June 8, 2021

Why fixing Canada’s housing supply crisis will take more than simply building more homes

Someone typing on a computer


Solutions to Canada’s housing supply crisis might seem obvious to the casual observer: why not simply build more homes and flood the market with new supply?

But with housing costs rising faster than incomes, new supply alone is not the right solution for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians in need of appropriate housing that is affordable. Focus should not simply be on building enough housing, but rather the right kind of housing. This includes residences that are sustainable, accessible, and appropriate for the vast array of needs that different Canadians experience.

Last year, Canada’s Mortgage and Corporation launched the Housing Supply Challenge, providing funding for proposed solutions to the barriers to new housing supply. For the Challenge’s first Round—Data Driven—applicants submitted data solutions or methodologies that provide decision-makers with better information to address housing supply issues. The 21 shortlisted applicants that received incubation funding to prototype their solutions identified a range of gaps to tackle in order to build the right kind of housing. We spoke with Sean Gadon, special advisor to the Housing Supply Challenge Support Program, a program led by Evergreen to support applicants of the Challenge, about some of these common gaps.

Thinking creatively about what new housing means

“There has been some work done by policy folks that basically says if you tried to build yourself out of a crisis, it would take decades,” says Gadon. Yes, a large part of solving Canada’s housing supply crisis will involve building more structures. But there are existing buildings across the country that can be expanded, retrofitted, and otherwise renovated to provide additional living units. Better data is needed to identify where such housing stock exists, to track and analyze Additional Dwelling Units, and to quantify zoning bylaws.

Focusing on the Needs of the People

“It’s important we understand where housing is needed and what type of assistance is required,” says Gadon. To do so, vulnerable communities must be included in every step of the process. As Canada’s population ages, more residents will require housing that meets their physical needs. People with disabilities already face huge barriers with a lack of standard accessible housing requirements in the country. Meanwhile, housing in Indigenous communities is often overcrowded and underdeveloped, with substandard buildings being constructed on reserves. The word “data” might bring to mind a faceless mass of numbers and calculations, but thorough and accurate data is crucial in identifying and quantifying human needs that aren’t currently being met. Adds Gadon, “It’s an approach that needs to be people-centred as opposed to centred on the financialization of housing.”

Keeping Climate in Mind

Housing is an environmental issue. From the ecological costs of building new structures, to the potentially positive impact that urban densification can have on carbon emissions, to the effects that global warming and exposure to the elements can have on inadequately housed people, housing and climate are inextricably linked. Solutions to Canada’s housing supply must incorporate the long-term impacts that environmental factors and housing supply can have on one another. For example, “It’s more environmentally friendly to develop where infrastructure already exists,” says Gadon, adding that comprehensive public inventories are needed for smart growth solutions.

Answers are Available

Gadon says the problem is nuanced and solving the crisis will take work, but refuses to call the issue a complicated one. “It’s often described by bureaucrats as complicated, and people in the community are frustrated by those descriptions,” he says. “It’s actually not that complicated. It’s primarily a lack of resources to do the job.”

The Housing Supply Challenge aims to provide some of these resources by awarding up to $300 million in funding to innovative solutions over the next five years. Round 1 of the Challenge, Data Driven,is underway—meet the shortlisted applicants here. Applications for the second round of the Challenge, Getting Started: Pre-development Processes, will open on June 9, 2021.

CMHC has partnered with Evergreen to offer potential and shortlisted applicants support throughout the Housing Supply Challenge, including guidance, resources, workshops, expert panel sessions and one-on-one mentorship. For questions, please contact or (647) 670-2265.

Finding this resource useful?

We’ve got hundreds more toolkits, videos, podcasts and reports available for free. Simply register now and you’ll get full access to our library of world class city building resources.