Due to a lack of resources and capacity, our rural communities are missing an integral part of the housing continuum. Rural Canada has a critical shortage of affordable housing options, but this issue has not received the same attention as it has in urban centres. Without affordable housing, many small communities cannot prevent homelessness or help people through the housing continuum. This negatively impacts the affected individuals, who may become chronic users of emergency shelters, or relocated to larger centres, removing them from their familiar environment and any support system they might have. If the homeless migrate to larger centres in search of services, they may discover they must be homeless for a year before they are entitled to access many services, meaning they can easily become victims or turn to crime in the interim. As well, this removal of people from the local rural population negatively impacts the community and its ability to grow. Finally, the lack of affordable housing negatively impacts other groups and individuals, such as business owners who offer lower wage jobs, seniors transitioning to supportive care, families, disenfranchised youth, and people with mental health issues and addictions.
The inventory of affordable housing in Canada’s rural communities must be increased. One of the primary barriers to creating affordable housing in rural communities is the lack of funding and capacity to plan and execute large-scale, long-term projects, and to create the partnerships necessary to ensure the project is cost-effective and sustainable. Small communities often do not have the resources and expertise to go through the lengthy and complex processes (including conducting research and securing funding) that are necessary to build a multi-unit housing project.
The ARDN has been collaborating with a number of rural communities and community-based organizations to develop strategic partnerships among stakeholders struggling to address the shortage of affordable housing. The ARDN has started a multi-stakeholder strategy to create more rural-based affordable housing with a goal to promote new partnerships across Canada, leverage existing resources, and allow rural communities to address a growing problem instead of downloading it to the urban centres.
Through the National Housing Strategy’s Affordable Housing Innovation Fund, the Government of Canada has awarded $10 million to support the ARDN’s Sustainable Housing Initiative (SHI). This funding will support the development of at least 8 affordable housing projects that:
- Meet net-zero energy-efficiency targets,
- Are constructed using shipping containers, and
- Use the psychology of aesthetics in the design to improve the physical and mental health of tenants.
This will also support the development of a step-by-step guide to develop sustainable affordable housing which will be publicly available. It will help save community groups time and money by providing a free, comprehensive, step by step guide on how to successfully develop, build and manage affordable housing. The guide will be based on unique projects with a variety of owner/operator models, including, but not limited to, private developers, not for profit groups and local municipal governments. In order to ensure this guide is contextually relevant nationally, the SHI extended a call for National Advisory Committee (NAC) members to provide feedback and expertise during its development. The NAC is crucial to the successful creation of this step-by-step guide, and consists of a diverse group of volunteers working together to address housing and homelessness issues in Canada.
One of the first projects supported through this initiative is the YWCA Banff Courtyard Project. This 33 unit, 3-storey cost-effective project will meet net-zero targets for energy efficiency and provide affordable rental housing for up to 78 residents who face barriers to finding suitable accommodation. The Courtyard Project will have at least four suites that are barrier free for people with accessibility needs.