Supportive Housing and the National Housing Strategy

Written by Kyla Tanner

November 11, 2019

In 2017, the federal government announced the National Housing Strategy (NHS), a strategy with targets and funding programs aimed to build and repair housing across the country. The initial announcement was a 10-year, $40 billion framework that claimed to give highest priority to “those in greatest need”, defined as “vulnerable groups”. Today, the strategy has increased to $55 billion+.

The new NHS and its various programs raise questions about how funding will be allocated to vulnerable populations. This blog post will focus specifically on the NHS and its relation to affordable supportive housing.

Credit: National Housing Strategy

Supportive Housing

People living in supportive housing need additional services to obtain and keep housing that meets their needs and allows them to live independently and with dignity in their community. Cahdco has been a part of developing supportive housing, such as Ottawa Salus’ Salus Clementine project that provides 42 units for people living with mental illnesses, Cornerstone Housing for Women’s new residence on Princeton with 42 units for women, and Multifaith Housing Initiative’s new Veteran’s House, to provide 40 units for veterans.

There is a very real need for supportive housing in Canada. In 2012, nearly 550,000 people with disabilities were living in core housing need. In Ontario in 2012, 14,300 people with disabilities were on a waitlist to receive support services. For women, a study found that about 38% of women experience homelessness immediately after leaving an abusive partner. And in 2005, CMHC estimated that approximately 27% of people with mental illness live in inadequate housing.

The NHS identifies 11 vulnerable populations:

…survivors (especially women and children) fleeing domestic violence; seniors; Indigenous peoples; people with disabilities; those dealing with mental health and addiction issues; veterans; LGBTQ2+; racialized groups; newcomers (including refugees); individuals and families experiencing homelessness; and young adults.”

However, it does not make the explicit link that supportive housing is often designed for these populations.

National Housing Co-Investment Fund

The National Housing Co-Investment Fund is a $13.2 billion program with two streams: New Construction and Housing Repair and Renewal. The table below outlines the Co-Investment Fund targets:

Type of Housing Target (units)
New housing 60,000
Repairs to existing affordable and community stock 240,000
Shelter spaces created or repaired 4,000
New affordable units for seniors 7,000
New affordable units for people with developmental disabilities 2,400

Only two of the 11 vulnerable populations identified have associated targets: seniors and people with disabilities. The NHS does not include a plan for how these targets will be met. There is also no requirement for supportive services for these targets. Therefore, the fund is only for capital, not operational costs. Without operational funding from the federal government, housing providers interested in creating supportive housing either need money from another level of government or must charge enough rent to pay for supportive services, which could put rent affordability in jeopardy.

Of the $13.2 billion, approximately $8.7 billion is allocated to mortgage loans, to be repaid at low-interest rates. The remaining $4.5 billion are grants that do not need to be paid back.

Credit: National Housing Strategy

Eligibility Requirements

Both streams suggest an intention to fund mixed-income and mixed-use communities but do not have requirements for units to target low-income households or vulnerable populations. Non-profits, municipalities and the private sector are all eligible to apply to both streams.

All projects must meet accessibility standards for at least 20% of the units and access to the project and its common areas is barrier free. For renewal and repair projects, organizations must achieve at least a 25% decrease in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions relative to past performance levels. These requirements are very difficult to achieve in older buildings.

Rental Construction Financing Initiative (RCFI)

The RCFI provides only low-interest loans, not contributions, to encourage the construction of rental housing. It will provide $13.75 billion in loans from 2017 to 2021. Unlike Co-Investment Fund, it does not have any targets.

“Affordability” under the RCFI is met if the proposal has been approved under another affordable housing program or if at least 20% of units have rents at or below 30% of the median total income for all families for the area. The Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer found this measurement can, in some areas, substantially exceed average rents, therefore not proving to be very affordable. Rents only need to remain “affordable” for 10 years.

Conclusions

Overall, although the NHS defines supportive housing and states that everyone has a right to housing, it does not provide specific funding to develop supportive housing. One NHS program includes targets for two of the 11 vulnerable populations, but these targets do not meet the need and there is no plan to achieve the targets. For example, funding could have been allocated to housing providers that focus on specific vulnerable populations.

Supportive housing operators may have difficulty creating more supportive housing with NHS funding due to the limited amount of grants compared to loans, competition for the grant money from other types of operators, challenging accessibility and energy standards, and lack of operational funding.

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Kyla Tanner

Cahdco Associate

November 11, 2019