When Housing Policy Meets Innovation: How should we handle the Housing Crisis


Introduction: Unpacking the Housing Crisis

In the last year, many Western countries like the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada announced that their countries are in an affordability housing crisis.

According to these governments, middle-and low-income families are finding it difficult to afford to rent and to own homes due to the rise in the standard of living – leaving many people to pay an overwhelming amount of their income on housing more than food and clothing (Valdez, 2019).

 In Canada, the federal Liberal government decided that the issue needed to be resolved and a “comprehensive national housing strategy” needed to be developed (Liberal Party of Canada, 2019). Their strategy required a “conjunction with all levels of government and social housing and private sector housing providers” to produce “a national housing action plan that would produce affordable, safe housing for Canadians at all income levels” (Liberal Party of Canada, 2019).

The plan was supposed to begin, but a strategy has not yet been made. There is a definite realization by policymakers and politician that the poor housing strategy not only has caused the crisis but have led to more social problems like homelessness, poverty, and hunger (Liberal Party of Canada, 2019).

More importantly, the issue crosses socio-economic, racialized and marginalized groups because those that are more vulnerable in the housing crisis are low-income families, immigrants, Indigenous peoples and those with physical disabilities. They go on and live “dramatically [shorten] and irrevocably damaged lives” (McIsaac & Porter, 2019).

To many onlookers, the crisis doesn’t seem complicated – build more homes, lower inflation and develop stronger rent control. The crisis is a lot more complex than those solutions cannot even touch let alone solve the crisis that we have on hand.

The affordable housing crisis is surrounded by ambiguities, misconceptions, and nuances that make it so difficult to address or resolve.

There is an immeasurability problem when it comes to the crisis – we know where it has come from but not exactly where it is going and how bad it can truly get (Valdez, 2019). So, simply building new houses is not sustainable to respond to an unknown threat.  

The misconceptions derive from the people that need it the most.  In Canada, there is an assumption that the crisis affects middle-class families more so, however, the populations most affected are those that are making under 30 thousand dollars a year. They are incapable of paying for rent or mortgages because their income is focused on food and clothing.  

More importantly, many assume that affordable housing is a temporary need for families (Mcafee, 2009). However, many of these families rely on these homes some of them waiting years before they can afford something else or never leaving due to the extreme of their situation.

Also, the nuances are focused around the quality of these homes Many affordable housing places are located in urban areas with poor quality schools, housing and social environments (Price, 1995, p. 730). There is still no solution provided to ensure that these individuals are not only isolated from communities but are provided with the same quality of tools as their counterparts.

So, pooling money into social housing, lowering inflation rates and stronger rental control are beyond this problem. These old models are ineffective and have led to the many issues that we are facing today.

The real question is how might we (HMW) solve the housing crisis to ensure that people are capable of living in quality and safe housing?

Using Innovation to Solve the Housing Policy

It is evident that the issues that lie within housing policy are that it is in desperate need to be innovated (Hulchanski, 2007, pp. 2-3). Thus, the goal must be to rethink the way we handle and discuss affordable housing as well as manage the crisis. To do so, we must understand what affordability housing means to the users that use it through design thinking practices first to then formulate a solution.  

In this case, the crisis occurred due to barriers to access – it is important to rethink what affordability means – it means efficient, effective and equitable hospices for those in need (The Conference Board of Canada, 2010, p. 33).

This requires policymakers to consider lowering the cost of the home or lowering the cost of goods (The Conference Board of Canada, 2010, p. 36), ability to transition people from social assistance and affordable housing out by developing the civil society through life and career development (The Conference Board of Canada, 2010, p. 38), and important to ensure these individuals have the same access to quality homes, resources and environments (The Conference Board of Canada, 2010, p. 42).

The focus would to then be creating partnerships with these private organizations and expanding these individual’s capacity to own their own homes through a shared ownership

Innovation in Practice: Designing Affordable Housing

Many countries are developing these principles to design a better and more innovative housing policy strategy.

For example, in the United Kingdom, they focused on smart building and design to enhance the community and the services that develop their growth. These are streets that are designed to ensure that people are not excluded from the community but have access to services that better their quality of life and the tools to get them out of affordable housing (Sheppard, 2019). Their goal was to be able to develop homes in places where people would want to live (UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, 2018).

In Canada, cities that have been more affected by the affordable housing crisis like Vancouver have looked to developing innovative models from Vienna. Their goal is to purchase and use city-owned land to develop a community that develops itself from being affordable housing to simply housing (Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency, 2019). This will allow the government to set the price of the homes, while also allowing these individuals to have shared ownership with the city or province as well.

Conclusion: So, what now?

The many critiques of the current model are that we believe simply building houses is a better response to the challenge. However, it is the building of communities, services, and monetary capacities that helps alleviate the effects of the crisis. It is not the development of homes but building the capacities of the individuals by reducing the effects of the economic environment on these individuals.

A solution can only be available when individuals participate in the process of change and the government understands the understand the context of the crisis – this is where innovative practices and stewards come in. With them taking lead on the project quickly we have come to realize that it is not simply the lack of homes; it is the lack of resources available to these families to be able to afford the necessities.

Housing policy needs innovation to not only develop the dialogue but develop effective strategies to solve it.

Works Cited

Hulchanski, J. D. (2007). Canada's Dual Housing Policy. Toronto: Centre for Urban and Community Studies.

Liberal Party of Canada. (2019). 162. AFFORDABLE NATIONAL HOUSING STRATEGY. Retrieved from Liberal Party of Canada: https://www.liberal.ca/policy-resolutions/162-affordable-national-housing-strategy/

Mcafee, A. (2009, March 17). Housing and Housing Policy. Retrieved from The Canadian Encyclopedia: https://thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/housing-and-housing-policy

McIsaac, E., & Porter, B. (2019, November). Housing Rights: Ottawa takes a historic step forward. Retrieved from Literary Review of Canada: https://reviewcanada.ca/magazine/2019/11/housing-rights/

Price, M. J. (1995). The Canadian Housing Context. Housing Policy Debate, 721-758.

Sheppard, E. (2019, September 24). The right housing in the right place - the councils investing in quality homes. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/sep/24/councils-investing-in-quality-homes

The Conference Board of Canada. (2010). Building for the Ground Up: Enhancing Affordable Housing in Canada. The Conference Board of Canada.

UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence. (2018, July 11). HOW CAN INNOVATION CONTRIBUTE TO ADDRESSING THE UK HOUSING CRISIS? Retrieved from UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence: https://housingevidence.ac.uk/how-can-innovation-contribute-to-addressing-the-uk-housing-crisis/

Valdez, R. (2019, July 16). How Can We Solve A Housing Crisis that Doesn't Exist? Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogervaldez/2019/07/16/mother-jones-government-cant-solve-a-housing-crisis-that-doesnt-exist/#301378ef7431

Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency. (2019). The Vienna Model: Innovation in Affordable Housing. Retrieved from Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency: https://vaha.ca/this-post-does-has-all-kinds-of-content-but-no-feature-image/