Cahdco Co-Hosts HSC SHARE Conference

Written by Billy Cohen

December 9, 2019

The October 24th Housing Services Corporation (HSC) SHARE Conference, in partnership with Cahdco, brought together affordable housing experts from across Canada and even as far as Melbourne, Australia. This year’s conference, entitled “Home and Away: Tools for Collaboration from Canada and Australia”, focused on developing partnerships between non-profits, housing co-operatives, and governments in pursuit of expanding affordable housing across cities in both countries.

Credit: Housing Services Corporation

Held at Cahdco’s flagship development, Beaver Barracks, the HSC SHARE Conference welcomed Keynote Speaker Dr. Carolyn Whitzman, Bank of Montreal Visiting Scholar at the University of Ottawa. Dr. Whitzman’s presentation, “Improving Partnerships to Scale Capacity for Non-Profit Housing”, explored how four key cities experiencing affordable housing shortages work with non-profit housing corporations and co-operatives in order to ease their respective cities’ housing stresses.

Whitzman alluded to the aptly named “Stonehenge moments” in housing (referring to the moments in which the sun aligns with the iconic stone structure). These Stonehenge moments in housing are those rare moments when all levels of government align on housing policy. During these rare “Stonehenge moments”, affordable housing leaders must be prepared with plans and data to ensure that housing gets built.

Whitzman discussed ways to navigate the numerous levels of governments and often conflicting planning policies by highlighting the differences in government structure and planning bureaucracies in the four key cities of Toronto, Vancouver, Portland, and Melbourne.

Portland, Oregon, in particular, has seen a boom in purpose-built rental housing development in response to their affordable housing shortage. Citing Portland’s successes, Whitzman showed how purpose-built rental development can lower a city’s GINI coefficient (level of wealth inequality) and protect the housing market from foreign buyers that might leave investment homes vacant.

Whitzman further discussed how innovative approaches to housing can reduce homelessness in housing-squeezed cities. Melbourne, Australia, and Vancouver, BC, have explored the use of modular housing constructed on vacant, government owned land to serve as a “rapid response to homelessness.”

Whitzman concluded her presentation by summing up her five ingredients for affordable housing success:

  • Developing targets for all housing to meet all people’s needs;
  • Free government land;
  • Non-profits with a strong asset base and long-term plans;
  • Low-cost financing opportunities to address start-up costs; and
  • Partnerships with affordable housing stakeholders.

Credit: Dr. Carolyn Whitzman

Katie Paris of the National Capital Commission (NCC) was at the HSC Share Conference to present her organization’s “Building LeBreton” Plan, a vision for the LeBreton Flats site that includes public spaces, facilities and attractions, safe and active transportation options, and a mix of land uses. The “Building LeBreton” Plan is based on the NCC’s seven guiding principles:

  • Enhance the Capital Experience;
  • Build community;
  • Value nature;
  • Create connections;
  • Foster sustainability and innovation;
  • Honour the past; and
  • Make it happen.

The NCC held an extensive public consultation process in which participants identified green space and residential space as top priorities. Notably, the public positioned affordable housing development as a key priority—we look forward to watching the NCC play a leading role in affordable housing at the LeBreton site.

Credit: National Capital Commission

One topic of particular interest at the HSC SHARE Conference was that of establishing a Community Land Trust (CLT) in Ottawa. Melissa Estable and Dennis Carr of the Co-operative Housing Federation (CHF) of Canada led an informative presentation on CLTs in cities across Canada. A CLT is a non-profit corporation that exists to preserve affordable housing as a public good in a given area, and they can facilitate a pipeline of housing development projects, as opposed to a patchwork approach to housing development. CLTs can protect land from the private speculative market, and can deepen affordability in cities struggling with housing shortages.

Estable and Carr discussed a proposed Eastern Ontario Land Trust, operated by non-profits and co-ops on leased government land. This could, in part, reduce the affordable housing shortage in the Ottawa. An Ottawa CLT has unique potential—Ottawa has 6 times the amount of vacant federal land as other municipalities in Ontario, including potential sites like LeBreton Flats, LRT sites, and the Tunney’s Pasture area.

Estable and Carr concluded their presentation by providing the following recommendations for a potential CLT in Ottawa:

  • Focus on enabling affordable housing through new construction, renewal of existing rental assets, and alternative tenure models;
  • Secondary focus on enabling social services and amenities; and
  • Establish a permanent non-profit body for the stewardship and oversight of building operations.

A proposed model for a Community Land Trust (CLT) in Ottawa. Credit: Melissa Estable and Dennis Carr.

The SHARE Conference hosted by HSC and Cahdco provided a gathering space for those at the forefront of innovation in affordable housing. The three presentations discussed above, as well as all other presentations given at the SHARE Conference, can be found here, on the HSC SHARE website.

Billy Cohen

Development Assistant

December 9, 2019