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Know your target audience

One of the first steps a municipality can take is to understand its community in terms of the demographics that are in core housing need. It could be any number of groups such as youth, seniors, single parents, refugees, immigrants, or households with physical or mental disabilities that are struggling to maintain stable permanent housing. Knowing this information is important, as a municipality’s approach to housing support will be different depending on the target audience.

To understand your audience, it is worth conducting a housing needs assessment. This can be done by a consultant, or to save costs, a municipality may choose to conduct its own research using available resources.

How to conduct your own housing needs assessment

Municipalities can conduct their own housing needs assessment using any of the following resources.

  • Statistics Canada conducts a census every five years. A municipality can source key data on its community through Statistics Canada’s Census Profile or the National Household Profile.
  • Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation offers a variety of housing statistics such as:
    • Housing Market Information Portal is a user-friendly tool that offers statistics such as average and median rent costs, vacancy rates, new housing construction, housing stock, population factors and core housing needs.
    • Housing in Canada Online (HiCO) is an interactive tool that allows users to create customized data tables using housing statistics from past censuses. HiCO profiles the housing conditions of households by Aboriginal status, household type, tenure and age group including statistics on core housing need. Users are encouraged to watch the quick start video before using the system.
  • Communities of less than 10,000 population may find that the CMHC resources only offer data on a regional basis and are not specific enough for local needs. In response, the Government of Alberta offers the Rural Apartment Vacancy and Rental Cost Survey, which is an annual report of housing statistics for communities with populations between 1,000 and 9,999.
  • The Government of Alberta’s Core Need Income Thresholds lists the maximum income levels that a household may earn and still be eligible for a provincially-funded rent subsidy in eligible rental projects in each community.
  • Consider hosting public consultations to collect input from the community on local housing needs.

To conduct a needs assessment, municipalities should pay particular attention to trends and findings with regards to:

  • Population growth
  • Population demographics
  • Household size/composition
  • Vacancy rates
  • Quantity, age, and condition of existing rental units
  • Change in rental costs
  • Median income levels
  • Portion of community population earning low income
  • Supply and diversity of existing dwellings
  • Percentage of population in core housing need

Using this information, a municipality can identify the factors that are contributing to local housing issues such as income levels, lack of appropriate rental accommodation, or other factors that are unique to the community. For example, what percentage of the population is single and how many one-bedroom rental units are available to house that population? Is the community’s median income level high enough to cover the 30 per cent affordability threshold of median rental rates?

For assistance to conduct a housing needs assessment, municipalities may consider contacting the Alberta Rural Development Network (ARDN). The ARDN’s Sustainable Housing Initiative can offer in-kind support and guidance to municipalities to help conduct a needs assessments and develop a housing project strategy.

Connect with key stakeholders

Connecting with key stakeholders such as developers, landlords and local housing management bodies will allow a municipality to better understand the local housing environment. In addition, it can open doors to create partnership opportunities. Local developers may not be aware of available government funding for non-market housing or have not even considered the potential of partnering with the municipality. Local housing management bodies may have an interest in expanding their scope of service if they have support from the municipality.

Municipalities can be leaders to educate developers about the types of housing stock that are needed in the community and demonstrate the range and flexibility of non-market housing models that can be used.  

Develop a housing strategy

With all types of planning it is important to clarify what an organization is working towards. It is prudent for a municipality to create a housing strategy that defines council’s goals and includes specific targets such as the number and type of market-based rental housing or non-market housing units to be developed. Will the plan require new committees or governance structures? What community stakeholders should be involved? What actions are required to achieve success? When developing your strategy, refer to the Strategies to Support Housing Affordability page for ideas.

Conduct a feasibility analysis

Once a project is identified, ensure that a feasibility analysis is conducted to determine that the housing project will be financially sustainable. A qualified accountant or related professional should conduct a pro forma financial analysis to make this determination. What funding is guaranteed or required to make it sustainable? Does the project scope need to be amended to include market-based residential or commercial units to be considered feasible? What other approaches could be considered to ensure the housing project is financially stable over the long term.

Allocate resources

Based on the outcomes of the needs assessment, housing strategy and feasibility analysis, a municipality should prepare to allocate resources that will allow for progress to occur. Resources may involve a budget for staffing or a provision of funds to invest in a housing project.

Where can I get more information?