Affordable housing is getting harder to find for thousands of people in Calgary. In fact, 80,000+ Calgarians find themselves in need of affordable housing.
The housing continuum helps us better understand the challenges we face when it comes in housing. If you’ve never heard of the housing continuum, you’re not alone. But this simple concept helps illustrate one of the biggest challenges facing vulnerable families and individuals in Calgary.
The housing continuum is, at its simplest, the range of housing types available in a community — from emergency shelter on one end, all the way to homeownership on the other. In between lies an assortment of housing options and types, each critically important for different people at different times.
Let’s break it down:
Source: Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation
Some families find themselves at this point in the continuum after losing their home due to eviction, domestic violence, loss of employment, injury or a family dispute. Others end up here after exiting some type of institutional housing, such as foster care, a hospital or incarceration. An emergency shelter is designed to offer short-term crisis support. Emergency shelters like ours play a critical role in the community’s homelessness response system: they provide an immediate place to stay while families reconnect with housing. Shelters work best when people can enter and exit rapidly, with recovery-oriented services for their needs. However, given the housing and affordability crisis in Alberta, families are not exiting rapidly and demand grows by the day. This can lead to situations where there are people in our community who are dependent on shelter for longer periods leading to chronic homelessness.
Transitional housing is a temporary solution that aims to bridge the gap from homelessness to permanent housing. Many of the people who live in transitional housing use it for support, structure or treatment on a short-term basis. Examples include addiction treatment or mental-health support.
Supportive housing combines rental or housing assistance with individualized, flexible and voluntary support services for people with high needs related to physical or mental health, developmental disabilities or substance use. Many families who require supportive housing have experienced chronic homelessness, experience greater barriers to maintaining their housing and have higher needs that require extra support.
Community housing is sometimes also known as social housing or subsidized housing. This is housing for people living on low incomes who can’t afford market-rate apartments. Community housing can include purpose-built low-income housing developments, subsidized units in market-rate buildings, or market-rate apartments paid for in part by provincial rent supplements.
Unfortunately, a lot of the social housing stock in Calgary has fallen into poor repair, and hasn’t expanded at the pace that’s needed. Rent supplements, allowing people to rent market-rate apartments, have helped ease that burden (tenants pay an amount of rent proportional to their income, and a subsidy to the landlord covers the rest).
A shortage of affordable and non-profit housing has become a growing issue in Calgary. At least 15,000 affordable housing units are needed in Calgary to meet existing needs. As population growth is far outpacing the creation of affordable housing units in Calgary, population forecasts suggest that over 22,000 new non-market units could be required to house 6% of all Calgary households in 2025.
With hundreds of families on waitlists for housing it means that means they may find themselves struggling for too long at one end of the housing continuum, or paying more than they can afford.
Affordable Housing (Rentals & Home Ownership)
What counts as affordable housing? It’s pretty simple, actually: According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a household that spends less than 30% of pre-tax income on shelter is considered to be in affordable housing. Housing costs above that threshold eat into income that can be spent on other necessities like food, transportation, a phone, and personal savings. The definition of affordability is different for everyone and depends on their income. As cities like Calgary become more expensive, affordable rentals for low-income earners are harder to find.
Just as with affordable rentals, affordable home ownership costs should be less than 30% of income — which makes it hard for low-income earners to own their own home. But there is help out there, including non-profits like Habitat for Humanity and government programs to assist with down payments. There are also programs to help low-income homeowners make their home more energy efficient.
Market Housing (Rentals & Home Ownership)
Rentals: Market rental housing is where landlords choose what they want to charge. There is no subsidy or discount for those who have lower incomes. Calgary’s market-rental rates remain relatively affordable by Canadian standards — but they continue to get more expensive every year. For instance, in 2022, rental rates increased by an average of 26% in Calgary, according to Rent.ca.
Home Ownership: Market home ownership is un-subsidized. Owners are responsible for paying for and maintaining their properties. As with market-rate rentals, Calgary’s home-ownership costs remain relatively affordable in comparison to other big cities across Canada. However, those rates have been climbing quickly in the past few years.
People need to move along the housing continuum to make sure everyone’s needs are met. And a healthy city needs to have plenty of options available at all points on the continuum. Imagine a city without enough affordable rentals to help people make the leap from crisis housing to more permanent arrangements. That’s exactly what’s happening in cities across Canada, as cities grow more expensive and vacancy rates decline. Unfortunately, we can expect that trend to continue, which means that our work in the community is more important than ever.
At Inn from the Cold, we offer emergency shelter, transitional shelter, supportive and affordable housing to support families facing a housing crisis. Please consider donating to help us continue this important work.