August 18, 2021

Why Collaboration is Key to Solving the Housing Crisis

A cup of coffee with a world map as latte art


Insights from The Housing Supply Challenge Support Program World Café.

Earlier this summer, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Evergreen hosted a World Café, convening participants from the housing and civic sectors to share knowledge and explore the range of issues encompassed in Round 2 of the CMHC Housing Supply Challenge, Getting Started: Pre-Development Processes.

The CMHC Housing Supply Challenge invites applicants to propose solutions that will reduce or remove barriers to new housing supply. Canada’s housing crisis is one that will requires creativity and cooperation to solve. More than 50 people gathered to participate in a series of “café table” style discussions. The introduction and reconvening sessions in the main room of the World Café are available to watch online. Drawing from the notes taken during the nine unrecorded discussions that took place in the English session, we’ve gathered key highlights. Speakers remained anonymous.

Question 1: What are some pre-development best practices to support the efficient, effective, and timely development of housing?

Having participants from all over Canada proved invaluable when surveying best practices to support housing development, as people were able to look through different municipalities for examples of what is (and isn’t) working.

One example shared was Calgary’s use of a customized timelines for affordable housing, which streamlines city approval processes and can reduce the development timeline by four to six months. A participant pointed to Banff’s YWCA as a successful project, crediting a community consultation component as part of their development process, which eliminated the need for appeals further down the line. An international focus was also helpful, as Munich’s co-designing system was held up as a positive example, in which residents are involved with every step from conception to completion.

Question 2: How can pre-development partnerships between sectors be improved to drive better housing options and outcomes?

Participants across sectors were able to offer perspectives on the unique barriers and motivations that shape the approaches of different community members. As one participant pointed out, the role of municipal government is key when it comes to land control mandates, and smaller governments seem to be able to mobilize better when it comes to decision making and getting affordable housing projects going. Another participant pointed out that a barrier for rural communities is understanding which municipal branch should be approached when it comes to housing.

Participants repeatedly emphasized the centrality of trust when building strong partnerships. One participant acknowledged that communities may lack trust in the private sector, but overcoming that can provide a fruitful outcome. “Partnerships between developers and affordable housing providers can enable better community involvement in development processes, and improve developer brand perceptions,” they said. Many agreed that having a clear, shared vision between partners was key to building trust. “When there is a shared goal, it feels less transaction and more like relationship building. You are focused on the overall impact of a project rather than, say, financial interest.”

Potential partners are everywhere, and are often key to the success of a new housing project. Smaller organizations and non-profits tend to have intimate knowledge of a community, but don’t have the financial assets of a private developer or the political savviness of a municipal office. A clear road map on how to build said partnerships can be crucial to breaking down barriers.

Question 3: How can the needs of local communities be meaningfully integrated into pre-development processes?

As one participant stated, barriers to building affordable housing (such as land acquisition and zoning restrictions) consume so much time and resources, that community engagement is often treated like an afterthought. Community voices need to be centralized intentionally.

Participants noted that transparency, consistency, and accessibility are essential when engaging with communities. New technologies can be helpful, too. 3D printing has proved an asset to building modular homes, but one participant asserted that it can also be used to visually communicate what a new proposal would look like. Another participant advised against forgetting the human element of predevelopment processes. “Get to the root of people’s values prior to or in the context of community engagement,” they said. Another added, “Effective storytelling demonstrates that what you are doing will work and makes a real difference in people’s lives.”

The World Café proved that collaboration is key to developing solutions for the Housing Supply Challenge; it will also be key to implementing them. Meaningfully integrating the needs of local communities into pre-development processes will mean working alongside them.

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