Meeting the challenge of providing affordable housing for Canadians in the 21st century will require many elements – commitment, investment, hard work and perhaps most of all, innovation.
That’s why Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) has launched its Affordable Housing Innovation Fund (AHIF), as part of its National Housing Strategy.
“We believe that all Canadians deserve adequate housing, and there are about 1.7 million Canadians in need right now,” says Simon Lahoud, director of the Innovation Fund and Federal Land Disposition for CMHC.
The AHIF is a unique program that aims to revolutionize the affordable housing sector, Mr. Lahoud says. It’s a $200-million investment with a goal of creating up to 4,000 new affordable housing units over five years, providing homes for low- to modest-income individuals and families, seniors and newcomers to Canada.
To that end, AHIF administrators are looking for creative new ideas that will reduce costs and overcome the barriers and risks associated with housing projects.
Innovation is key to affordable housing because the need in Canada is so great and the goals are ambitious, Mr. Lahoud says.
“The National Housing Strategy is a 10-year plan that we hope will lead to everyone in Canada having a place to call home,” he says. “In that time, we’re looking to reduce chronic homelessness by 50 per cent [and] fulfill the need for housing for 530,000 households. [We plan to] create 100,000 new housing units and repair more than 300,000 units.”
But what makes a project innovative? It might come in the form of a new financing model, a project that provides additional social benefits or a design that incorporates cutting-edge green technologies, Mr. Lahoud says.
Focus on energy efficiency
One project in Hamilton, Ont., that has applied to the AHIF for funding will retrofit an 18-storey apartment tower built in 1967 to meet 21st century climate change challenges.
The development, called the Ken Soble Tower Transformation, will enable residents to control temperatures in their units at a fraction of the cost of current heating and air conditioning, says Tom Hunter, CEO of CityHousing Hamilton.
“The heat that will be required to keep a unit warm will be the equivalent of the heat from two incandescent light bulbs,” Mr. Hunter says. The Ken Soble Tower is the oldest high-rise building in the portfolio of CityHousing Hamilton, the city’s municipal social housing agency.
Slated for completion in 2020, the Ken Soble Tower Transformation will meet building standards for temperature projections in 2050, when climate change is expected to be in full force. Models have projected that the new design will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 94 per cent, making it one of the most ambitious energy efficiency overhauls in the world.
“Social housing is a leader in meeting climate change commitments,” Mr. Hunter says. “The retrofit helps us keep our operating costs much lower. The retrofit looks to the future and it creates comfortable living environments for the residents.”
A new approach to financing
The AHIF is also looking to support new financing models across the country through organizations like the HPC Housing Investment Corporation (HI-C). This sector-based financing vehicle helps affordable housing providers access low-cost, long-term financing available in the capital markets.
In February, HI-C announced that it had secured $33-million in private placement funding for two affordable housing projects: a 15-storey, 135-home building in Vancouver’s former Olympic Village and 136 homes for low-to-moderate income families, seniors and individuals in north-central Edmonton.
“It makes a financial product available that’s never been available to the non-profit housing sector,” says Shayne Ramsay, chair and president of HI-C and CEO of B.C. Housing. “It’s a fixed rate for 30 or 40 years, instead of having the interest rate roll over every five years.”
This innovative financing model means that residents don’t need to worry about steep rent hikes if interest rates go up, because the mortgages that financed their buildings will stay the same, he explains.
“It means non-profit housing groups have a dedicated lender that understands their sector and can provide the expertise that’s necessary,” Mr. Ramsay says.
Support for marginalized Canadians
In Whitehorse, the AHIF is evaluating another type of innovation in collaboration with Cornerstone Affordable and Supporting Housing Development. This project works with marginalized people such as individuals on probation, training them in housing construction skills as well as “soft” skills such as job interviews and personal finance management. Cornerstone hopes to break ground in August to build 45 affordable housing units, with people moving into the homes in about a year.
The Cornerstone project is innovative in the way it reaches people who often haven’t been able to integrate into their communities, says Jillian Hardie, executive director of Challenge Disability Resource Group and CEO of Career Industries in Whitehorse.
Ms. Hardie tells the story of an Indigenous participant who was working with a mentor through the Cornerstone project. The mentor invited him out for coffee, but the Indigenous man wouldn’t go inside the coffee shop.
“He said, ‘I can’t go in. I’m not allowed. They think I’m dirty and don’t belong,’” she says. “We’re trying to break these patterns and expose people to different opportunities.”
It’s this kind of out-of-the-box thinking that AHIF administrators are looking for, says Mr. Lahoud. The AHIF is an inclusive program that can provide economic, environmental and social benefits in the affordable housing sector – as long as applicants bring a key ingredient, he says.
“We’re looking for innovation, first and foremost.”
For more information about the Affordable Housing Innovation Fund or to learn how to apply for funding, visit: cmhc-nhs.ca/innovationfund
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail’s Globe Content Studio, in consultation with an advertiser. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.