Supportive Housing Case Studies: How supportive housing in Ontario and British Columbia is developed and operated

Written by Kyla Tanner

July 30, 2020

Supportive housing is developed for groups of people that need added supports to maintain permanent, stable, and successful tenancies. These housing needs are a part of the definition of ‘core housing need’ and lie on the housing continuum between transitional housing (short-term housing with supports) and social housing (permanent, subsidized housing with affordable rents for tenants). The development of supportive housing has many challenges. It requires affordable rents for tenants in the lowest income groups as well as funding for ongoing supportive services.

Cahdco was the project manager for the following supportive housing developments: YSB’s Youth Housing Hub, Cornerstone’s Housing for Women, Karen’s Place (Salus Clementine), and the upcoming MHI’s Veteran’s House, that is currently in construction.

For my master’s report at Queen’s University, I chose to research challenges of developing supportive housing, examining seven case studies of supportive housing projects to determine what models currently exist and common elements among the projects. I also investigated opportunities for funding under the National Housing Strategy (NHS).

This blog post will provide a summary of key highlights from my report. The full report can be found here.

Definition of Supportive Housing

For the purposes of my report, supportive housing was defined as affordable housing that is safe and secure, while providing access to support staff and services to enhance independent living. Two aspects of supportive housing were examined:

  1. The development of new affordable housing
  2. The supportive services offered upon the completion and operation of housing

The Budzey Building:

Source: Derek Lepper Photography

Comparative Case Study Analysis

The report demonstrated successful examples of recent supportive housing developments and showcased creative ways to promote further development with provincial governments and the non-profit housing sector. The seven case studies of supportive housing projects were from Ontario and British Columbia. These two provinces were chosen because they have the most serious housing affordability issues with high and rising rents, low vacancy rates, and large waiting lists for social housing.

Overview of Case Studies:

A profile was created for each project and key findings were synthesized and compared between the two provinces. The case study projects chosen are diverse in geographic location, target tenant groups, and building size. The full report includes profiles of each case study that displays contextual background, a snapshot of the building (number of units, completion date, target occupants, etc.), project costs and financing, supportive services provided, and the model of affordable supportive housing. The subsequent analysis provides a spectrum of evidence-based best practices.

The information used for each of the profiles were gathered from public documentation or published documentation provided by the housing organizations. The profiles were additionally sent to the housing organizations for verification of information.

Parkdale Landing:

Source: Invizij Architects

Best Practices

The following best practices are a roll-up of generalized findings from the seven case studies. These could serve as lessons learned for housing organizations’ future projects.

Development

  • A project is financially viable with free or low-cost land and equity from the project sponsor
  • A project is financially viable with a non-repayable capital grant
  • Supportive housing must have low rent

Supportive Services

  • Supportive services are graded and dependent on the tenant’s needs
  • Supportive services are provided on-site with additional supports coordinated in the surrounding community
  • Secure funding for supportive services

British Columbia and Ontario

  • The Government of British Columbia has policies, funding, and staff that deliver programs for affordable housing
  • In contrast, the Government of Ontario downloaded responsibility for housing, leaving non-profit organizations as the project developer of supportive housing

The National Housing Strategy

  • Although non-profits can apply for funding from the NHS, there are no earmarked allocations towards supportive housing at this time
  • Despite the NHS including target number of units for three vulnerable populations, it does not have allocated funding for these groups
  • There is no distinct funding for Indigenous peoples in urban and rural Canada

Models of Supportive Housing

  • Most of the supportive housing developments fit the dedicated-site model (where the building offers only supportive housing units and supportive services on-site), compared to mixed-site and scattered-site models.

New Jubilee House:

Source: Brenhill Development Ltd.

Overall Policy Context for Supportive Housing

The key component of supportive housing is affordability. Residents of supportive housing often have the lowest incomes, many relying on low pensions, welfare, or disability shelter allowances. Supportive housing must be developed and financed to cover its operating costs with low rents and low revenues. As the Project Manager, Cahdco can help housing providers that want to develop supportive housing create a feasible project by balancing the costs and revenues.

Helping people into permanent, stable housing that is affordable results in increased stability for residents and improved health outcomes. At the same time, some studies have shown that supportive housing yields returns to society in terms of subsequent efficiencies and reduced costs for other public services, like emergency shelters, the health care system, emergency services (including policing), and jails.

The case studies demonstrated that non-profit organizations have been able to develop successful supportive housing. In Ontario, it took considerably more effort by non-profit organizations without the support of the provincial government. On the other hand, in British Columbia, the provincial government provides funding to help finance projects, working directly with non-profit organizations, developing housing.

The announcement of the NHS (2017) brought promise and optimism for non-profit housing organizations with new opportunities for funding through various streams. However, there is no specific strategy, plan, or programs for supportive housing in the NHS. There is no earmarked funding for this type of housing, and it remains unclear how helpful the NHS will be when developing projects. Cahdco has experience applying to programs under the NHS, such as the National Housing Co-Investment Fund and Rental Construction Financing Initiative.

Camas Gardens:

Source: Pacifica Housing

Given this situation, I made the following recommendations to support and encourage new supportive housing.

Recommendations

  1. The NHS should include funding streams and/or programs with money to be used specifically for supportive housing
  2. The Government of Ontario should provide more support to housing organizations
  3. The British Columbia and Ontario governments should allocate funding for supportive housing under the FPT agreements
  4. Funding for supportive services should come with capital development funding
  5. Housing operators should secure low-cost or free land and government financial assistance
  6. Further research could be completed regarding the supportive housing sector

The full report and complete project profiles of the seven cases can be found here.

If your organization is interested in developing affordable supportive housing, you can reach out to Cahdco President, Graeme Hussey, to discuss your supportive housing project at Graeme.Hussey@ccochousing.org.

Project Profile Sample: Karen’s Place

Kyla Tanner

Kyla Tanner

Student Intern

July 30, 2020