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Who Deserves to Be Housed?

What are the barriers to securing affordable housing for all?

Published on November 10, 2020

Who deserves to be housed? It’s the question posed by the “housing first” approach to housing affordability, and the answer is simple: every resident in a community deserves safe, accessible housing that they can afford. 

Securing that housing is the challenge that organizers, community groups and governments are working to solve. From discrimination in the rental market to purchasing housing in notoriously competitive private markets, the barriers are numerous and often compounding. 

But solutions are emerging in communities across Canada, and those solutions - and their scalability - are being discussed at Future Cities Canada: #UnexpectedSolutions, six-weeks of virtual programming led by Evergreen. We take a look at two organizations doing this work, and tackling these issues. 

Barriers to Housing Affordability  

When it comes to the public’s understanding of housing affordability, Faiz Abhuani believes there is some acknowledgement of the barriers to access, but that discrimination is often overlooked. 

As Director of Montreal’s Brique par Brique organization, he spends his days working to secure community housing for low-income tenants. 

“I think people do have an understanding of many of the barriers,” he says. “I think what is somewhat missing is how discrimination comes into play. I know a lot of people in my neighbourhood that pay as much if not more rent than I do, but they don’t necessarily look and sound like me, they don’t necessarily have the ability to connect in terms of class, and that can have a real impact.” 

Having worked with different community organizations for years before founding Brique par Brique, Abhuani has a strong understanding of the structural barriers to creating new affordable housing projects. 

“When it comes to the work we do, another barrier we have to consider is, is the City on board or not?” he says. “Especially when it comes to zoning, getting flexibility there, getting the city to be comfortable and willing to experiment, can be incredibly difficult.” 

Brique par Brique’s work shares a common goal with the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT), an organization which seeks to acquire affordable housing for low-income residents in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. In 2019, the land trust purchased a 15-unit rooming house to save it from being converted into higher-priced housing. 

Darnel Harris, PNLT’s Operations Manager, says competing for properties in a private housing market can be incredibly difficult. 

“The biggest barrier for what we do is always the quantity of funding,” he says. “Government funding moves much too slowly for the private property market. We’ve got beaten in the market a couple of times, and the feedback we got from the industry was always the same — if you’re competing against private buyers with certain resources, you’re effectively asking people to sell to you because they really like you. It wasn’t a terribly effective model.”  

Scaling Solutions 

When it comes to solutions, Abhuani has found that community consultation is essential. Brique par Brique has had to evaluate its proposed solutions to make sure they align with the community's actual needs. “We had to move past assumptions about what residents needed and look at what they were actually asking for,” he says. 

The organization facilitates collective buying, tenant buy-backs and the development of cooperative housing projects. Its first project will eventually house 90 low-income residents in the Parc Extension neighbourhood of Montreal. 

A major housing solution was announced by PNLT just last month. The land trust has partnered with the Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB) in a new program that will allow the land trust to purchase rental buildings as they come on the market. 

The partnership provides PNLT with the funding they need to form what Harris calls a “tempering bridge” — the funds to hold a property off the market while they work to secure bank financing. “The nice thing about it is, as long as the funds from VCIB are there, we can scale the model,” he says. 

Hear More at #UnexpectedSolutions 

Abhuani is a panelist, and Harris an advisor for, the Innovative Housing Showcase, the marquee event of the Spotlight: Housing Innovation series, on November 12 via Future Cities Canada: #UnexpectedSolutions. It’s just one of the many panels, workshops and events in the #UnexpectedSolutions housing stream. Register today for the free virtual sessions, running until November 26.