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Finding New Ways To Address An Old Issue

A lack of affordable housing in Calgary is, sadly, nothing new. But with the help of a grant from AREF, Highbanks is looking to work with the real estate industry to find fresh, innovative ways to address this ongoing issue for young single women and their small children.

Highbanks helps a handful of families in Calgary by providing subsidized, safe and affordable places for them to live along with a number of other supports. “We serve young moms and their children who are homeless, at risk of being homeless or leaving profoundly traumatic situations,” says Krista Flint, the executive director at Highbanks. “We provide a housing first model with a focus on education and everything we do is sensitive to the deep trauma most of our girls have experienced.”

The mothers, many of whom haven’t finished high school, are required to go to school full time. Over the last 15 years, many of the young women have gone on to get post-secondary diplomas or degrees. Highbanks puts on community events and provides workshops and classes on parenting, coping and stress strategies, financial literacy, nutrition and life skills. A registered social worker refers women to other agencies and supports. It costs about $35,000 a year to help each family—an investment which Highbanks estimates saves taxpayers about $650,000 in publically-funded social services costs.

“We serve 11 families. We work very closely with organizations concerned with homelessness in Calgary. At any given time, we have about 30 young moms on our waiting list seeking help,” Flint says. “About 97 per cent of the young women who leave us go on to pay market rent and in some wonderful cases, own their own home.”

With a $21,000 grant from AREF, Highbanks will connect with experts and hire consultants to look at best practices for innovative affordable housing. They will build a strategy to work with landlords, property owners, builders and developers to find more housing for young families while also filling vacancies in the rental market.

“We are really excited to start thinking about how we might address the huge need. The money from AREF allows us to think in non-traditional ways about how we might be able to expand our reach,” says Flint. “We are really keen to break down the paradigm of ‘We need a capital campaign and we need to build something else,’ because there are so many wildly innovative models for spaces for social good and we’re really excited to lead that thinking in our sector.”

2018 Canadian Rental Housing Index

Jennifer Allford for Alberta Real Estate Foundation

A new and improved Canadian Rental Housing Index (RHI) is giving policy makers, real estate professionals and other interested Canadians a clearer picture of rental markets and the state of affordable housing across the country. The RHI is a comprehensive database that compiles rental housing statistics for cities, regions, and provinces across Canada. See how much rent Canadians are paying in different parts of the country, compare affordability measures and find out where residents are overcrowded and severely overspending on housing.

The interactive web-map, which was updated in May 2018, incorporates new and comprehensive information from the 2016 long-form census. The RHI includes the latest data on rents, incomes and overcrowding in hundreds of large and small communities across Canada.

“It’s Canada’s most comprehensive database of rental housing statistics and provides information about more than 800 municipalities and regions across the country,” says Brian Clifford, the policy manager at the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA). The organization helped start the Rental Housing Index in BC in 2014 and worked with a number of partners across Canada to develop a national version of the RHI in 2015.

The 2018 index is easier to use than the previous website and lets people compare a number of different communities at once. “You can get a snapshot of housing information of one location and use the comparison tool to select several communities at the same time,” says Clifford. “The data can be used to understand average rents, incomes and housing stock in your community as well inform long-term housing planning, development, and research.”

The 2018 update generated a lot of media interest with stories running in major news outlets across the country—some of those stories addressed the state of rental housing in different communities. The long term goal of the RHI is to help with decision-making and planning for affordable rental housing. “We’ve seen many examples of housing stakeholders and organizations using the index to inform planning and we’re beginning to see the new data be translated into policy and research,” says Clifford.

The real estate and development industries are also using the index. The Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis, for example, used the data to compile a report for the construction industry on shelter affordability.  Various industry real estate agents and blogs, including the Real Estate Management Industry network, have written about the updated RHI. “These examples provide some concrete evidence for how the index is being used by the real estate industry but we would like to see an even greater adoption of the tool within the sector,” says Clifford.

Detailed data tables can break down renter households according to income quartiles and bedroom size. This gives the user “a nuanced understanding” of where housing need is clustered and allows them to assess factors such as average rent, households spending more than half of their income on shelter costs and overcrowding across different income and bedroom sizes.  “These data can help the real estate industry identify opportunities for where housing need lies, what local income ranges are, and how much housing needs to be built in specific communities,” he says.

Families Feeling the Impact as Rental Housing Affordability Worsens Across Canada

By BC Non-Profit Housing Association

Statistics Canada data shows rental housing costs are outpacing incomes and pushing renters into a crisis level of spending.

TORONTO, ONTARIO (May 8, 2018) – Nearly half of Canadian renter households are spending more than the recommended 30 per cent of their income on housing while nearly one in five are spending more than 50 per cent of their income on housing, putting a growing number of families and individuals at a crisis level of spending and at risk of homelessness.

The information comes from the 2018 Canadian Rental Housing Index, a comprehensive database of rental housing statistics released today by a national partnership of housing associations, credit unions, and municipal associations, developed using the latest census data from Statistics Canada.

The Index tracks everything from average rental costs, to how rental housing spending compares with income, to overcrowding for over 800 cities and regions through an easy to access web portal. The tool is designed for governments, local planners, housing organizations, and the general public to view an accurate picture of the rental housing market in communities across the country.

“Traditionally, spending 30 per cent or less of household income on rent has been viewed as the benchmark of what is considered affordable,” said Jill Atkey, Acting CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association. “However, the data shows that spending more than 30 per cent of income on housing has become the new normal for individuals and families in almost all areas of Canada.”

The data paints a worrying picture for rental housing affordability across the country. Over 1.7 million renter households spend over the recommended affordability benchmark of 30 per cent of gross income on rent and utilities. Of those, 795,000 renter households spend over half of their income on housing costs.

“If every renter household that spent more than half of their income on housing costs lived in one place, it would be Canada’s fourth largest city,” said Kira Gerwing, Manager of Community Investment at Vancity credit union. “This shows why a strong community housing sector is absolutely necessary to deliver rental housing that people can afford.”

Another worrying trend is housing affordability issues continuing to spill into suburban and rural areas, rather than just large urban centres across the country.

“Although large urban centres have long been associated with higher rental housing costs relative to income levels, in the past, renters have been able to find suitable housing by looking in nearby suburban communities,” said Marlene Coffey, Executive Director of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. “The 2018 Canadian Rental Housing Index shows the suburbanization of poverty where major affordability challenges are just as prevalent in the surrounding communities as they are in those urban centres.”

The Index also shows that average rental costs are outpacing corresponding increases in household incomes. For example, Ontario saw average rent costs go up 20 per cent over five years compared with average income only rising by 12 percent over the same period. Regions

around Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Vancouver have been particularly hard hit by this added affordability challenge, although many smaller communities are facing similar situations as well.

As affordability challenges continue to worsen, renter households are being forced into overcrowded and other unsuitable accommodations. In total, the 2018 Canadian Rental Housing Index shows more than 417,000 renter households in Canada are considered overcrowded. This remains a common issue for many renter households living in large urban centres and in Northern Canada.

One of the drivers of these affordability challenges is the increase in the number of Canadians in the rental market. Between 2011 and 2016, nearly 400,000 new renter households were added for a total of more than 4.4-million or 32 per cent of all households in Canada.

“With escalating prices keeping many Canadians from affording home ownership, as well as a lack of affordable rental housing supply, more people are entering the rental market or staying in the rental market longer,” said Jeff Morrison, Executive Director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association. “This marks the first time in a generation that the rate of Canadian renters has outpaced the number of Canadians buying a home, and speaks to the need to increase the supply of affordable housing.”

While the Index paints a negative picture for rental housing affordability across the country, an unprecedented focus on rental housing affordability by many governments and housing organizations provides hope for the future. Lessons can be learned from Quebec, which has better rental housing affordability relative to any other province or territory in the country.

“While still significant, affordability pressures in Quebec are less severe relative to other parts of the country, due in large part to a continuation of provincial affordable housing programs since the 1990s,” said Stéphan Corriveau, Executive Director of Réseau Québécois des OSBL d’habitation. “The Canadian Rental Housing Index demonstrates the need for all levels of government, communities, and housing providers to work together to ensure the timely delivery of a variety of housing options to address the diverse needs of Canadians.”

To learn more about the Index, please visit www.rentalhousingindex.ca.

Download the media backgrounder/FAQ, and 2018 RHI infographic for additional information.

ABOUT THE PARTNERSHIP

The Canadian Rental Housing Index was developed by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association and Vancity Credit Union, in partnership with Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, Real Estate Foundation of BC, Alberta Real Estate Foundation, Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, Generation Squeeze, Co-op Housing Federation of BC, Co-op Housing Federation of Canada, Alberta Network of Public Housing Agencies, LandlordBC, New Brunswick Non-Profit Housing Association, Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, and Réseau Québécois des OSBL d’habitation.

Habitat for Humanity celebrates completion of six new affordable homes in Bowness

NEWS RELEASE – Habitat for Humanity recently celebrated the completion of six new homes in Bowness that will provide affordable home ownership opportunities to six Calgary families.

“At Habitat, we know how difficult it is for families to break into the housing market,” said Gerrad Oishi, Habitat for Humanity Southern Alberta President and CEO. “That’s why we’re committed to working with our community to provide affordable home ownership opportunities for families. We’re so thankful for every sponsor, donor, community partner and volunteer who has stepped up to make affordable home ownership opportunities possible for these six families in Bowness.”

Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Seniors and Housing, was in attendance to bring greetings on behalf of the Government of Alberta, which has been a significant supporter of these homes in Bowness. Deborah Drever, MLA Calgary-Bow was also in attendance.

“That’s the cool thing about Habitat, is that it’s about community – everybody working together to create game-changing opportunities for these families,” said Sigurdson. “Our government is so proud to partner with Habitat for Humanity; we have a shared goal of creating more affordable housing in our province. I’m very proud to work with you and appreciate everything Habitat is doing.”

Every Habitat home is the result of community support. This project has been aided by financial contributions from numerous sponsors, donors and community partners, including the Government of Alberta, the CREB® Charitable Foundation, the Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF) and Hockey Helps the Homeless.

“It is humbling for the foundation to have been a part of this incredible build,” says Aneve MacKay-Lyons, CREB® Charitable Foundation manager. “Our Realtor members are at the forefront of everything we do and it is great to see their hands-on volunteer hours and our donation make a measurable difference to our community and working families.

The CREB® Charitable Foundation donated $50,000 toward these Bowness builds and the Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF) provided a $50,000 matching grant. This is the second collaborative build these three organizations have worked on together.

“We are proud to join forces with the CREB® Charitable Foundation on such a worthwhile project and support the wonderful work of Habitat for Humanity,” said Charlie Ponde, AREF chair. “Congratulations to the families on your new home and all of the memories that it will soon house.”

In addition to financial support, many tradespeople, contractors and suppliers stepped forward to offer donations of building materials and expert labour, along with more than 13,000 volunteer hours.

Susan, mother to Judah and Hope, is a future Habitat homeowner in Bowness. For her family, home ownership brings hope to their lives, knowing that anything is possible.

“My children can have stability in their lives and will have a strong start on their journey towards successful living,” Susan said. “I am excited to dream new dreams with my children – to develop new skills, meet new people and to help and serve others in the same way.”

Each Habitat homeowner has contributed 500 volunteer hours as part of their partnership, and will purchase their homes at Fair Market Value through Habitat’s affordable mortgage, which means no down payment and no interest. Mortgage payments will be geared toward each family’s’ income and will never exceed 30 per cent of their total household income. This gives parents financial flexibility and the ability to build long-term stability for their children.

These six homes in Bowness are one of five Habitat developments in this community. Future developments include a four-plex, scheduled for completion in January 2018, and three five-plexes, scheduled for completion by January 2019.

An innovative and cost-effective approach for building affordable housing in rural Alberta

By Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN)

In 2015, the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN) issued a call for expressions of interest, asking Alberta’s rural communities if they needed affordable housing. The response was overwhelming, with over 35 communities responding with an emphatic YES! The need was there; now what were we going to do about it?

Within six months, ARDN began implementing its Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI), to create an innovative and cost-effective approach for building affordable housing in rural Alberta. We had an enthusiastic and energetic volunteer in place, Joshua Benard, but no money and few resources. Interestingly, this seemed to parallel the experience of rural Alberta trying to build affordable housing! In the not-for-profit world, when embarking on a new initiative, the first dollar is always the hardest to get. Finding a funder who is willing to be first in on a new idea is a huge challenge – there are always easier investments, and few funders want to take a risk on an unproven idea. But thankfully, AREF made that leap of faith, approved a grant, and the SHI was officially launched.

The purpose of the SHI is to implement and demonstrate a multi-stakeholder approach to building innovative and cost-effective affordable housing in rural communities. It promotes the construction of high quality housing that is net-zero ready, with design elements intended to improve mental and physical health and wellness. The SHI also promotes the sharing of knowledge and best practices amongst rural communities.

Due to a lack of resources and capacity, Alberta’s rural communities are missing an integral part of the housing continuum. Rural Alberta has a critical shortage of affordable housing options, but this issue has not received the same attention as it has in urban centres. Without affordable housing, many small communities cannot prevent homelessness or help people through the housing continuum. This negatively impacts communities and individuals, who may be relocated to larger centres, removing them from their familiar environment and any support system they might have, and negatively impacting the community and its ability to grow.

In order to increase the inventory of affordable housing in Alberta’s rural communities, we must overcome their lack of capacity to navigate the lengthy and complex processes (including conducting research and securing funding) that are necessary to build a multi-unit housing project. Through the SHI, ARDN has been collaborating with a number of rural communities and community based organizations to develop strategic partnerships, leverage existing resources, and allow rural communities to address this growing problem.

SHI is already helping rural communities build capacity, by facilitating access to information and resources, and cutting costs, by sourcing lower priced services. ARDN is working with stakeholders and industry partners to develop a framework that is a step-by-step path to build, manage, and operate affordable housing projects, including templates for:

  1. An analysis of need and demand for affordable housing in the community.
  2. An analysis of financial viability.
  3. A business plan for funder investment.
  4. A generic design for a building that would be used for permitting.
  5. A plan for sustainable, long term management.
  6. Finding potential sources of funding.

ARDN is currently partnering with stakeholders in seven rural communities to implement this framework in a cost effective and timely manner, source funding, monitor progress, assist with challenges, collect data and report on outcomes. Our first project, with the Banff YWCA, is already at the permitting and design stage.

Affordable homes is a dream come true for two Albertan families

Owning a home is so much than acquiring an appreciating asset – it’s a source of pride and new tie to the community. You could see the emotion on the faces of all four families that benefited from new Habitat for Humanity homes in Strathcona County. On a sunny July 27th, four families were handed keys that started new chapters in their lives. Two of the four homes were supported by the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, the REALTORS® Community Foundation and the Government of Alberta. The County of Strathcona also played a key role with significant contributions to all the homes.

Jay Freeman, Chair of the Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF), said of all the worthwhile projects that the Foundation supports, Habitat for Humanity is one of his favourites. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony he said, “With these projects we can see, in a very concrete way, how our small contribution is benefiting.” The families moving into the new homes couldn’t agree more. Both parents and children spoke about how owning a home will make a difference to them and their families. One of the new owners named Clodia said, “Owing a house means stability and security, but also it means I can be a good role model for my daughter.”

 

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Habitat for Humanity believes in giving people a hand up, not a hand out. Habitat Homes are built by volunteers and donors and sold to qualified families. Those who are approved to receive a home must agree to work 500 hours at the build site in place of a down payment. Habitat holds the mortgage interest-free and amortizes it over as many years as necessary to ensure the families do not pay over 25 percent of their income for housing.

Affordable housing is one of the Foundation’s areas of interest for projects. It often partners with Real Estate Boards across the province, such as the REALTORS® Association of Edmonton, to match their donation and double the impact in communities across Alberta. Habitat for Humanity is a deserving partner as it serves families that are low to moderate income and offers them an innovative financing option. The Alberta Real Estate Foundation is proud of its contribution to this great event and join with others in welcoming these four families home.