Alberta’s non-market housing system is comprised of a complex mix of owners and funding structures between non-profit organizations, private businesses and the federal, provincial and municipal governments. The Government of Alberta has primary responsibility for Alberta’s non-market housing system that provides housing at a reduced cost or with special supports for persons who because of financial, social or other circumstances are unable to obtain or maintain housing through the private market.
The Government of Canada provides funding to the Government of Alberta to design and deliver a range of non-market housing programs in Alberta. The programs can involve operational support or capital funding for new construction or renovations of non-market housing units.
The Government of Alberta is both a funder and owner of non-market housing through the Alberta Social Housing Corporation and owns 41 per cent of non-market housing units. While the province may own non-market housing units, each provincially-owned facility is managed by an independent housing management body. In fact, a significant portion of the non-market housing system is managed by over 100 housing management bodies that operate a diverse mix of housing accommodations across Alberta. Each housing management body is created under the approval of the Minister responsible for housing and is governed by a board of directors. When it comes to day-to-day operations, housing management bodies determine their local scope of services, manage applications for housing assistance and select the tenants while abiding with the Housing Act and supporting regulations.
Alberta municipalities can be funders and/or owners of non-market housing depending on the approach used in each community. Many municipalities have a requisition partnership with a housing management body that operates a lodge housing facility in the local or nearby community. In addition, many municipalities choose to own or directly fund other types of non-market housing in the community in order to respond to resident needs.
For a detailed overview of housing management bodies, click here to view the AUMA webinar with Alberta's Ministry of Seniors and Housing.
Legislation sets the stage for how non-market housing is created and operated in Alberta.
Alberta Housing Act
The purpose of the Alberta Housing Act is to enable the efficient provision of a basic level of housing accommodation for persons who because of financial, social, or other circumstances require assistance to obtain or maintain housing accommodation. The Act allows for the establishment of housing management bodies and the Alberta Social Housing Corporation and includes the following regulations:
- Alberta Mortgage and Housing Corporation Loan
- Housing Accommodation Tenancies
- Loan Insurance
- Lodge Assistance Program
- Management Body Operation and Administration
- Rent Supplement
- Social Housing Accommodation
The most recent copy of provincial acts and regulations can be sourced from the Alberta Queen’s Printer.
National Housing Act
The Government of Canada’s National Housing Act focuses on financing for housing to promote housing affordability and choice, to facilitate access to, and competition and efficiency in the provision of, housing finance, to protect the availability of adequate funding for housing at low cost, and generally to contribute to the well-being of the housing sector in the national economy.
Eligibility will be dependent on each non-market housing accommodation. In general, if the accommodation is provincially subsidized (social housing), then eligibility will require that families, seniors or individuals must be at or below local income limits (defined by the annual Core Need Income Thresholds) and have no more than $7,000 in assets, excluding pensions, registered retirement income funds and registered savings plans.
The Social Housing Accommodation Regulation outlines that the basic rent of a household in social housing will be 30 per cent of the household’s adjusted income. Adjusted income is determined by deducting specific types of income from a household’s total annual income. For example, an adjusted income will include deductions for income related to a child tax benefit, a goods and services tax credit, withdrawals from registered retirement savings plans or payments received from the Government of Alberta for care of a foster child.
Households that are interested in social housing must apply to the management body that provides social housing in the community. Applicants are then screened for eligibility and scored based on priority of need. Non-market housing that does not receive provincial operating subsidies may have different eligibility requirements than social housing.
Types of non-market housing
Non-market housing is based on the principle that at some point during the development or operation of the housing accommodation, there is an investment by a level of government, private business, or non-profit organization that allows the cost of that housing to be offered to renters or owners at a price that is less than the current market value.
There is no single model used for non-market housing. The variety of non-market housing models can be attributed to the variety of organizations that are involved in the delivery of non-market housing. Each organization has unique goals in terms of who it serves and unique points of view in how best to serve those people. In addition, each organization has different financial or resource constraints that may lead them to develop a unique housing model. The following groups of people are common targets for needing the services of non-market housing:
- Individuals/families with low income
- Individuals with physical or mental disabilities
- Individuals with addictions that require special supports
- Youth or women experiencing violence at home or homelessness
- Seniors with limited income but still independent
- Seniors with limited income and require support services
- Households with low income but an interest to purchase a home
Alberta’s legislation categorizes social housing into the following segments:
Seniors’ Lodge accommodation
Lodge accommodation is a common form of non-market housing, as lodges are present in communities all over Alberta. The Alberta Housing Act defines lodge accommodation as a home for the use of senior citizens who are not capable of maintaining or do not desire to maintain their own home. The Seniors’ Lodge program offers rooms, meals, housekeeping and other services and recreational opportunities for seniors that are functionally independent or are independent with the assistance of existing community-based services.
In order to create and operate a lodge accommodation, there needs to be a partnership between the management body and a municipality or municipalities that are willing to be liable for any financial shortfalls. Each management body is governed by a board of directors and in some cases the directors may be elected officials from the local partner municipalities.
The Social Housing Accommodation Regulation outlines that lodge management bodies set the basic rental rate, and where needed to protect lower income residents, the management body must adjust the rate to ensure that each resident of the lodge is left with a monthly disposable income of at least $315 after fees for room and food are paid. If there is a shortfall between a lodge’s revenue and expenditures, the housing management body will requisition the partnering municipalities for the deficit. The housing management body may also requisition municipalities for amounts to create or build a reserve fund. In turn, each municipal government will fund the requisition amount by assigning a dedicated tax rate and collecting the funds through its annual property tax collection process.
Seniors’ self-contained housing accommodation
Seniors’ self-contained housing represents apartment style accommodation for seniors that are in core housing need but are functionally independent with or without the assistance of existing community-based services. A tenant’s rent will be 30 per cent of the household’s adjusted income and applicants are prioritized by need.
The province owns most apartments under the Seniors’ Self-Contained Housing Program and is responsible to fund any operating deficit of the housing management body.
Community housing accommodation
Community housing accommodation are rental units that are owned by the province and are subsidized to support individuals, families, seniors, and those with special needs. Rental rates are based on 30 per cent of the household’s income and applicants are prioritized by need.
Rent supplement accommodation
Alberta’s Rent Supplement Program is similar to community housing accommodation except it applies to non-market rental properties that are owned by organizations other than the province. Through the Rent Supplement Regulation, the Government of Alberta can designate a set number of accommodation units that are available for housing management bodies to receive financial support from the province in the form of a rent supplement.
A person that owns housing accommodation can apply to a local housing management body to be designated as a rent supplement accommodation. If the housing management body has designated rent supplement units that are unused, and the housing accommodation is deemed suitable, then the housing management body may approve the person’s housing accommodation to be used for rent supplement.
There are two rent support programs in Alberta. Both require that tenants are prioritized based on need as determined by income, assets and current housing conditions. Rent supplement funding flows from the province to the housing management bodies, which are responsible to allocate the funding by regular rent supplement or direct to tenant rent supplement.
- Regular Rent Supplement: Local housing management bodies pay private landlords a rent supplement to subsidize the difference between a negotiated market rent and 30 per cent of a household’s adjusted income.
- Direct to Tenant Rent Supplement: Local housing management bodies pay a subsidy directly to the tenant to assist with rental costs. The subsidy is based on the difference between 30 per cent of a household’s income and an agreed market rent, to a maximum subsidy established by the housing management body.
Other non-market accommodation
There are numerous other types of non-market accommodations that are operated by private and not-for-profit organizations. In many cases, rental costs may not be linked to the 30 per cent threshold of income but are intended to offer an affordable alternative between government-based social housing and market-based rents. The development of this type of non-market housing is typically made possible by one-time capital funding from governments, private donors, or community support and often do not require the use of a housing management body. For example, the province has provided grant programs that subsidize the capital construction cost of non-market housing with the requirement that the owner rent the units for at least 10 per cent below market rates.
Priority of need point scoring system
The Social Housing Accommodation Regulation outlines a point scoring system that determines the priority of need for tenants to access community housing, rent supplement housing, lodge accommodation, and self-contained accommodation in Alberta. The scoring system is based on the following factors:
- Number of dependents
- Percentage of rent paid relative to the household’s income
- If a household is facing eviction
- If a household is facing an emergency situation (i.e. family violence)
- Accessibility of the current accommodation to meet the physical needs of all members of a household
- Overcrowding of the current accommodation
- Current accommodation is detrimental to the household’s health due to its physical or environmental condition
- Current accommodation is shared with an individual or family on a temporary basis
- Responsibility for utility costs
- Value of an individual’s assets
- If the household consists solely of full-time students in a recognized educational institution
Development of new non-market housing
While the provincial government is primarily responsible for non-market housing, organizations can develop new non-market housing accommodation if there is no requirement for investment or operating support from the province. If an organization is seeking financial support from the province, then the success of that housing development will be dependent on the province’s budget and support for that particular project.