Defining “Affordability” In Affordable Housing

A guest post from Gina Grosenick the Broadening the Base Coordinator

Written by Gina Grosenick

March 29, 2016

This is the logo for Broadening the Base

The Context for Affordable Housing

We are hearing a lot about affordable housing in the news and on the streets. Communities all over Canada have prioritized the need to address what many are calling a crisis in the lack of affordable housing. In Ottawa, Broadening the Base (BtB) is exploring ways to bring new and underutilized resources to the table to augment municipal efforts to build more affordable housing. There is also hope that with a federal government committed to infrastructure spending and to working with provinces and municipalities, now is an opportune time to create more affordable housing to address the demand here in Ottawa. As important as building the housing infrastructure, however, is creating clarity about what affordable housing is and who it serves.

Public Perceptions of Affordability

Ask the average Ottawa resident what is meant by “affordable housing” and they will describe supported or supportive housing for residents with health, mental health or extreme poverty issues. This definition has largely been created and perpetuated by media and popular culture with an abundance of stories and reports about the need for housing for individuals in these circumstances and commentary surrounding the government or social services that provide for them.

Defining Affordability

In reality, affordable housing has a much broader definition and affects many more individuals in the community. According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, housing is deemed to be “affordable” if a household’s shelter costs are less than 30% of before-tax household income. Recent discussions and reports by other organizations have suggested that the 30% threshold should be adjusted or take into account other costs, such as transportation, that can impact the ability of households to afford and maintain their shelter. Connecting affordability to one’s ability to pay and afford housing-related expenses expands the definition of affordable housing to include a much broader group of individuals and a wider range of housing and housing options. In Ottawa, there are many households that due to their incomes, cannot afford average market rental or purchase prices. These households can include low income families, seniors on fixed pensions, youth at risk and youth just starting out in their careers, newcomers, aboriginal populations and those affected by racialization, and individuals facing homelessness. For this broader group of individuals, addressing affordable housing needs is not a one-size fits all social program but a community and planning issue that ensures that a range of housing options – from home ownership to affordable rentals to subsidized and/or supportive housing — are available so that everyone has the opportunity to be safely and stably housed at all income levels.

Broadening the Base

To address the affordable housing crisis in Ottawa, we first must recognize its diversity. The diversity of affordable housing needs will be best met through a diversity of solutions and opportunities. Broadening the Base is looking to contribute to these solutions and we encourage you to follow our progress at


Gina Grosenick

BtB Coordinator

March 29, 2016