Municipal authorities are not exactly known for being innovative in public transit provision. That’s what makes Innisfil, Ontario “revolutionary”, according to Ben Spurr’s article in the Toronto Star. But is its approach to serving low-density areas really that innovative?

Innisfil, population 36,000, recently partnered with Uber to deliver a service that combines the flexibility of ride-hailing with the public subsidies of municipal transit. The town subsidizes Uber for its residents, so they pay $2-$3 to travel to/from a list of common destinations like the Barrie South GO Station and the Innisfil Town Hall, or $5 to travel elsewhere in the town. They’re pooled with others using the UberPool service.

This is the first partnership of its kind in Canada, although Uber currently has 35 similar partnerships with public transit agencies around the world. It provides one solution to the pernicious problem of trying to provide viable transit service in low-density areas. Two bus routes would have cost the town $610,000 a year while the Uber partnership has cost the town $165,535 in its first eight months. The partnership provides a much more user-centered approach, like taxis and ride-hailing apps, than traditional transit where users have to adapt their travel patterns to fixed routes and infrastructure.

But is Innisfil’s Uber partnership really that innovative? There are lots of earlier models of public-private or public-cooperative partnerships: Montréal has been combining taxi services with public transit for many years, claiming they “deserve to be part of our transportation cocktail.” Société de transport de Montréal offers a shared taxibus option in low-density areas and integrates taxis for 88% of its paratransit trips. STM also gives transit card holders discounts with car sharing company Communauto and bike sharing organization Bixi. Dorina Pojani and Dominic Stead’s edited volume The Urban Transport Crisis in Emerging Economies (Springer, 2017) details many informal or private-sector transport services in places like Mexico (informal collectivos), Indonesia (Go-Jek), and Turkey (informal dolmus), some of which operated informally for many years before being adopted by the local transit authorities.

Critics warn that, like any public-private partnership, reliance on private companies to solve problems for public agencies can be problematic. Like other tech-centered approaches, there is the risk of municipalities becoming locked into a particular technology, product, or provider through contracts that specify them. Municipalities could be forced to pay ever-higher fees for a service, give up rights to any resulting data (e.g. on travel patterns), or continue with a partnership even if it ceases to yield benefits for them. And then there’s the more philosophical debate: does partnering with private sector companies allow transit authorities to pass the buck? Should they be essentially advertising the very same private sector transportation providers that many public authorities consider their competitors? Are private sector solutions “anathema”, as Toronto Councillor Joe Mihevc (a TTC board member) would say? In Spurr’s article, Mihevc claims that “The ‘public’ in public transit is destroyed when public transit agencies start subsidizing private automobile use.” Indeed, a number of the authors in Pojani and Stead’s book seem to feel that any type of informal or private-sector transportation options are competing with public transit authorities for would-be public transit riders.

Integrating short-term pilot projects with contracts specifying the public benefits and evaluation methods before/after the pilot project ends could help. We’re in the era of the pilot project, with most municipalities unable to commit to long-term services without testing them first for economic viability and other factors like community acceptance. Studying existing partnerships STM’s long-term “transportation cocktail” will also provide useful insights for future partnerships aiming to serve areas or populations in a more user-centered way than they could before.

Two years ago, writer Simon Oxenham at Big Think broke the story of Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher from Kazakhstan dubbed the “Robin Hood of Science”. Elbakyan started SciHub, which bypasses journal paywalls to provide illegal free access to anyone who wants them, in 2011. Elsevier, one of the biggest names in academic publishing in the world, has testified that SciHub was harvesting articles at the rate of thousands per day–Elbakyan stated that it was more like hundreds of thousands per day, delivered to more than 19 million users. Oxenham wrote that, with a database of over 48 million articles in 2017, “Sci-Hub represents the sum of countless different universities’ institutional access — literally a world of knowledge.”

Many see Elbakyan as a crusader against an industry that has been unfair since large corporations took over academic publishing. Academic authors are not paid for their contributions, yet Elsevier has an annual income of over $1 billion US dollars; most academics have no choice but to publish in journals owned and operated by these international corporations as they are required to do so to obtain tenure. As Oxenham pointed out in a follow-up piece, virtually every step of the academic publishing process is carried out by volunteers, including editing, reviewing, and production. Journal paywalls make it impossible for people working as social workers, nurses, chemists, or planners to access the latest developments in their field–as they are no longer students or researchers at a university that pays hefty journal subscription fees. Many journals have introduced Open Access options in the past two decades, and about 70% of them do not charge authors publication fees to guarantee that readers can access their articles for free. The rest compound the problem by charging authors hundreds or thousands of dollars per article to be published.

Originally created for a very practical reason–universities in Kazakhstan couldn’t afford journals’ high subscription rates, which is no surprise since even Harvard and Cornell have been unable to keep up–SciHub was built upon the practice of sharing final or pre-publication versions of the articles with fellow researchers. Elbakyan was forced to find pirated articles this way as a student, being unable to afford to pay for every single article she needed to read. Having left Kazakhstan to work in computer security in Moscow for a year, she went to the University of Freiburg in Germany in 2010 to work on a brain-computer interface project. Returning to Kazakhstan and frustrated with the #icanhazPDF approach researchers had to use to find papers through Twitter, she used her coding and hacking skills to create SciHub, which automated the process and made it much more efficient. The process couldn’t be easier to use–just find the article you want to access and then add SciHub’s complete URL. Elbakyan operates the website from Russia using varying domain names and IP addresses.

As Oxenham pointed out, Elbakyan seems to have picked up the baton from Aaron Swartz, the genius inventor of RSS, Creative Commons and co-founder of Reddit. Swartz met a tragic end through suicide after he downloaded the entire contents of the JSTOR database and was beset upon with 13 wire-fraud felony charges. Though Swartz and Elbakyan never met or were aware of each others’ work, they seemed to share some common goals.

In 2015 Elsevier brought a case against SciHub. After Elbakyan’s story was published on Big Think in February 2016 and several other media outlets jumped onboard, Google blocked SciHub’s access to Google Scholar. John Bohannon at Science called SciHub “an awe-inspiring act of altruism or a massive criminal enterprise, depending on whom you ask.” In a default judgement on June 21, 2017, a New York district court awarded Elsevier $15 million for copyright infringement by SciHub and the Library of Genesis (LibGen) project, where Elbakyan was posting content harvested by SciHub. But Elbakyan lives outside the court’s jurisdiction and does not have any US assets, so she can’t be forced to pay even if she could.

Where does that leave our female Robin Hood? Nature named Elbakyan, who calls her mission “scientific communism”, one of the top ten people who matter in science in 2016. As Ian Graber-Stiehl wrote on The Verge a few months ago, the publicity from the case only made SciHub more popular. It is now the biggest Open Access academic resource in the world, with over 64 million articles. Didem Kaya Bayram and Furkan Akyurek at TRT World called SciHub “a game changer for the industry”, arguing that even if it collapses, it shows that the current model of academic publishing is broken and publishers need to change their business model to stay relevant. This victory, shadowed by Swartz’s and her own legal problems, is offset by Elbakyan’s need to stay in hiding–she now studies the history of science at an undisclosed location, and will probably never be able to visit the US. Her role in ushering in a new academic publishing era is firmly established.

 

Planning education reaches far beyond the classroom. As practicing planners, we need to make sure that residents, business leaders, and city councillors understand planning concepts such as the need for increased density in urban corridors, growth management strategies and travel demand management. In this post, I’m going to introduce some videos that introduce people to planning concepts and issues.

Planning Discipline

Our amazing Dalhousie School of Planning alumni, Byung-Jun Kang and Uytae Lee, produced this video in partnership with the Licensed Professional Planners Association of Nova Scotia. It gives beginners a brief glimpse into the field of planning, and might be useful for conversations and presentations to the general public. We also use it on our School of Planning website to help potential students understand what kinds of work they will do when they graduate from our programs.

Housing

My colleagues on the HOUWEL project at the University of Amsterdam produced these videos on housing choice among young adults as part of their five-year study of housing markets and welfare state transformations (2012-2017). There are three in the series, and they use simple animation to illustrate  declining ownership and limited wealth transfer trends among young adults. These would be useful in conversations about the need for different housing types, affordable housing options, or changing demographic trends in international cities–although they may be less useful for countries without a solid history of social welfare and public housing. These are great examples of research dissemination for those of us developing grant applications that incorporate knowledge transfer strategies.

 

For students interested in Indigenous housing or engagement issues, this CBC News video profiles Ryerson University planning professor Shelagh McCartney and her students, who travelled to Nibinamik, a First Nations community. Their goal was to help the residents envision new housing to replace the substandard units that were built after a fire destroyed the original log homes built by the founding members. The piece focuses on the lack of cultural sensitivity in designing homes that reflect the needs of the people, but I would argue that there is a lot to be discussed in terms of the type of consultation used during this project, the role of governments, and the lack of a planning framework in which to situate the project. As a journalistic piece, it definitely takes an editorial stance on this complex issue.

Environmental Planning

My friend Sarah Church, a Postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, recently produced a video on water quality featuring interviews with farmers, local residents, and water quality experts in Indiana. Common Ground, Common Water is great primer on why we need to protect drinking water and aquifers, and shows examples of rain gardens and bioswales for those who are new to this area. I’m teaching an introduction to planning this fall and might use this resource during the week on environmental planning. It’s another example of research dissemination for faculty members.

Urban Renewal

I love using Remember Africville (1991), a 35-minute National Film Board piece that documents the destruction of a historic African Canadian neighbourhood in Halifax in the early 1960s. Featuring gut-wrenching testimonies from Africville residents from the 1980s and TV interviews with contemporary planners and city mayors, the film portrays the systemic racism that contributed to residents having little say in the demolition of their homes, church, and community and their forced relocation to newly built public housing. This year I paired this bleak film with Mulgrave Park (1961), a 12-minute promotional film made by the NFB and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that demonstrates the hilarious optimism of the federal-provincial public housing projects that supposedly replaced Africville and other low-income neighbourhoods.

Social Planning

It’s often more difficult to find videos related to social planning or equity approaches to comprehensive planning. The One Baltimore approach is a unique example of applying an equity lens to the planning process. Incorporating resident ambassadors who worked to gather feedback within their own communities, a team lead for each city district, and consultation with 25 community groups, Baltimore’s Sustainability Plan revision process is a model for inclusion and addressing systemic inequities among African American communities. Interviews with the resident ambassadors are particularly inspiring. The video would be useful in a class on community engagement, or a theory class on participatory or collaborative planning processes.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Mobile Food Market video explains their pilot project to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved, low-income areas in the Halifax Regional District. I used it in a class on environmental justice, where we discussed the lack of shops and services in neighbourhoods with low-income or visible minority populations. Understanding that changing existing zoning can take a long time, mobile services like this present a quick, though temporary, fix.

There are a lot of great videos out there profiling interesting, challenging, and controversial projects, programs, and strategies. I’ve found that using these videos brings the issues to life and provokes strong feelings in the students–this term my students have channelled that energy into brief in-class written responses. These videos are useful in undergraduate teaching where students are still learning about planning practice and thinking about where they want to work in the future. But they’re also appropriate for members of the public (our friends, community and family members) for whom planning is a mystery!

 

It’s end of term for those of us on semesters, and that means it’s evaluation time. Did you use Planning Canada: A Case Study Approach in your course this year? Whether you’re an instructor or a student in planning, I’d love to hear from you. I’m conducting a study on the ways in which case studies are used in policy learning, specifically the cases presented in this edited book.

For a field so dependent upon case studies, there are surprisingly few researchers out there who have examined the role of case studies in policy learning. The iTOD study I worked on in Amsterdam a few years back looked at the ways that land use and transportation planners learned from international policy lessons in TOD. The literature in this area of policy dissemination and policy learning in our discipline is surprisingly thin, and I’d love to add more to it.

Take a few minutes to fill in this survey so that I can learn how you used the chapters, what activities you used in your classes, and how students applied the concepts.

The instructor survey can be found here, and the student survey is here.

Since the trend of short-term contracts began in academia in the 1990s and worsened during the Great Recession, there has been a lot of discussion about the lack of academic positions for people with doctoral degrees. Having spent six years on the tenure-track market working in short-term positions before securing the coveted TT, these discussions and media attention have made for interesting reading for me. A recent study illustrates the trend for PhD graduates to find jobs in sectors other than post-secondary institutions, and also illustrates the growing gap between science and engineering disciplines and those in the social science and humanities.

The University of Toronto, regularly ranked as the top university in Canada, recently released its first-ever study of PhD graduates, focusing on those who finished from 2000-2015. Professor Reinhart Reithmeier’s 10,000 PhDs project found that about 60% of the graduates worked in academia and roughly one-third hold tenure-track positions. The percentage of those working in the private sector increased from 13% in 2000 to 23% in 2015. Just 11.6 % of graduates from 2016 found careers in the public sector, which has traditionally been seen as a natural destination for PhDs (and is much more so in Europe, where many work for municipal, regional, and provincial governments).

An interactive tool allows you to explore the data on your own. It reveals other interesting facts, like the increased enrolment in 2005 driven by the perceived need to fill baby boomer retirements (note how flat the humanities and social sciences are here compared to physical and life sciences). This seemed like a good idea at the time, until the Great Recession hit right when this increased cohort was about to hit the job market.

You can view the graduates by gender, immigration status, and field of study. Looking more closely at the employers in each category (e.g. post-secondary institutions, private sector, public sector, charitable organizations, and other) is also eye-opening. For academic employers, U of T was the number one–that is, it hired more of its own graduates than any other academic institution hired. Looking at the private sector employers, the largest group of employers were biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies. For public education, it’s hospitals who employ the most graduates, then government. This illustrates clearly that the options for those in engineering, health, and science degrees, who are considered experts in their field in developing new products and technologies, are far different than for humanities and social science grads. Few private sector employers consider graduates from sociology or urban planning to be experts, or are willing to compensate them for their skills and knowledge to develop new practices or policies. This apparently even holds for public sector employers such as governments. In a recent article claiming that U of T grads are among the most employable in the world, the focus is entirely on those in STEM.

This perception that somehow science and engineering grads are more valuable than those working in social science and humanities begins with marketing to and recruiting undergraduates to funding research to employing graduates of these programs. I just participated in an international call for research proposals with colleagues in Sweden, Norway, Italy, and Germany. The project lead, based in Norway, was astounded to learn that the Canadian funder on this initiative, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), did not consider a proposed project on the role of women in climate change decision making to have an impact on science and engineering. (Note: the grant is meant “to fund research projects that will promote the integration of sex and gender analysis into research at an international level” and “gender dimension in climate behaviour and decision-making” is one of the proposed research topics). I explained to her that in Canada, urban planning is considered a social science or humanities discipline as opposed to a scientific one. The project lead and I used to work together at the University of Amsterdam, where planning was located in the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and therefore was considered a science. But here at Dalhousie, planning is located in the Faculty of Architecture and Planning and therefore falls under the realm of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Applications to NSERC grants from Dalhousie have a 71% success rate; for SSHRC, it’s just 31%. It’s pretty ridiculous that the mere placement of your academic unit, as opposed to the actual topic, research questions, or methods you employ, dictates whether you are a science or a social science/humanity. And that impacts whether your research will be funded or not. And that impacts whether the university considers you to be successful or not, or whether or not employers consider graduates of your field to be experts who deserve to be compensated as such. Is there a reason that a researcher studying the use of a certain chemical in the body’s cells is inherently more valuable in the marketplace than one studying discriminatory hiring practices among immigrants’ employers? At the University of Amsterdam, both would be eligible for grants from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (Nederlande Organizatie voor Wetenschaapelijk Onderzoek).

Clearly, when just one-third of PhD graduates from a U of T, a university that regularly ranks as one of the best in the world, find jobs in academia, it’s time to reconsider the value of a PhD. For 12% of graduates, their employment was unknown, which means that Reithmeier’s team couldn’t find them using internet searches of official university and company websites. Having participated in many discussions (both online and in-person) with those for whom academic jobs were not an option, I know that many end up in the no-mans-land that is searching for jobs for which they are overqualified, with organizations that do not understand what research is or what skills they bring to the table. Some rebrand themselves, become consultants, or retrain in other disciplines because they’ve learned that a history, english, or sociology expert is not valued in the market today. This needs to change. It starts right at the beginning with recruitment, continues with systematic change in the way we fund research at universities, and ends with better education for employers on the skills and knowledge of PhD graduates.

I’m live blogging today from the Dalhousie University SHIFT conference. This student-organized conference began Thursday March 1st and ends today.

On Thursday night, the conference opened with a talk from Tamika Butler on social justice and equity in planning. Ms. Butler, a lawyer with a background in civil rights, has worked to increase transportation options for low-income and minority communities. She spoke about ways in which we need to confront our own biases and address intersectionality (e.g. ways in which individuals’ gender, age, ethnic and other identities can mean they face multiple barriers) when planning services and addressing issues like gentrification. Friday’s keynote speakers were Vikas Mehta and Katrina Johnson-Zimmerman.

Today’s keynote speakers include Susan Holdsworth and Gerry Post, an advocate for accessibility and equity in Halifax. Mr. Post addressed the need for a shift in regional governance to address the rural-urban divide in the huge land area of the Halifax Regional Municipality; integrated regional service delivery (e.g. for transit, location of services like Access Nova Scotia); and simplifying density bonuses so that it’s a more fair, equitable, and transparent process. He also advocated for the ability of citizen/community groups to advise development, using the example of Planning Aid in England.

This afternoon there will be a couple of workshops on redesigning streets, along with our monthly Planning Social at the end of the conference. If you’re in town, come and join us at the East of Grafton at 5pm!

Social justice issues have been headline news in the past year, from the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017 to the #MeToo movement, from Standing Rock to BC’s refusal to implement the Kinder Morgan pipeline. It’s a critical time for young people to learn about equity and justice issues, and what they mean for planners.

The 2018 Winter term marks the second time I’ve taught a Social Justice course at the Dalhousie School of Planning. The course is somewhat of a novelty at a school that largely focuses on urban design and technical skills such as GIS, which is probably one reason students seem to like it. For me, social planning is such a critical component of a planner’s work that I’m not sure how it can be absent from a planning education. This is undoubtedly due to my training at the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning, where social planning and environmental planning/ sustainability were the two foundational sub-disciplines.

Dr. Robert Bullard, the “father of environmental justice”, is one of the authors assigned in the course. Bullard was our keynote speaker at the Over the Line symposium last fall.

At Dalhousie, the social justice course overlaps with social planning on some aspects, and forges new ground in others. The course focuses on a particular issue each week:

  • Environmental justice
  • Sustainability
  • Ethnicity and immigration status
  • Gender
  • Community engagement
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Urban redevelopment
  • Equity plans

I was fortunate enough to work on the Over the Line symposium last fall with Ingrid Waldron, which helped raise the profile of social justice in the region. Through this I was able to get in touch with a number of people who agreed to be guest speakers in my course this term. They have really brought the issues to life for our students.

Kelly Poirier, Amber Walker and Leticia Smillie gave students an overview of the Mobile Food Market for residents of underserved communities. The project touches on issues of land use, difficulties in attracting major grocery stores to low-income communities, and historic discrimination in some areas (e.g. North Preston, East Preston). Walker, a planner at Nova Scotia Health Authority, and Smillie, a planner at the Halifax Regional Municipality, described how the project is being evaluated so that it can be expanded beyond its six pilot locations.

Rebecca Moore, a land defender from the Mi’kmaq community (Pictou Landing First Nation), told stories from the front lines: protesting the proposed Alton Gas project and a drilling project in Quebec that threatens water quality. She explained the legal context through which Indigenous people can protest projects that threaten human and wildlife habitats and the treaty rights we share under the 1762 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. She also described the role of the Mi’kmaq Nation in the formation of the United States: the Treaty of Watertown established an alliance between the US and the Mi’kmaq and St. John’s Nations, and was the first treaty signed in the US after independence was declared in 1776.

Roberto Montiel, who works on a Local Immigration Partnership at Halifax Regional Municipality, discussed how Indigenous peoples tellt he story of Canada’s past while immigrants play a key role in its future. He discussed the pilot Dialogue project that HRM launched last year. As a partnership between the Mi’kmaq Nation, HRM, and immigrant service providers in the region, immigrants who have been in Canada for less than six months attend an event hosted by the Mi’kmaq community to learn about the history of Canada. Montiel described the common ground between the attendees as natural, as many immigrants had come from countries that had been colonized or communities that had been oppressed. The event had interpreters, in this case speaking Arabic and French, the most commonly spoken languages in the group. One of our students, whose family immigrated from Syria, volunteered to be an interpreter herself, as she is fluent in English, French, and Arabic. Montiel is hoping the project can expand beyond the pilot stage in the future, and in the meantime is busy building partnerships between HRM and immigrant service providers as part of the Welcoming Cities initiative of the federal government.

This 1991 short film will be shown along with a very optimistic 1961 film depicting the new social housing community of Mulgrave Park.

This week I discussed equity issues related to gender, from the Time’s Up movement and the “unfounded rate” in Canadian cities to David Schwimmer’s sexual assault PSAs (upon student request we watched one of them in class…they are cringe-worthy). I discussed a few ways planners might engage LGBTQ communities. We discussed the work of Women Transforming Cities and will be using their guide to community engagement in next week’s class. I will use other resources too: we’ll be watching National Film Board film Remember Africville and a CMHC film on the construction of Mulgrave Park (1961) in our class on urban redevelopment. The two films tell opposite sides of the urban regeneration story, which are still entrenched in modern urban redevelopment projects.

The class always includes a 30-minute written response to our guest lecture and a discussion of the readings. The Masters students lead a discussion and write a 5-page summary of the readings and seminar. Students’ written responses have really improved even a month into the course, with strong thesis statements, clear structures and argumentation. Initially they were worried about the practice of weekly writing, so I think this has really removed the fear and allowed them to be more reflective than usual. They’re able to write in a more personal, narrative way than they often do for class assignments. They are preparing to choose topics for their final papers, due at the end of the term.

It’s been a real pleasure teaching a course that adds so much value to a planners’ education. I intend to keep the course small (fewer than 35 students) to enable deep discussion and reflection, which tends to disappear in the larger classes. Hopefully there will be a good mix of students in the years to come as well, as it’s open to all Dalhousie students in third year or higher. The interaction of students in economics, management, and planning this year has really contributed to the discussions.

A few weeks ago, a writer named Diane Peters contacted me about a story she was writing for the More publication produced by Investors Group. She wanted to learn more about changing housing preferences and what this meant for neighbourhoods. Here is her final piece, “The Changing Canadian Neighbourhood”, which features interviews with me and McGill planning professor Raphael Fischler.

 

Today I attended a webinar on non-market initiatives to increase affordable housing through the Planning Institute of British Columbia. Given the fact that the National Housing Strategy is hot off the press, this was the third in a series of very timely webinars PIBC has hosted on the topic.

CMHC’s new National Housing Strategy prioritizes the idea that “housing rights are human rights”: 530,000 people will be removed from core housing need (they currently live in units that do not meet affordability, suitability, or adequacy). Lance Jakubec, Innovation Fund Consultant (and my former co-worker at CMHC!), explained that new legislation will require and the new national housing council will draw on perspectives from a range of people including those with lived experience in affordable housing. National Housing Co-Investment Fund will ensure that existing rental housing isn’t lost due to lack of upkeep: 15.9 billion will be allocated to accessibility, energy efficiency and affordability initiatives to preserve and repair existing units, and up to $200 million in federal lands will be transferred at low or no cost to build accessible, affordable housing in municipalities. $4.3 billion will be devoted to the resilient community housing sector (housing provided through co-operatives and non-profit providers) which will preserve over 300,000 affordable units across the country. As I reported last week, most initiatives will begin in April 2018 so we’ll expect to see more details on these in the new year. The CMHC Observer allows you to use the Census Program Data Viewer to assess core housing need down to the Census Tract level, generate graphs and reports.

Armin Amrolia, Executive Director of Development & Asset Strategies at BC Housing, noted that they recently added student housing into their housing continuum model. She discussed the impact of the new NHS on non-profits and co-operatives in BC: almost 30,000 units will expire by 2033 (15,000 by 2025 and 14,000 by 2033). Expiry means the end of government subsidy, the end of the requirement to make financial/administrative reports to BC Housing or CMHC, and the end of rental subsidies for tenants in many cases. There are about 21 active redevelopment projects (total 1,745 units) who have approached BC Housing about redeveloping their units as affordable housing now that their contracts have expired. BC Housing’s low-cost financing tool allows up to 100% financing on construction, with an interest rate of 1/16%, no loan insurance required, and a 1% loan fee. Take-out financing for non-profits allows 100% financing, a competitive bulk rate of 2.9% over a 10-year term, CMHC loan insurance of $75/unit (max $5000) and an amortization term of 35 years. These are extremely attractive rates for non-profits and developers.

  • Lynnhaven, Abbotsford: the society owned 40 detached units for low-income seniors. In 2010 the society approached BC Housing for a land swap that would allow them to build 64 bachelor units closer to amenities. The developer provided the up-front costs and the project funding came through the Community Partnership Initiative. The new units were built first so that the existing tenants could be rehoused before the older land was redeveloped. The project also received funding from CMHC, the City of Abbotsford, and the society used some of their own equity.
  • Kiwanis Court, Richmond: Richmond Kiwanis Seniors Citizens Housing Society owned a building with 122 units for low- to moderate-income seniors. Their partners were City of Richmond, Polygon Homes and BC Housing. The society retained about 1/3 of the property and 2/3 would go to the developer. The society retained the affordability they required, while the developer built a market rate project next to the affordable building. The unit number increased by 174 units. All of the tenants were rehoused during the redevelopment project and then relocated to the new building. Again, the society provided some equity, as well as the City providing some funding in their budget.
  • Pleasantvale, Kelowna: the Society of Hope operated a 50-unit building for low- to moderate-income seniors. They approached BC Housing and the City of Kelowna–the society was willing to put their site up for redevelpment and the City provided two adjoining plots to develop 50 one-bedroom units and 20 townhouses. Again, the tenants were all relocated during construction and then rehoused in the new project. The City provided some funding and a development charge credit as well.

Kaeley Wiseman, MCIP, RPP, Manager of Planning & Development at M’akola Development Service. M’akola Housing Society has 1,600 units on Vancouver Island. Their Development Service helps non-profits understand the complexity of housing development. M’akola is also working on a lot of redevelopment projects with the end of operating agreeements. Traditionally, their affordable housing concept included low-density (townhouses), small household sizes, isolated sites often removed from communities (often the only available parcel of land), often reliant on subsidies. This model describes most of the housing M’akola currently operates. The pro-initiative model includes higher density (mixed-use and taller buildings), serves more families and a diverse mix of residents, has lower utility costs for tenants, focuses on tenant education, focuses on affordability in construction, meets tenant needs through in-houses services/supports, has shared spaces (allowing non-profits more ownership of their building through commercial space), allows internal mobility/flexibility and is operationally sustainable (e.g. without subsidy). Kaeley emphasized the need for a clear vision and mission, the development of partnerships to help fund a redevelopment project, and early and ongoing communication with levels of government (municipalities/regions, province).

Juliet Van Vliet, Director of Lands, Public Works and Resources for Toquaht Nation (and SCARP alumni–shout-out!) noted that the Nations have something to teach municipal governments in accessing federal funding (and it seems, developing a clear vision/priority for affordable housing). Toquat Housing was in treaty negotiations from 1991-2011, which meant lack of clarity on housing tenure in 10 houses. There were also major issues with water quality and infrastructure (a waste water treatment facility and fiber optic network were completed in 2016). The Nation worked hard on developing a clear vision on housing, engaging residents as part of an Official Community Plan (2012-2015), establishing a home ownership program (2016-2018) and setting aside $320,000 towards rental housing in their 2016 budget, an identified need. This money (equity cash from the claim settlement) was used to leverage an additional $1 million from CMHC to build eight units in total). UBC students also supported the planning for new housing. The new units are to be affordable based on the needs of low-income residents ($587 average unit rent, with deep affordability available), will be Nation-owned on Toquat lands, and will include a gathering space which is also lacking in the community. Some of the materials used include local cedar which was milled in the community.

These projects are amazing illustrations of what has been possible even without the new funding the NHS will be providing. I’ll be sharing them with my students in housing policy.

The Liberal government celebrated National Housing Day yesterday with an announcement that the new National Housing Strategy would dedicate $40 billion to develop affordable housing across the country. The strategy is expected to:

  • build 100,000 new units
  • repair 300,000 units
  • provide 300,000 with financial assistance through the Canada Housing Benefit
  • decrease homelessness by 50%
  • protect 385,000 from losing their homes
  • remove 530,000 from housing need (1.7 million were in core housing need in 2016)

 

All of these programs, except the Canada Housing Benefit, will be funded with money set aside in the 2017 federal budget except for the Canada Housing Benefit, which will not begin until 2020 and will be half funded by the provinces and territories. One of the key strategies will provide $4.7 billion in financial contributions and $11.2 billion in low-interest loans to developers who agree to rent 30% of units at 80% of market rent for at least 20 years, achieve at least a 25% decrease in energy consumptions and emissions over national standards, and meet accessibility standards in at least 20% of units, among other criteria.

Most exceptional is the intention to introduce new legislation that will require the federal government to maintain a National Housing Strategy and report to parliament on targets and outcomes. This signals the Liberal government’s intention to recognize housing as a fundamental human right. A new federal housing advocate will advise the federal government, and crown corporation Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, on possible solutions to affordable housing challenges. A new national housing council and and national communications campaign are also in the works.

Widely being hailed as a breakthrough, “once-in-a-generation” plan, some are criticizing the government for waiting to implement one key element (the Canada Housing Benefit) until after the next election. Another missing element at this time is funding to maintain existing operating agreements for social housing provided by co-operatives and non-profit agencies, which the federal government has suggested is on the way.

There is a lot of excitement as provinces and municipalities determine how to integrate this funding into their own programs and policies in the coming months. Just eight months ago, the United Nations criticized Canada’s “persistent housing crisis”, including increasing levels of homelessness, social assistance benefits that are out of line with housing costs, lack of housing for people with disabilities, and stagnant social spending as a percentage of GDP. After years of waffling on housing priorities, failing to produce a strategy through proposed private members’ bills, and refusing to commit a steady stream of funding to provinces and municipalities, the federal government is back with a bang.