“Affordable income housing” has different meanings. It depends on who
is using the phrase and when.
The meaning changes with the political mood and the willingness (or
ability) of governments to raise money to pay for decent housing for
all of our citizens by using direct taxation, tax breaks, forgivable
loans, selling bonds or by borrowing the money.
In the good old days, when Canadians believed that raising prosperity
was a given and that Canadian residence in itself bestowed on us the
right to expect unending social spending, affordable good quality
housing was seen as a basic right for all Canadians.
Back then, affordable housing was defined by what percentage of a
household income was spent on housing. It was generally accepted that
Canadians should not need to spent any more than 25-30% of their total
household income to pay for decent housing.
Affordable housing used a CMHC measure called Core Housing Need. This
indicator consists of:
• is it in good repair,
• suitability (housing size relative to family size), and
• affordability, the housing costing less than 30% of household income.
The definition of affordable housing changed starting in the late
1990's when the Mike Harris Conservatives were in power in Ontario.
Affordable housing definitions became market-based rather than
needs-based. Household income was lost as a reference point in the
Between 1996 and 2000 new government spending for affordable housing
ended. Moderate spending returned in 2001 as the Affordable
Housing Program (AHP).
AHP and successor programs defined affordable housing as housing costing
80% of average market price or below. This definition is
adequate for those with an ability to pay rent that falls just below
market range (shallow need).
The people with very
low incomes and a very low ability to pay are those with deep needs.
Affordable housing no longer addresses their needs.
City of Toronto's definition
The City, through its Official Plan and Municipal Facility Housing
By-law, defines affordable rental housing as new housing where the
total monthly shelter cost (gross monthly rent, including heat, hydro
and hot water, excluding parking and internet/cable charges) is at or
below Toronto’s average market rent (AMR) by unit type (number of
bedrooms), as reported in the fall of each year by CMHC.
How should Affordable Housing be defined?
This is a political and social question. It is generally agreed that
affordable housing should close the gap between a household’s ability
to pay for adequate and suitable housing and the current market prices.
Everything depends on whether affordable housing is a big phrase that
all low-income residents of Ontario or if it is a much smaller phrase
that excludes the lowest-income residents.
It appears that when the politicians, city planners, social service
providers are talking about including affordable housing in new
condominium projects, they are referring only to the cream of
residents; the ones that have shallow needs.
That is today. However, tomorrow the term "affordable housing" may,
once again, mean something different.