One of the major changes in provincial assisted housing policies is the shift in the socio-demographic profiles of the recipient groups.
In the past, these policies were fairly “all-inclusive,” that is, providing assistance to low-to-moderate-income families and independent seniors. These days, such policies increasingly targeted toward vulnerable populations. For example:
- Very poor households
- Seniors with diminishing independence
- People experiencing homelessness
- Women who are victims of violence
- People with health issues
What accounts for this targeting of assisted housing in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia from 1975 to 2015? This was one of the primary questions addressed in the researcher’s doctoral thesis, which is the first study to explain or even document this silent shift that has affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.
This research was awarded the 2021 CMHC Gold Roof Award for Housing Research Excellence.
3 Key Goals
Explain and document the shift in the socio-demographic profiles of groups receiving housing assistance.
Compare a number of decades of provincial results in the housing sector and provide causal factors.
Understand why vulnerable citizens have received increasing assistance, at the expense of those with moderate incomes.
Project scope and expected outcomes
There is a growing number of vulnerable citizens among recipients of housing assistance. The support they receive is more tailored to their needs.
This support includes new types of transitional housing with services and permanent housing units, designed to assist vulnerable groups in their ever-changing circumstances.
A summary of provincial actions
The research focuses on policies that target those in greatest need of housing in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia. It takes an in-depth and nuanced look at all provincial actions—sometimes undertaken with federal government support—that have resulted in people in precarious housing situations being given priority in the allocation of housing resources.
A table provides a brief chronology of the major changes to provincial affordable housing programs. These changes include:
- Rules for allocating public housing
- Measures implemented for people with disabilities
- Development of housing for vulnerable people (people experiencing homelessness, seniors with diminishing independence, etc.)
- Private-market-based options (shelter allowances and rent supplement programs)
The study summarizes dozens of initiatives over the past 40 years and may inspire current decision makers in different jurisdictions who are thinking about adjusting their program mix to more effectively support disadvantaged groups.
A lack of knowledge in the field of social housing
Literature on social housing has been published, the latest in the 2000s, but was primarily focused on federal initiatives. No systematic analysis of provincial initiatives has ever been conducted, although some consultant reports have been published.
No independent academic research has looked at how programs meet the needs of more vulnerable people. This study clarifies the changes in public policy and in the needs of groups, and highlights other factors, such as:
- The break-up of traditional families
Many social policy researchers have suggested that targeting is the result of conservative and/or neoliberal ideology. They see it as a reduction in social protection: a way of excluding certain populations that tends to generate “losers” rather than “winners.”
This research project counters that position by presenting the limited availability of assisted housing, which it refers to as “housing exceptionalism” due to the small number of households receiving government assistance. This exceptionalism helps us understand why vulnerable citizens have ended up receiving more assistance, at the expense of moderate-income households, and why this new concept has received widespread consensus.
Mixed methodology for better triangulation
Numerous interviews showed that decisions in favour of wider targeting were often based on the thinking and experiences derived from previous programs. The 56 people interviewed included:
- Government decision makers
- Community leaders
- Housing advocates
Several interviewees had been directly involved in developing these programs.
Hundreds of archival documents were consulted, including annual reports, Hansard transcripts and policy documents. The researcher also collected data from the archives of the three provinces and the CMHC’s documentation centre.
The mixed methodology combines archival data with coded interview responses for better triangulation. This methodology increases the study’s internal validity, reliability and reproducibility.