February 11, 2021

How Data Is Key to Addressing Canada’s Housing Crisis

Condos being built


If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Canadian cities are in the midst of a housing crisis, yet our housing data is often outdated, inconsistent and not openly available.

This creates a limited understanding of the housing ecosystem, and a serious barrier to increasing housing supply and securing housing for all.

What would better housing data look like? For many, it would involve accessing data from across sectors, creating a wider understanding of the many factors that impact housing supply and accessibility in our communities.

We wanted to dig further into this topic, so we sat down with Sean Gadon, special advisor to the Housing Supply Challenge Support Program, a program led by Evergreen to support applicants of the Housing Supply Challenge.

Gadon has decades of experience in the housing sector — working as a tenant organizer, building non-profit and co-operative housing, providing strategic advice to elected officials, and working in an executive capacity in the voluntary sector.

We discussed the structure of the housing crisis and the importance of gathering data from non-traditional sources.

Housing in Crisis

In conversations about the housing crisis, how we measure and analyze data isn’t necessarily the first (or second) topic on most people’s mind. But according to Gadon, it’s critically important.

“I think that housing data is sort of the essential starting point for the conversation on housing in Canada,” he says.

That’s because comprehensive data is needed to understand the size and scope of the current crisis. While traditional sources of housing data have focused on the economic performance of housing markets, experts are calling for access to a wider range of data sources, to capture the root causes of barriers to housing.

“Clearly what we’ve seen in the last 10-to-15 years, is an increased commodification of housing, detached from households’ ability to pay for it,” says Gadon. “This enhanced commodification has exacerbated our current housing crisis. There is a large and growing income gap, which has presented itself as an affordability gap, with people paying more and more to either rent or own.”

The burden of that crisis is not shared equally, with low-income, racialized and newcomer residents struggling to access adequate housing in cities across the country.

“The traditional core housing need definition is a terrific jumping off point in examining the inequities within our housing system,” says Gadon.

A Quilt of Data

Having the data to understand these inequalities is essential to addressing them. That means collecting data from across sectors.

“What we’ve come to understand about housing, and decision making around housing, is that we need multi-disciplinary data,” says Gadon.

He adds that, outside of traditional data sources like Statistics Canada and the CMHC, relevant data from other sources exists in a “siloed landscape.”

“We know how valuable the data CMHC and Statistics Canada collects is. The challenge moving forward is to build a better understanding of Canada’s housing ecosystem by including and cross referencing the rich and diverse data from other sources,” he says.

What might those data sources look like? Everything from health data to zoning data, data on the interrelationship between race and housing, and much more.

“The interrelationship between health data, housing data, data related to poverty, data related to long-term forecasting — it’s melding together this quilt of data from different non-traditional sources that will give us a better understanding of the whole housing ecosystem,” he says.

That understanding will be critical to creating housing solutions for residents who need them most.

The Housing Supply Challenge

The housing solutions that can come from better access to, and use of, data are seemingly endless. From visualization dashboards of housing supply indicators, to open data best practices, and even AI tools for data cleansing and standardization, there are countless ways data can be used to address barriers to housing across Canada.

The Housing Supply Challenge, delivered by the CMHC, encourages residents, stakeholders, and experts from across Canada to propose innovative solutions that help break down the barriers that limit new housing supply.

The first Challenge Round – Data Driven – invited applicants to submit data solutions or methodologies that provide decision-makers with better information to make housing supply decisions.

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