Collaborative solutions for Canada’s housing crisis: Why non-profits are essential

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The gravity of Canada’s housing crisis demands immediate collaborative action. To see solutions at work, Canada needs all levels of government and the development sector, including non-profits, to operate in lockstep with the same goal: to fuel the creation of multiple versions of housing, including rental and ownership, that build healthy, thriving communities.


Working together for transformational action


When government incentives are met by willing participants, transformational action takes place. For example, last fall, the federal government announced the removal of GST from purpose-built rental housing. This was a significant step in incentivizing the investment and development of more rental housing. Developers across the country reopened several projects in the development pipeline previously on hold, many making public commitments to adding new units to Canada’s housing stock. 

This type of incentive is certainly a step in the right direction. If we saw this was possible for purpose-built rentals, it’s important to develop a framework where this can be applied to the ownership market, making the pathway to homeownership an option for more Canadians. Non-profits can help us get there. 


How non-profits can help more Canadians own a home


Home Ownership Alternatives (HOA), the company I lead, is a non-profit financial corporation making homeownership a reality for Canadians by working with both for-profit and non-profit developers. Our primary development partner is the non-profit developer Options for Homes. HOA offers a second mortgage program to help first-time homebuyers make a down payment on a unit within our developments.

Last month, HOA and Options for Homes decided to join forces under the same leadership to deliver on our joint mission of increasing the supply of attainable housing suites on the market. While bringing these organizations together will help us to develop and deliver our pipeline, we still need support and significant contributions from private and public partners to continue to make non-profit housing development possible. 


Addressing challenges of non-profits in creating housing access


Housing is important for all Canadians and homeownership is just one type of housing on that spectrum. But while more Canadians from all stages of life feel their pathway to enter the housing market is slipping, it’s important for non-profit organizations to exist and thrive to give more Canadians the pathway and option for ownership, something that should not only be reserved for a select few. 

While non-profits possess the missions, skills and expertise to ensure the right residents have access to the type of housing they need, they face significant challenges, including regulatory barriers and limited access to capital and land for development, which can hinder their ability to scale solutions. 

If we lower the costs for non-profits to invest in building new stock through government incentives and strategic partnerships, we lower the cost of delivering housing.

It’s in this process that we can begin to scratch the surface of this crisis, addressing the housing deficit built up over decades to provide more housing options for Canadians. 


Health and vitality of our cities are at risk


While the solution to the housing crisis continues to centre on building more and building faster, consideration must also be given to how and where we build. The health of our cities is an important conversation we must consider when we discuss solutions to the housing crisis. 

Importantly, when artists, educators, small business owners, hospitality workers, students and new Canadians cannot afford to live in our cities, we risk the health of delivering culture and services. When we are unable to house our workforce, there is a risk of employers choosing to leave our cities. The health and vitality of our cities are the real threats we face. 


Innovative housing models can help


Innovative housing models, such as co-living communities and rent-to-own, offer promising solutions by increasing supply and enhancing the social and environmental sustainability of neighbourhoods. Encouraging such models through zoning reforms and incentives can spur non-profit development that aligns with the broader goals of community health and resilience. 


To see healthy, thriving and vital Canadian cities, we need to ensure we are building all levels of housing across the spectrum. To get there, we need non-profits at the table. 

Ultimately, Canada’s housing crisis stems from a supply and demand issue. To move forward, we must have all levels of government, private sector development and non-profit players working together to increase the supply of all types of housing on the spectrum to build healthy and thriving communities.


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