Escalating Homelessness in Canada’s Small and Rural Communities: A Rising Challenge and the Urgent Role of CMHC’s Housing Accelerator Fund

Dr. Alina Turner
February 1, 2024
Uncover the stark rise in homelessness in Canada's smaller communities and the pivotal role of CMHC's Housing Accelerator Fund in addressing this urgent issue.

In an alarming emerging trend, homelessness in smaller Canadian communities has been growing at an unprecedented pace. We observed in one particular Alberta small community that the rate of newly homeless individuals skyrocketed by 800% within a mere 12-month span. This is a trend in cities with smaller populations too like Penticton, BC which registered a point-in-time homelessness rate 45% higher than that of Calgary. Ironically, Calgary reported a decrease in homelessness.

Clearly, The Old Adage That Homelessness Is An Urban Growing Problem Has To Be Upended.

Homelessness Risk In Smaller Communities Is Growing

These unsettling figures underscore the need for transformative action in our housing landscape, something that CMHC Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) is poised to address. Announced in the Federal Budget 2022, the HAF’s commitment of $4 billion through 2026-27 promises to catalyze significant change in Canada’s housing supply, with a goal to sanction at least 100,000 additional housing units that wouldn’t have otherwise materialized.

Renter Households are at Higher Risk for Housing Instability > Homelessness. Penticton has the highest concentration of renters in the Okanagan at 37% – even higher than Kelowna.  The Core Housing Need proportion is 13% of households – which is also higher than Kelowna’s 9%.

However, this pales in comparison to NWT where Aklavik (top) and Fort MacPherson (bottom) have Core Housing Need rates of 38% and 43% respectively.

Crucially, these communities tend to be the ones most deprived of infrastructure and investment. Too often, we neglect these harsh realities, unwittingly exacerbating the deficits, and inadvertently spiraling the situation into worsening conditions over time.

HAF As A Potential Gamechanger

The HAF, introduced in the Federal Budget 2022, pledges $4 billion through 2026-27. It’s geared to drive substantial change in Canada’s housing supply, aiming to authorize at least 100,000 extra housing units that otherwise wouldn’t have materialized. The fund is characterized by its flexibility, catering to various communities’ unique needs, and providing valuable support such as per-door incentives and upfront funding to expedite housing development.

However, the HAF’s application-based nature presents a singular challenge for smaller communities. CMHC has revealed that there will only be one application period in 2023. This time-constraint intensifies the struggle for smaller municipalities, which often lack the necessary resources and capacity, particularly data science teams, to effectively leverage the HAF.

Despite this, the HAF’s potential can be realized through a comprehensive, data-driven approach. Understanding unique social data trends within each community is paramount to formulating an effective HAF application Action Plan. The intricate process involves analyzing demographic data, housing market dynamics, socioeconomic factors, and more. This data then helps refine the Action Plan, ensuring it meets the community’s specific needs and opportunities.

Moreover, the Action Plan should align with the HAF’s goals of accelerating housing supply, promoting comprehensive communities, enabling affordable and diverse neighborhoods, and facilitating low-carbon, climate-resilient communities.

In response to escalating homelessness, especially in smaller communities, the Housing Accelerator Fund presents a vital opportunity to pioneer transformative changes in Canadian housing. With the 2023 application window approaching, all eligible entities, despite their limited resources, must rally to seize this opportunity. The future of Canadian housing hinges on collective action and the adoption of a data-driven approach.

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