The Future Cities Canada Spotlight: Housing Innovations project was a virtual demonstration platform. Led by Evergreen, it showcased 12 affordable housing projects and their respective innovations. It also offered participants the chance to explore new partnerships and to take part in hands-on scaling workshops with national experts.
These projects and their findings were profiled in the Spotlight: Housing Innovations e-book. This publication helped raise awareness about the projects and their innovations, and what was needed to adapt them to different contexts. It also outlined lessons learned about scaling, and best practices for scaling other innovative affordable housing projects.
3 Key Innovations
Showcase 12 innovative housing and urban solutions to peers and potential adopters.
Provide one-on-one support to selected innovations that champion the development of a scaling strategy.
Outline the lessons learned and potential pathways for scaling projects.
Project scope and expected outcomes
Spotlighting housing innovation
Future Cities Canada is a multi-partner collaboration that seeks to address the challenges that inequality and climate change pose to cities. It does this by bringing together people, ideas and innovations from across different sectors. Future Cities Canada was founded by Evergreen, McConnell Foundation, TD Bank Group, Maison de l’Innovation Sociale and Community Foundations of Canada.
In late 2020 and early 2021, Future Cities Canada ran the Spotlight: Housing Innovation demonstration project. This demonstration was a series of events and research showcasing exceptional contributions to affordable housing innovation in Canada. Applicants demonstrated their innovative solutions through a virtual showcase. The emphasis was on the potential of projects to be adapted or implemented in different contexts to expand their impact. This is also known as “scaling.”
In addition to the showcases, Spotlight offered participants hands-on workshops on scaling with Canadians experts from different sectors. Webinars also provided a chance for participants to broaden their networks and explore potential partnerships.
The showcased projects
A total of 12 projects were showcased in the Spotlight: Housing Innovation e-book, each with a 1-page profile. These profiles describe each project and the challenges and opportunities for scaling their respective innovations.
The showcased projects (and the organizations that undertook them) were:
Biindigen (Two Row Architects and KPMB Architects)
Biindigen (the Ojibwe word for “Welcome”) is a housing hub development in northeastern Hamilton, Ontario. It was designed to reflect Indigenous ways of thinking, knowing and being. Biindigen’s innovation has been the understanding that housing affordability can be better achieved when considered alongside other community well-being costs. This includes affordable child care and health care, and proximity to nature.
Healthy House Apartments (P&R Developments Inc.)
Recent amendments to the Toronto Zoning Bylaw have created opportunities for re-imagining single-family housing. Healthy House Apartments takes advantage of those emerging laneway bylaws. It replaces a single detached house with two semi-detached fourplexes with laneway suites. These are certified to a Passive House standard. This gentle-density approach addresses land ownership and availability issues. It also increases housing availability, which could help lower average housing prices for buyers and renters.
HousingNowTO.com is a volunteer-run, pro-bono open-source web platform. It shares and explains the details of the City of Toronto’s affordable housing development sites. Its team of experts update and translate information for residents affected by development projects and municipal processes and operations. This bridges the communications and information gap between housing professionals (such as planners) and the average resident. This increased engagement helps improve support for affordable housing development.
Love the Laneways (The Laneway Project)
This initiative seeks to transform neglected urban laneways into vibrant community places in neighborhoods undergoing housing intensification. It seeks to protect and support the culture and landscape of neighborhoods through low-cost, community-centered improvements. These are chosen by the residents as a way to retain the vibrancy of their neighborhoods. They also provide spaces and opportunities for engagement by new residents.
Modular Housing Initiative (City of Toronto)
This project builds small-scale infill housing by using high-quality, pre-fabricated modular homes. It also helps connect people experiencing homelessness with homes and appropriate supports to help them achieve housing stability. The use of modular housing reduces construction time and cost, helping meet the immediate needs of people at risk of or experiencing homelessness. Partnerships with non-profit service providers also help support resident needs, including access to food and health services.
NEXII Whole Building Solution (NEXII Building Solutions Inc.)
NEXII is a whole-building solution that improves the energy efficiency and climate impacts of new and existing buildings. It focuses on energy retrofits and green design to improve existing housing and commercial building spaces. It also invests in a smaller footprint for new developments. This model reduces residential operating costs for renters and homeowners, and reduces construction costs and waste for developers and investors.
Parcel (School of Cities, University of Toronto)
Parcel is a digital matchmaking platform to connect creative mixed-use initiatives and stakeholders. This supports forming public–private–non-profit partnerships to deliver mixed-use affordable housing and elderly care facilities. Parcel acts as a new way to facilitate and spark collaboration, matching networks based on needs, resources and constraints. This helps create the strong partnerships needed to speed up affordable housing in mixed-use projects.
The Rooming House Project (Dixon Hall)
The Rooming House is a restoration project of 4 rooming houses in Cabbagetown (a Toronto neighborhood). It combines historical restoration and sustainable retrofitting with affordable housing and integrated social support. The project demonstrates the importance of non-profit organizations with specialist knowledge working with municipal partners with land and/or resources.
SAFERhome's Measurable Certification for Universal Home Design (The SAFERhome Standards Society)
This project is a certification standard to support accessible design and residential modifications. Its focus is allowing seniors to age in place and supporting residents with disabilities. Developing a standard is critical for addressing community and accessibility needs for aging populations, young children and people living with disabilities. Ensuring that housing is intentionally built to be adaptable and safe reduces the cost burden from homeowners and landowners.
SHINE (Seniors Services Society of British Columbia)
SHINE aims to ensure that seniors can age in place and avoid housing precarity. Research has indicated that navigating online platforms for housing and health is a growing barrier for aging populations. The SHINE platform takes a collaborative approach to supporting housing navigation, community service connections and community collaboration. Its innovation is supporting aging in place by first developing a deep understanding of the challenges and barriers seniors face.
Tower Renewal Partnership (Centre for Urban Growth & Renewal)
This nonprofit initiative works through research, advocacy and demonstration to transform postwar towers and their surrounding neighborhoods. Its goal is to make them more sustainable, resilient and healthy places, fully integrated into their growing cities. It focuses on deep energy retrofits that enhance the sustainability of both the housing supply and the community. Renewing postwar towers is also an opportunity to use existing infrastructure to retain affordable housing.
Usine de peinture Bétonel (Brique par Brique)
This project is converting a paint factory (peinture Bétonel) into a social housing cooperative of 30 affordable and wheelchair accessible units. Located in Montreal’s Parc Extension neighborhood, the community-driven design will be supported with community resources. This includes child care, translation services and cooperative management training. This is made possible by its innovative financing model, which uses community bonds and earnings from Brique par Brique’s business activities.
More information about the respective projects, their innovations and opportunities for scaling can be found in the Spotlight: Housing Innovation e-book.
Scaling up affordable housing innovations
In addition to the profiles, Spotlight collected lessons learned and best practices for scaling innovative projects. In total, 5 opportunities were identified:
- Diverse land ownership and access. Conventional land ownership and single-use land development can limit the potential for certain projects. Land owned by institutions such as school boards or the Crown could be explored through asset mapping and community needs assessments. This would help encourage efforts for affordable, community-owned rental properties/buildings. National commitments also could support long-term scaling impact on affordable housing, with opportunities for integrated support and cross-sectoral partnerships.
- Re-imagining commercial real estate. How and where people work is changing. This may continue to trigger innovation around the traditional central business district and commercial real estate. Mixed-use space, green retrofits and permanent residences/community assets may be integrated into areas traditionally used for commercial land use.
- Creative zoning and resourcing. Zoning policy and multi-use zoning innovation can support scaling of local pilot programs. Policy innovation is important for enabling access to space, infrastructure or political approval. Platforms that actively engage community input or provide partnership match-making can also help scale up projects.
- Universal inclusive design. This project aimed to be grounded in Indigenous ways of knowing and community wisdom. Universal inclusive design considers housing to be central to thriving communities. It demonstrates that housing security and the wellbeing of residents and earth systems are integrated. One does not occur at a cost to the other. This way of planning responds both to immediate housing crises and housing sustainability for future generations.
- Capacity-building and skills-building. Bureaucracy and jargon have traditionally been barriers to widespread participation in affordable housing innovation. It is important to use processes that use common language and common ground. This will help scale innovation in a way that is inclusive, democratic and transparent. It also ensures that diverse needs, wants and experiences are integrated into projects.
Strong partnerships support opportunities
The Spotlight events showed that innovative housing work is being done throughout Canada. They also revealed, however, that there was not enough support for organizations to scale their innovations. The demonstration explored various scaling approaches and how strong, long-term, cross-sectoral partnerships can help support scaling innovations. It found that it is important to connect the right people and resources with the right projects. Partnerships can help achieve that.
Feedback from Spotlight participants and presenters has been positive. Some report being approached by new partners and offered new opportunities. Others have highlighted the benefits of being able to work with experts during the workshop events. Feedback also suggests that Spotlight led to increased collaboration among participants and greater investment potential for showcased solutions and platforms.
Project Team: Evergreen
Project Collaborators / Partners:
Get More Information:
Email Innovation-Research@cmhc.ca or visit our website to learn more about the initiatives under the National Housing Strategy.