent is missing, that will be gradually repaid over a series of months in the future to square the ledger.

Another example of a secondary prevention practice would be legal representation for tenants in the event that the eviction process goes to a tribunal or a court. Often, we do know that landlords are represented by legal counsel and that can give them a significant advantage in the process if tenants don’t have legal representation.

Also, the third example of secondary prevention would be giving tenants clear communications about their rights and responsibilities during the process and what that looks like. All of those three things that I mentioned would be targeted to specific households that are already at imminent risk of losing their housing.

One of the things that strike me is, interestingly, here in this distinction between primary and secondary is that both the housing provider and a level of government, either municipal or provincial, could be playing in either space. Some of the things you’re talking about might explicitly be the role of one or the other. Some of them could be picked up by either body. How does this distinction come out to you and what the housing provider does versus what the government does, noting that some housing providers are government?

It does get complicated. What we found in the primary practices, which are directed towards tenants in general, are generally undertaken by the housing providers themselves. They are the closest to the tenants and they have the most interest in ensuring that tenancies are running smoothly, there’s minimal disruption in their buildings and it isn’t unnecessary turnover. We see that the providers are taking the lead on that.

When it comes to secondary practices, there’s more of a mixture of initiatives on the part of the providers and then government interventions and government programs. The best known of which would be emergency rent assistance programs that are offered in Alberta, for example, by the provincial government.

With that said, one of your examples in the primary space is rent supplements or housing allowances. Those will often be operating out of the government space almost always. If your housing provider is the government, you may have a rent income situation. A lot of those portable housing benefit that’s being rolled out under the National Housing Strategy that’ll be a government-provided means of attempting to make evictions less likely in securing the financial ability of tenants to make that.

That’s a great point there, Robbie. Because most evictions are rooted in affordability issues, an excellent type of primary prevention is a housing allowance that addresses that and potentially does so for a significant percentage of the population including folks and private market rentals. Interestingly as well, at a macro level, one of the interventions that are recommended is increasing the stock of social and affordable housing. If we have more social and affordable housing, we can address affordability issues more substantively.

TBEP 5 | Eviction Prevention

Eviction Prevention: Evictions are almost more serious in the social and affordable sector because tenants are more vulnerable on average. And secondly, because to a certain extent, the sector is housing of last resort for some people.

However, what we found in our research was that we might imagine a household that’s been evicted from a private rental. For that household, the community and affordable sector are going to be important. However, what hasn’t been looked at before is the risk that they then might be evicted from social and affordable housing as well. Simply saying that social and affordable housing is a primary eviction practice is a little bit complicated and potentially a little bit misleading.

All of these prevention practices that you talked about, what are the things that are working well? What are the things that aren’t working well? What do you see needing to happen in the future for this to run even more smoothly?

In terms of what’s running well, we identified four types of prevention practices. Interestingly, all of them were primary prevention practices that providers were rolling out broadly within buildings, for example. Financial management is number one. It’s about third-party payments, automatic withdrawals for rent and those issues.

Secondly, beyond the simple fact of paying rent on the first of every month, there’s the issue of building a relationship between the tenant and the provider. Regular communication was seen as key to that. Regular communication can help identify problems quickly when they emerge and can also build trust between providers and tenants. That was seen as quite important.

Thirdly because many tenants in social and affordable housing have some vulnerability in their life and some challenges, we saw that providers were acting in a way to connect their tenants with outside supports in the community with health supports, social supports, in some cases and case management. There was a brokering that was going on. This isn’t a traditional landlord role. The social and affordable sector is going a little bit above and beyond being a regular landlord and is helping to connect people with supports that will ultimately, they hope, sustain tenancies.

The fourth thing that community providers were looking at was building a sense of community within their buildings to encourage neighborliness and also, an element of self-regulation within the buildings where there were certain expectations around how people would behave and being good neighbors towards each other. Those were the four eviction practices that we heard about. All of them are primary practices and targeting people in general. They were seen as quite successful approaches albeit not 100% successful.

In terms of the constraints, one of the interesting things we found is that because you’re in social and for affordable housing, you’re perhaps in a rent geared to income apartment where you only pay 30% of your income towards rent. Perhaps you’re in a below-market apartment where you pay 10% to 20% below the market rate. Even then, a significant percentage of people struggle with affordability. It’s because you’re in social and affordable housing, it doesn’t mean that you can necessarily afford rent every month. There are still those problems.

A second constraint that we identified is that although providers were keen on connecting the tenants with outside supports, there were limits to what was available. There are constraints on the support that is available. They’re not always successful and not always able to connect a tenant in need with an outside service who can assist them. There are those constraints within the system.

If we have more social and affordable housing, we can address affordability issues in a more substantive way. Click To Tweet

That’s interesting because the next question I wanted to ask you is, what have you learned from this that housing providers can institute anywhere in the country looking at what you’ve learned from Edmonton to say, “This is the highest impact and lowest cost things to do.” Where are the pinch points? Where would they like to do more but they can’t, given whatever constraints are in their way?

What we heard from providers is the single most important practice that they have for preventing evictions is around the payment of rent and setting up those third-party payments when a new tenancy is established. With a significant percentage of people on some form of social assistance or disability, the landlord is paid directly by social assistance or a disability program. The rent is paid in full and on time. That was seen as probably the single most important and also a relatively easy step to take. It’s not especially onerous.

One of the interesting questions around this is that it does perhaps remove some of the independence and responsibility away from the tenant. The tenant is becoming less responsible for managing their own tenancy when those systems are in place. It’s not necessarily completely a black and white issue. There are some question marks around that provision.

In terms of pinch points, one of the issues that social and affordable housing providers struggle with is that under provincial regulations, they are required to target their housing to the people most in need. At one level, that makes a lot of sense. At a different level, however, it means that existing tenants whose income increases above a certain level are confined that they are no longer eligible for social and affordable housing.

They are required by provincial regulation to be evicted because they’ve lost their eligibility. They need to make way for someone who is deemed more in need of that housing. Ultimately, housing providers and the community housing sector are required to follow those regulations and evict people who are no longer eligible for their programs.

You started to touch on it and I want to dig into it a little bit more. I know that your research didn’t explicitly deal with this point because you were interviewing providers. You weren’t interviewing tenants. I was wondering if anything came up that might hint at the tenant’s point of view. These are successful strategies from the provider’s point of view. Maybe tenants think that this is great. They’re finally in a position where someone is helping them out and they’re able to get their rent on time and that’s making life a lot easier for them. I’m wondering about what tenancy is successful. If you can hypothesize on that, what would be successful from their perspective?

The logical next step in this research process would be to talk with tenants because their voices aren’t captured in this paper. We’ve learned a bit more about eviction prevention and social affordable housing but there’s more to go quite clearly. From a tenant’s perspective, they would probably notice that the eviction prevention efforts that are made. I mentioned the four main categories. All of those are relatively unlikely in private rental housing. They would notice and their tendencies would be shaped by the eviction prevention practices that providers are putting in place.

The providers also emphasize the word flexibility. They’re not in a rush to evict people. They want to address the problems that are occurring within a tenancy and retain people if at all possible. That might be different from what would be experienced in the private sector. Having said that, we do know that when evictions are initiated in the private sector, often, it is to enforce the late payment of rent. It doesn’t necessarily proceed to an actual eviction very often. Two things tend to happen, either people move out after receiving the initial notice, they make arrangements to repay the rent or they even are ordered to repay the rent by a court or tribunal to sustain their tenancy.

TBEP 5 | Eviction Prevention

Eviction Prevention: If we are a society that seriously believes housing is a human right, that everyone should have access to safe, affordable housing, then the community housing sector is going to have to play a significant role in making that a reality.

One of the things we picked up in this article is that eviction is a process rather than an event. It’s a process that’s initiated for lots of reasons. Number one is so that the landlord can claim rent that hasn’t been paid. Only relatively seldomly does it lead to the final point, which is when a sheriff or a bailiff knocks on the door to enforce a physical eviction.

You talked a little bit about the different ways that tenants and landlords see eviction and what they mean by that. From where I sit, I like to think of that process. If a sheriff is knocking on the door, that’s the enforcement of the eviction. Any tendency that ends as a result of an eviction process having been begun, one could call that an eviction even when you move out on your own if you were served an eviction notice. It’s one of the questions that we tried to grapple with.

We did a survey and we put out questions to two tenants including, “Have you been given an eviction notice?” Asking the following questions, “How did it go? Did it go to court? Did you leave your unit? Why did your landlord tell you that you needed to leave?” We try to surface a little bit of what the prevalence of this is. Having left the housing side of the spectrum, I’m not sure if those results have been published yet. There may be a little bit more information out there coming soon on a paper led by Michelle Dion. That was a random tangent.

There are two things that are in my brain that we haven’t talked about and one of them belongs earlier in the interview. We might want to slot it in there. I’ll get you to record something about it and the other one could come in here. What you talk a bit about in the paper that is salient here is the difference in consequences for eviction from private market rental and community housing rental. That would help situate this conversation a little bit if we can get a snippet on that. My second thought is you’re almost sent to the dark side of a community housing provider perspective about evicting themselves attitude. I wanted you to surface that a little bit and talk it through.

When people learn that you work in the area of housing, I find you start to get stories from people that you may not get otherwise. It’s like if you’re a family physician and you’re at a party and someone learns that. All of a sudden, they have a rash that they need someone to look at. This happened to me where I was at the dog park, socializing with some of the other dog owners and one man started talking to me. He’s in a position of a rent eviction situation where his living situation is no longer pleasant. The eviction paperwork has been filed.

He’s looking around at the market. He’s in a private tenancy situation, not in public. He’s realizing that there’s nothing out there for someone like him. There’s not something that he’s able to afford. Instead of fighting the good fight of going through the tribunals, going to the court and making his case, “I’ve been a good tenant all these years. I shouldn’t be pushed out.” He’s deciding, “I’m going to leave. It’s not worth the headache.”

From speaking with him and knowing a bit about his background, he’s an educated person. He’s capable of advocating for himself but it’s going to be a huge headache to deal with everything that the eviction process entails? It got me thinking about something that you said about people deciding to move. Is that something that we see happening in the social housing context or affordable housing context? When it does get to that point, are people deciding, “I can’t do this. I’m going to have to leave and find another place to go without continuing the process to its full conclusion?”

Eviction is actually a process rather than an event. Click To Tweet

Yes. We certainly know that in the private rental market, in particular, at the point that an eviction notice is filed and delivered to a tenant, a significant proportion or probably a majority will leave. There’s no data recorded around that in any official capacity because it hasn’t yet reached a formal legal process. It hasn’t gone to a tribunal record. The tenant would have to stay and contest the eviction notice for that to occur.

A lot of informal evictions or involuntary loss of housing occurs at that point. That’s certainly possible in community housing as well. The difference is that social and affordable housing providers at least from what they told us are more likely to emphasize flexibility, have processes to try and resolve this issue with eviction itself being the last resort. It’s the title of our paper, “When We do Evict Them, It’s a Last Resort.” That would be likely a difference between the private and the community housing sectors.

Having said that, as the process proceeds and if the issue is not addressed, evictions will occur in community housing. This is where we saw what might be called almost the dark side of the eviction process. Providers emphasize that they had these primary prevention methods that they had implemented and that they were flexible. They tried to work with the tenant.

Ultimately, if the issue couldn’t be resolved, that was on the tenant. They had refused to pay rent. They had refused to address their behaviour. They had refused to take heed of multiple warnings. They had not been willing to enter into a constructive relationship with the landlord to address the underlying issues and those sorts of things. In the cases where an eviction did occur, we saw that the providers explain that in terms of the failings of individual tenants even within the community housing sector.

What’s the policy consequence of that? This is back to what we were talking about. Providers are constrained in what they can accept. You talked about this in the paper quite a bit. We rely on revenue from rent to be able to operate a building. If you’re not paying your bills, eventually, we’ve got to say goodbye because we’ve got to pay our bills. From a policy perspective, what action is open to governments to look at ways to support people who can’t operate within the bounds of community housing or to support community housing providers to be more flexible with tenants? How do you get to a point where you have this breakdown or whoever you laid the responsibility on?

Is that your consequences question? What are the differences in consequences between private evictions and social and affordable housing evictions?

In both cases, they’re serious. People are losing their homes. People may or may not have somewhere else that they can go to straight away. People’s right to housing is not being realized. There’s never a good eviction especially from the tenant’s perspective. However, the finding of our paper was that evictions are almost more serious in the social and affordable sector because tenants are more vulnerable on average.

TBEP 5 | Eviction Prevention

Eviction Prevention: We require a substantial increase in social and affordable housing if we’re going to live up to our values that now include the recognition that housing is a human right and that no one in Canada should be going without housing.

Secondly, to a certain extent, this sector is the housing of last resort for some people. If you lose your place in social and affordable housing, there is nowhere else to go necessarily. You’re already in the 4% of the housing market intended for people who are experiencing high levels of vulnerability. If you lose your place there then your housing status is at risk. What that means is a heightened risk of homelessness. People in the private markets could experience significant difficulties finding new units but are less likely on average to be as vulnerable as those in the social and affordable sector.

What’s the consequence for policymakers? We’ve got housing providers who have a set of rules they play within and that’s partly constrained by regulations, who they have to take into their buildings and partly constrained by their financial realities. You’re still evicting a certain number of people every year. What changes would have to occur at the policy level either to minimize that number of evictions or to provide housing for people who are unable to be housed by the houses of last resort?

From the policy perspective, we’ve touched on previously a couple of issues around increasing affordability, for example, with portable housing allowances by increasing the supply of social and affordable housing. Those are macro-level policies that could be implemented and would reduce the frequency of evictions in the sector.

Secondly, we see some housing providers being quite creative with the use of mixed-income models and mixed-income buildings. For example, if a tenant in the building is in a social and affordable unit but their income increases so that they’re no longer eligible, they can stay within the building by switching to a market unit. Even their individual apartment might be able to be reclassified as to be a switch within the building. One unit goes towards social and affordable and a different unit becomes a market unit. There’s some creativity within the sector and the providers themselves as well that’s being developed there. Those are some of the steps that can be taken.

In the event that an eviction occurs, nonetheless, we’re looking perhaps at housing with a higher level of support, in particular, permanent supportive housing. This is where we’d see an intersection with the homelessness policy. We know that for homeless folks who have higher levels of need, often in the form of issues with mental health and/or addictions. Permanent supportive housing with on-site supports that are often available 24 hours is one of the best ways to rehouse people who are in that circumstance.

For people who are experiencing difficulties in social and community housing, that could be an extra level of support that they require if they’re going to sustain a tenancy. The critical challenge across Canada is we’ve known for a long time that we need more permanent supportive housing. Bringing that online has been a slow process across the country.

Regular communication can help identify problems quickly when they emerge and can also build trust between providers and tenants. Click To Tweet

At the beginning of this interview, you’re studying this thing that represents 4%. That’s a small percentage of Canadian housing. What I’m hearing from you now and that is something that resonates with everyone we’ve spoken to on this show is that it shouldn’t be 4%. At the end of the day, 4% is simply not sufficient. Although you’re studying it at 4%, perhaps the NHS is going to realize some of its goals.

When we talk in 5 years or the 10-year mark when the NHS’s plan is coming to its end, hopefully we’ll be having a conversation about how it’s no longer 4% and that we do have safe and affordable spaces for people to live that do meet their needs. That’s at the crux of what you’re talking about. These have to be homes that meet people’s needs and that they’re affordable or their behaviours are ones that are well suited for those spaces that small homes didn’t need money.

I couldn’t agree more. If we are a society that seriously believes that housing is a human right and that everyone should have access to safe affordable housing, which is what the National Housing Strategy says, the community housing sector is going to have to play a significant role in making that a reality. We know there are a significant proportion of low and modest-income households who cannot afford market rents who cannot sustain tenancies in the private market sector. The only way that they will be able to have safe, affordable housing in the long term is in a non-market building in the community housing sector. We see that the need for non-market housing greatly exceeds the supply. The supply needs to be increased significantly.

Stepping back a little bit, if we look at a lot of the dramatic and alarming stories we’ve seen from cities across Canada about how house prices are increasing astronomically and the risk that rents will follow. We have to question whether the market even intends to provide housing for people on low and modest incomes. There’s a serious question mark hanging over that. That’s not what the market seems to be doing. Therefore, almost by default, we require a substantial increase in social and affordable housing especially if we’re going to live up to our values, which now includes this recognition that housing is a human right and that no one in Canada should be going without housing.

I don’t think we can say more than that.

That was a good finisher. Thank you, Damian.


Robbie, it seems a little stating the obvious given that we all know about the waitlist for social housing. Community housing supply simply does not equal the demand. That’s ultimately the problem that we need to solve here.

Damian brought two points together there. He pointed out that you’ve got people who can’t afford rent and people who can’t sustain tenancies. Not being able to afford rent is the biggest cause of not being able to sustain tenancies but there are other causes too. You could potentially solve that rent problem with more money but you can’t solve the problem of people who struggle to maintain tenancies for other reasons with more money.

Regardless of the case, you will need a certain amount of community housing. You still have to make decisions. Do you give lots of people some money or do you give some people housing? The National Housing Strategy does a little bit of both, though certainly not to the extent of something like Manitoba’s rent assist, which provides support to all low-income renters.

It does have to be both. If people can’t even afford so-called social and affordable housing, the income support system is not working.

When you look at it, you can’t separate income and housing policy.

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About Dr. Damian Collins

Dr. Damian Collins is a Professor of Human Geography in the Faculty of Science, at the University of Alberta. Damian is the Director of Building a Resilient Community Housing Sector in Canada, a research partnership within the Collaborative Housing Research Network. Reflecting his particular interests in cities, human rights, and housing, Damian focuses on the right to housing, which is of central importance in his current SSHRC-funded research.

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