Monthly Archives: June 2019

Non-Market Housing Pause – Yes or No?

The City of Edmonton approved a “pause” (a moratorium) on non-market housing investments in 5 inner city neighborhoods in 2012. This past week executive council was receiving presentations on the motion to end the pause. Here is my presentation: 

I am here to speak in support of ending the moratorium on non-market housing. I will make three points.

1/ A safe, adequate and affordable housing system is essential for the quality of life, wellbeing and prosperity of any city. In this regard, Edmonton is unwell. Edmonton’s housing system is seriously deficient when it comes to the supply of affordable housing. Moreover, the crisis-orientated infrastructures that have developed to compensate for this deficiency are not a permanent cure.

What we do know is that there is research evidence for the following claims:

Individuals with long histories of homelessness can achieve housing stability when provided affordable housing with appropriate levels of support.

Individuals with serious mental illness can recover in community settings when provided affordable housing with appropriate levels of support. This form of housing is effective at decreasing mental health symptoms and improving quality of life, functional status, substance use outcomes, and housing retention.

When it comes to health care utilization, hospitalizations decrease after entering affordable housing.

Quality affordable housing creates a stable environment for children, contributing to improved educational outcomes and decreasing the chance of family separation.

Adding new affordable housing to low income neighborhoods can help revitalize low income communities. New projects can increase house prices, lower crime rates and result in more social mix.

2/ When it comes to the expansion of our affordable housing sector, the stigmatization of affordable housing and affordable housing tenants is a pernicious and unfair barrier. The stigma applied to affordable housing is based on a spurious association between low-income tenants and neighborhood social disorder. I call this association spurious because the basis for this association is a third, unseen, and too often unacknowledged, variable. This third, intervening variable can take different forms: income polarization, social inequality, and institutional racism – structures of oppression that incriminate us all but affect some more than others.

Foregrounding these structures of oppression can significantly shift the conversation when it comes to affordable housing. But these structures are thorny and wicked problems. Addressing them means challenging the status quo and unsettling existing relations of power and privilege. Not surprisingly, these structures are often left out of the conversation. As a result, the stigmatized status of affordable housing holds sway, ready to be used to legitimize opposition to new affordable housing developments.

3/ I would characterize the moratorium as a self-defeating policy. The freeze on non-market housing in core neighborhoods implicitly and unintentionally reinforced negative stereotypes linked to affordable housing. The moratorium sanctioned the notion that neighborhood saturation is real. This did not alleviate stigmatization. Rather it may have accentuated stigmatization resulting in a prolonged period of siting gridlock.

What has been the result? We are facing a formidable affordable housing supply gap of nearly 1000 units of permanent supportive housing, 25,000 units of social housing and 21,000 units of near market affordable housing.

My concluding message is this:

  • We need to transform our housing landscape; we also need to be open about power and privilege and how these are transmitted through our housing system;
  • We need to enlarge the affordable housing conversation to include the diversity of housing types (i.e. single family, multi-unit housing, duplexes, row housing, ect.) and the diversity of tenure types (ownership, rental, cooperative, co-housing);
  • We need to engage communities around affordable housing at the neighborhood level in a way that does not have a predetermined outcome and that develops a sense of collective efficacy around planning processes, urban design, infrastructure provision and the character of the neighborhood.