Thousands of organizations across Canada have dedicated themselves to addressing social welfare issues related to a lack of safe, secure, and affordable housing. To be considered affordable, housing inhabitants must allocate 30% or less of their total income towards rental costs. Although simple by definition, affordable housing is a complex issue.
In Calgary, affordable housing providers are faced with the challenges of growing waitlists and minimal turnover. In 2019, nearly 1 in 5 Calgarian households were struggling to pay housing costs2, troubles which have likely compounded due to current economic challenges. Calgary falls below the national average, with only 3% of households in Calgary having access to non-market housing, compared to 6% in other major Canadian cities.3 Although the demand for more housing is clear, many folks struggle with misconceptions about affordable housing and the benefits affordable housing provides to both tenants and communities at large. We’re here to discuss these misconceptions and highlight the benefits of affordable housing in several critical categories.
Affordable housing buildings create several opportunities for economic growth while fostering a stable, healthy (and happy!) population. When individuals are safely housed, they can shift their focus from merely surviving to thriving. Having a fixed address, a safe place to call home and a sense of belonging within their community, individuals begin to set goals, reach milestones, and live their lives with purpose. We know that you cannot build a life without a safe place to live. Affordable housing gives many individuals living on a low income those opportunities.
One of the most powerful misconceptions is that affordable housing damages communities. The opposition to affordable, supportive, or transitional housing is usually based on the assumed characteristics of the population that will be living in the development. The NIMBY (Not in my backyard) phenomenon is a challenge that many affordable housing developers face when building in a new community. Common baseless arguments disregard benefits and uphold that there will be increases in crime, litter, thefts and violence in the neighbourhood, and that property values will diminish.
Affordable housing buildings do not drive down nearby property values nor do they attract “undesirable” residents to the neighbourhood. Affordable buildings are required to meet the same design standards as market rate housing, and no studies have ever shown a link between affordable housing and the decreasing of adjacent property values.4 Most residents moving into affordable housing units already resided in the community as your neighbours and friends. They live in multi-family homes or are just barely scraping by with their rents.4 Poverty isn’t always noticeable, and many people who live that reality have become quite crafty at hiding their situation.
Affordable housing also grows budding communities by promoting further development and investment from municipal governments.5 With their extra disposable income, affordable housing residents have more spending power to buy from local shops and businesses in the community, promoting their growth and supporting business owners.5
Education & Employment
Affordable housing creates employment opportunities in ways you might not have considered before. The buildings themselves create jobs- the building, maintenance and preparation of an affordable housing building requires about 161 local jobs in the first year.5 Of course, affordable housing also improves employment opportunities for the residents. While below-market housing is a resource for many people, for those exiting homelessness the security accompanying a fixed address can be life-changing. In addition, when adult individuals are only paying 30% of income towards rent, they may have the opportunity to return to school and upgrade credentials, or complete certification courses which can result in more meaningful employment and increased confidence.
The impact of safe, secure affordable housing on education, especially in childhood, is massive. Children are extremely susceptible to the negative effects associated with poverty. Struggling families are shown to move frequently in search of more affordable accommodations, resulting in children being forced to change schools often. Stable, affordable housing increases standardized test scores6, decreases the likelihood of mental and developmental issues and even results in higher earnings later in life. One ground-breaking Harvard study determined that children who moved into lower poverty neighbourhoods while under 13 years of age saw their earnings increase by as much as 31% as adults as opposed to children who didn’t move.7
Health & Essentials
Affordable housing fosters both mental and physical health. Tenant’s leftover income that results from living in an affordable building can be allocated to purchasing healthier groceries, essential medicines and covering the costs of necessary services as such dental or vision care. The reduced stress and extra income that accompanies living in affordable accommodations improves mental health. Households that are cost burdened by housing payments will cut corners wherever possible, out of necessity, often compromising their wellbeing.
Income stability and financial support opportunities are both underrated and often undiscussed benefits of affordable living accommodations. Without an address, employment and filing taxes for benefits is difficult. Those who don’t file or cannot file due to a lack of affordable housing are missing out on Government supports such as the Canada Child Benefit, Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), Old Age Security and the Working Income Tax Benefit.8 The cumulative monetary support of these benefits can add up to thousands of dollars of much needed support.
Affordable housing is an extremely valuable tool for those struggling to make ends meet. From supporting education to the ability to afford essentials, affordable housing improves the lives of residents and strengthens, grows, and supports communities. To learn more about the incredible work being done in Calgary to support affordable housing, we invite you to check out the Community Housing Affordability Collective (CHAC). http://www.chacollective.com/
1- Trevithick, Matthew. “Veteran Homelessness Functionally Ended in London, Ont., City Officials Say.” 980 CFPL. February 16, 2021. Accessed February 28, 2021. https://globalnews.ca/news/7644064/veteran-homelessness-ended-london/#:~:text=Municipal officials say Built for,the country to do so.
2- The City of Calgary. “Learning about Affordable Housing.” Learning about Affordable Housing. 2021. Accessed February 28, 2021. https://www.calgary.ca/cs/olsh/affordable-housing/learning-about-affordable-housing.html.
3- City of Calgary. Foundations for Home: Calgary’s Corporate Affordable Housing Strategy. PDF File. 2016. Accessed March 1, 2021. http://www.calgary.ca/CS/OLSH/Documents/Affordable-housing/Housing-in-Calgary-inventory-housingsupply.pdf.
4- The City of Calgary. “Affordable Housing Facts.”2021. Affordable housing is an extremely valuable tool for those struggling to make ends meet. From supporting education to the ability to afford essentials, affordable housing improves the lives of residents and strengthens, grows, and supports communities. To learn more about the incredible work being done in Calgary to support Affordable Housing, we invite you to check out the Community Housing Affordability Collective (CHAC). http://www.chacollective.com/
5- Burns, Richard. “How Whole Communities Benefit From Affordable Housing.” January 6, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesrealestatecouncil/2020/01/06/how-whole-communities-benefit-from-affordable-housing/?sh=db1b5f24e828
6- MacKenzie, Blake. “Six things you might not know about affordable housing.” November 17, 2020. https://www.tchabitat.org/blog/affordable-housing-facts
7- Chetty, Raj, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz. “The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment.” 2015. doi:10.3386/w21156.
8-Mulholland, Elizabeth. “Filing Taxes Brings Major Benefits to People on Low Incomes.” Maytree. February 14, 2017. Accessed February 28, 2021. https://maytree.com/stories/filing-taxes-brings-major-benefits-people-low-incomes/.