A housing benefit is a type of housing assistance that provides a subsidy to recipients based on their income. It seeks to reduce the proportion of income spent on housing and to enable recipients to access rental housing. Little research, however, examines how such benefits support positive outcomes for tenants and housing systems. Understanding the factors that support or impede housing benefits is important to developing, implementing and assessing them.
Project Housing Assistance and Life Outcomes (HALO) will examine outcomes for households receiving portable and non-portable housing benefits. It will investigate housing determinants such as choice and discrimination. It will also explore how these factors are related to housing outcomes and an individual’s quality of life. The research results will help provide insight about the new Canada Housing Benefit.
3 Key Goals
Collect longitudinal quantitative and qualitative data about how housing choice and housing discrimination affect quality of life.
Explore the successes and challenges of implementing the Canada Housing Benefit in Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta.
Share research results with provincial governments, policy makers and housing service providers to enable them to improve programs.
Project scope and expected outcomes
Assessing the effectiveness of portable versus non-portable housing benefits
Housing assistance in Canada has historically been unit-based, such as social housing managed by governments or non-profit housing organizations. Recipients of these programs rarely have much choice over where they live: they usually must accept whatever unit becomes available. The wait for these units can be long, and if the recipient moves out of that unit, their benefit ends. These programs are described as non-portable.
The new Canada Housing Benefit, introduced in 2020, offers a direct-to-tenant housing subsidy. The recipient can then use the subsidy to help pay for a unit in the private rental market. If the Canada Housing Benefit recipient decides to move, they are able to apply that benefit to their next residence. This kind of benefit is described as portable.
The Canada Housing Benefit was introduced to improve the quality of life of low-income tenants by providing them with more choice. It would allow tenants to live in the type of unit they want in a neighbourhood of their choosing. Because the benefit is new, however, data is needed to assess whether or not it is having the predicted/desired effect.
Testing basic assumptions about how housing benefits work
With funding from the National Housing Strategy Research and Planning Fund, HALO will test assumptions about housing assistance programs. The two assumptions to be tested concern housing choice and housing discrimination. They are:
- Assumption 1: Portable housing benefits give people more choice, which will tend to result in better outcomes/increased quality of life.
- Assumption 2: Housing discrimination will prevent tenants from using their choice freely. This tends to result in worse outcomes/decreased quality of life, and it makes portable housing benefits less effective.
Study participants will answer questions about the following issues:
- the quality of their housing;
- the suitability, affordability and adequacy of their housing;
- their housing satisfaction;
- their neighbourhood satisfaction; and
- their quality of life, including their physical health, mental health, social well-being and financial well-being.
The research results will provide information about the factors that enhance or reduce the effectiveness of portable housing benefits.
Recording the lived experience of housing benefit recipients
The project will use a mixed-method longitudinal study, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data from Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta.
The quantitative portion will involve 400–500 households,
some receiving portable benefits and some non-portable. Participants will be
enrolled in the study when they first start receiving benefits. They will
participate in 3 quantitative surveys, administered at 6-month intervals,
which will ask about:
- housing standards, neighbourhood satisfaction and quality of life;
- demographic information (such as age, gender, race/ethnicity and household composition); and
- experiences around searching for housing.
- The qualitative portion will feature focus groups or interviews to learn more about participant experiences with receiving a housing benefit. The qualitative questions will be developed from themes that emerge from the quantitative research. Focus groups and interviews with participants will be conducted online or over the telephone.
Informing housing benefits policy across Canada
The project’s results will be reported on its website, through webinars and infographics, and in a final report. It is anticipated that the data from Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta will be applicable to other provinces and territories. This should help government policy-makers understand how to optimize the Canada Housing Benefit.
The research also has implications for instances where benefits can be delivered in kind or as a direct financial subsidy. This makes it possible that the Project HALO data could contribute to the larger conversation about benefit delivery.
Program: NHS Research and Planning Fund
Activity Stream: Program of Research
Lead Researcher: Pier Labs
Project Collaborators / Partenaires:
- YMCA Cumberland (Amherst, NS)
- Phoenix Youth Programs (Halifax, NS)
- Shelter Nova Scotia (Halifax, NS)
- Family Services Association of Western Nova Scotia (Bridgewater, NS)
- Project HOPE (Housing Outreach and Peer Empowerment)
- Canadian Mental Health Association (Truro, NS)
- Services and Housing in the Province (SHIP) (Mississauga, ON)
- Calgary Housing Company (Calgary, AB)
- Lloydminster Region Housing Group (Lloydminster, AB)
- Metis Urban & Metis Capital (Edmonton, AB)
- Red Deer Housing Authority (Red Deer, AB)
- Region of Waterloo, Community Services (Waterloo, ON)
Location: Halifax, NS