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Check out the latest on the rental housing study!

 

Which policy approaches contribute to strong rental housing protection and implementation in Canadian cities? What factors contribute to municipalities’ successes and failures in rental housing? Find out in this update on my SSHRC-funded study, Rental Housing in Canadian Cities: Barriers and Solutions to Implementation.

In a previous post, I wrote about the four categories of policies Canadian municipalities are using to protect and build new rental housing (Universal, Common, Uncommon, and Unique). I discussed how some cities use stronger or more innovative approaches, while others were more basic. For example, a standard approach to condo conversion, found in the Universal category, is to prevent conversion if the rental vacancy rate is below a certain percentage (e.g. Waterloo); an advanced approach is to prohibit conversion entirely if the units are operated by a housing co-operative, non-profit organization or municipal housing corporation (e.g. Sherbrooke, Montreal). The intent of a policy is stronger if it is supported by specific funding, for example in Edmonton, land use policies permitting secondary suites were supported by a program that funded up to 50 percent of renovations. Action plans and monitoring progress towards targets also indicate advanced approaches (e.g. Saskatoon, Vancouver). A survey of municipal planners, developers, and non-profit housing organizations showed that municipalities often set targets but don’t actually achieve them, and that they are better at building new rental units than protecting existing ones.

Uncommon and Unique solutions tend to be found in cities on the innovative end of the spectrum, such as Vancouver, where renters face particular affordability challenges. In the small and mid-sized cities, provincial governments seem to be critical partners in the development of innovative approaches (e.g. Sherbrooke, Regina, Winnipeg). Larger cities simply have greater resources to rely upon.

I have now finished a meta-analysis of the 15 case studies across Canada. I found that there are several factors that make a difference in municipalities’ success in rental housing. In this case, rental housing includes both affordable and market rental, and:

Successful implementation and protection of rental housing is defined as the development of new rental units (either market-rate or below-market rate) that meets or exceeds targets set by the municipality/region, and very limited or no loss of existing rental units. Successful cities meet the needs of their renter households by integrating strong policy language, enforcing policies, and collaborating with a range of stakeholders to integrate programs and funding.

The critical success factors (CSFs) tell us what increased or decreased success in a case study, e.g. policies that were enforced and monitored for progress towards targets led to greater success, while no enforcement or monitoring led to less success. The eleven CSFs are:

  1. Policy Intent (clear goals or targets for protection of existing/implementation of new rental housing, clearly linked to an implementation strategy/action plan/timeline vs. vague, unclear, or absent targets and no action plan/timeline)
  2. Policy Strength (specific, strong policy wording on protection/implementation of rental housing, clearly linked to funding or other municipal support vs. vague, unclear, or absent policy not linked to funding or support)
  3. Policy Enforcement (policies are enforced (e.g. protection of units) and monitored for progress towards targets vs. no enforcement or monitoring)
  4. Planning Tools (widespread use of planning tools to encourage rental housing, e.g. density bonuses, tax exemptions, streamlined applications process vs. no tools)
  5. Collaboration/ Partnerships (very good communication/collaboration on rental housing protection/implementation, major overlap in goals and vision, very clear roles vs. no communication/collaboration, no overlap in goals)
  6. Intergovernmental Cooperation (local plans and policies on rental housing clearly align with provincial priorities and programs vs. no clear alignment)
  7. Municipal Leadership (strong municipal leadership in rental housing protection/implementation from municipal organization/department vs. no leadership role)
  8. Provincial Funding (a wide range of grants and support for protection/implementation of rental housing (e.g. capital grants, advice for municipal staff, sharing technical expertise) vs. no grants or support)
  9. Renter Vulnerability (Census/CMHC data shows vacancy rates over 3%, fewer than 35% of tenants pay over 30% in rent, most units are in good condition vs. Census/CMHC data shows vacancy rates below 1%, over 45% of tenants pay over 30% in rent, most units are in poor condition)
  10. Regional Preferences (preference for rental tenure/low preference for ownership vs. low preference for rental/high preference for ownership)
  11. Public Support (strong public support for rental, multifamily, and/or dense housing types vs. strong opposition)

For policymakers and planners in cities who would like to strengthen their approaches to rental housing, strengthening several of their weaknesses could impact their outcomes. They could use the CSFs to identify weaknesses in their city/region, e.g. poor collaboration and partnerships. Then they introduce ways in which stakeholders could interact, like a series of meetings in which municipal planners, non-profit housing providers, and developers present their own strategies and plans for rental housing. Of course, there is nothing that municipal planners, developers, and non-profits can do about CSFs like Provincial Funding. But quite a few of the CSFs could be influenced by the actions of municipal organizations.

In the final stage of our research, policy learning workshops, my research assistant and I give participants some examples of innovative approaches used in other municipalities. Then, they decide whether these approaches could be used to strengthen the weaknesses they identified in Halifax. Stay tuned for more about these workshops in the coming weeks!

For the latest on this study, check out the video below, or the project page here.

Ren

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