Housing People in Communities with Low Vacancy Rates

This blog is part of the “You asked for it” series. In December, on the OrgCode FaceBook page I asked people want blogs they wanted to see. These blogs are a direct response to the most popular suggestionsThis one goes out to Matt Ashdown.

I get it – you want to house people out of homelessness. But – and this is making your life difficult and their life hell – you cannot find any place to rent because the vacancy rate is low. Let me give you three things to ponder for your community.

First of all, the vacancy rate is misleading. Depending on what country you are in, it is captured in different ways. For example, in Canada many may be familiar with CMHC’s Rental Market Survey that comes out in October. Check the fine print. It only reflects buildings with 6 or more units, with three or more storeys. Does it capture the secondary market? No. So while it may tell you what is going on in larger property management firms, it doesn’t tell you much about the entire universe of rental housing stock. Another way the vacancy rate can be misleading is that it doesn’t do a great job at looking at seasonal fluctuations in the rental universe. It is a point in time, which can be a good barometer, but I think we can all agree that communities that are influenced by their college population or seasonal jobs like tourism are bound to experience changes at different times of year. If all people do is look at the vacancy rate and feel defeated and think there is no reason to even bother looking for housing, that is a problem.

Second, once a community gets to a certain size (say 100,000 give or take) it makes more sense to have a housing locator team for the entire community rather than having each organization hunting for and fighting over the same housing stock. If you have done coordinated access and common assessment properly, this is the next step in the evolution of coordination. You want a housing locator that is an expert in the rental market. You don’t want a social worker trying to be a housing locator.

Third – and this one has been a huge boost to several communities I have done work with over the last couple years – go to some of the neighbourhoods known to have the lowest incomes in your city. What will you find? A whole bunch of people that never experience homelessness despite living on meager and insufficient welfare, or having no formal source of income at all (though may participate in the informal economy). Start asking them how they are able to find and maintain housing and then replicate it. Sometimes our problem is that we apply a middle class lens to the issue and are oblivious to how a whole contingent of the community stay housed in tight and unaffordable rental markets.

About Iain De Jong

Iain is a playful nerd, hellbent on ending homelessness, increasing affordable housing, creating vibrant communities, and expanding the knowledge amongst leaders that influence social issues. Having held senior management and professional positions in government, non-profits, and the private sector, Iain has a wealth of experience and has garnered dozens of awards for his work across Canada and internationally. His work has taken him across Canada, the United States, and to Australia. In 2009, Iain joined OrgCode as its President & CEO, and in 2014 assumed full ownership of the firm. In addition to his work with OrgCode, Iain holds a part-time faculty position in the Graduate Urban Planning Programme at York University.


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