by Gina Grosenick
The lack of affordable housing in Ottawa is at a critical level. In 2014, there were more than 10,200 households on the waiting list for subsidized housing and only 141 units of new affordable housing created. In addition, data from the Canadian Rental Housing Index showed nearly 22,000 Ottawa renter households were spending more than 50% of monthly household income on rent and utilities, well above the 30% affordability threshold identified by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
This is not a new problem. Dedicated efforts to increase the stock of affordable housing have been a priority for the City of Ottawa and homelessness and affordable housing providers for many years. But as the above statistics show, the needs in our community are greater.
To have a more meaningful impact, Ottawa needs to find complementary, more innovative solutions to affordable housing development and engage a broader range of stakeholders and resources in developing that solution. That became the goal of Broadening the Base (BtB).
Broadening the Base evolved from a conversation among business, non-profit, and community leaders who recognized that more and diverse resources, partnerships, and assets need to be woven together and dedicated to affordable housing in Ottawa in order to meet community needs.
Broadening the Base has three targeted goals. First, it will strengthen community collaboration for affordable housing by creating a common cause effort that optimizes efforts and partnerships among all stakeholders in the issue, including the vital role played by the City, provincial and federal governments.
Second, it will promote affordable housing as a civic responsibility of Ottawans and community, business, and institutional organizations, in addition to government.
And third, it will identify new ideas and mechanisms for affordable housing development, financing, philanthropy and the development of land/property assets to catalyze and leverage 1500 new affordable housing units in Ottawa in the next five years, increasing the City's goal for the same period by 1,000 units.
Five core areas of activity were recognized as essential to achieving the above goals: affordable housing development partnerships; land assembly strategies; social impact investment; philanthropic support; and community engagement and advocacy.
In its approach, Broadening the Base has created a "design circle" comprised of issue-specific experts and volunteers from diverse stakeholder groups for each of these areas of activity. Each design circle will research and recommend Ottawa-specific strategies for their area of activity. A core team of five volunteer community leaders and a hired project coordinator facilitate and direct the work of the design circles and project administration.
In its activities to date, Broadening the Base has held numerous stakeholder and community consultations to discuss and collaborate on the vision and approach of the initiative and has received formalized support from more than 25 organizations through a written expression of commitment and participation. Funding has been secured to hire a project coordinator to manage the project and the five design circles have been organized and initiated.
Moving forward this Fall, the initiative is entering into a design phase. During this period the five design circles will regularly convene. Consulting widely and drawing on community knowledge and best practices in Ottawa and other jurisdictions, each circle will identify innovative models and mechanisms that could support affordable housing development in Ottawa as it relates to their facet of the project.
The Affordable Housing Development Models and Partnerships Design Circle will develop three or more alternative affordable housing development models that could be considered for Ottawa. The Land Assembly Strategies and Land Trust Establishment Design Circle will determine the structure for a land assembly strategy that will connect those who have land with those who are seeking to develop affordable housing.
The Social Impact Investment Circle will analyze the potential design and utilization of an Affordable Housing Social Impact Fund based on review and analysis of leading examples elsewhere in Canada.
The Philanthropy Assessment & Mechanism Design Circle will develop an attractive approach to invite philanthropic sources of capital for affordable housing development and sustainability.
The Communications and Community Engagement Design Circle will ensure that the broad affordable housing, homelessness, social services and community/health services community, along with the general community, are connected to BtB, aware of its development and actively engaged in the solution.
In this design phase, the opportunities for the various models and mechanisms to work together to create new partnerships and address resource challenges and barriers to affordable housing development will be analyzed as well as their ability to be scaled up for larger projects and opportunities in the future.
Subsequent invitations to participate will be extended as needed to refine and formalize the mechanisms being adopted. Once tested, refined and working effectively, the mechanisms will be made available to the affordable housing community at large and in so doing will provide the means to accelerate and catalyze affordable housing development in Ottawa to better meet the needs of the community.
What is so innovative about this plan? The innovation largely does not come from creating new mechanisms or models for affordable housing, but in approaching the problem differently and in finding ways to bring to and adopt an expanded suite of partners and solutions to addressing the issue.
Not only is Broadening the Base seeking to increase the number of affordable housing units, but it seeks to broaden the base of support, energy, engagement and activities that contribute to adequate affordable housing solutions. The innovation is in working together to ensure a sustainable community for all Ottawans.
More information on BtB Ottawa is available via email at
or via our website at btbottawa.ca
Gina Grosenick is Coordinator of Broadening the Base Ottawa.
The PERC thanks the above organizations for their support.
Thank you to Sustainable Eastern Ontario, the Community Foundation of Ottawa, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation for sponsoring the Winter 2015-2016 edition of the PEN.