Sarah Ravlic is a former BC Healthy Communities’ Healthy Communities Planner.
Healthy Housing in British Columbia
The province recently introduced legislation to make housing needs reports (HNRs) mandatory for local governments. These reports, intended to better support planning for housing affordability, will be required every five years. The good news is that funding comes attached to this legislation—$5 million over 3 years. This funding presents a fantastic opportunity to communities to engage in an assessment that looks at more than just the numbers, instead prioritizing equity, health, diversity and engagement. Read on to learn more about what a traditional housing needs assessment entails, and how a health-focused assessment can make for a stronger, and ultimately more useful analysis.
Housing Needs Reports explained
Housing needs reports identify housing requirements based on current supply and demand, and estimates of future trends. They incorporate data on current and projected populations, income, housing stock and housing need. Through this process, housing needs assessments provide direction for local governments, regional districts, housing coalitions and other partners to support the needs of communities. The ultimate goal is to understand community needs, so that local governments form an effective strategy to address them. How successful these strategies are depends in large part on the quality and depth of engagement and the data used.
Traditional data gathering processes
Traditionally, housing needs reports pull data from Stats Canada, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and similar sources. Planners conduct key informant interviews with service providers and other knowledgeable individuals about current housing needs in order to provide a deeper community context. They may also conduct a survey of community members to better understand their lived experiences.
The problem with this process, however, is that this approach to broad data-gathering often misses important health and equity considerations that have the potential to make communities more liveable for all. If your goal is to understand community needs, this approach runs the risk of leaving out some of the key information required to build a better strategy.
Why you need a stronger process
As municipal leaders know, housing is about much more than just a place to live. Housing is a community-wide issue that impacts physical, mental and social well-being. Diverse housing stock allows community members to stay in one place for a longer time, improving both their connection with the community and their connections with others. Mixed-income housing developments can even provide economic benefits for communities, as lowered housing costs free up disposable income for spending elsewhere in the community. Moreover, housing is not as simple as supply and demand: housing needs must also be understood from a perspective of health and well-being as well as equity and cultural inclusion. In order to address the broad range of impacts on housing, your approach to housing needs should be multi-sectoral and include healthy engagement and housing principles.
A Healthy Communities approach to housing
Using the WHO’s Healthy Communities approach, BC Healthy Communities has developed a more proactive approach to housing analysis. Our approach incorporates dimensions of equity, inclusion, diversity and engagement. The inclusion of these considerations helps cities make strategic decisions around housing that will encourage health and well-being for all, and prevent communities from costly pitfalls that cause systemic problems for their cities.
What can a Healthy Communities Housing Report do for my community?
- Promote equity and inclusion
- Reflect diverse needs and allocate efforts/resources accordingly
- Undertake a healthy engagement process – the process in which you engage a community can impact health outcomes.
- Prioritize affordable housing options through diverse housing forms and tenure types
- Ensure adequate housing quality for everyone
- Provide specialized housing options to supports needs of marginalized populations
- Site and zone housing developments to minimize exposure to environment hazards
Assessing housing needs is about more than just supply versus demand. To create the best housing strategies, planners must go beyond an analysis of pre-existing data, designing a process that provides a true sense of the community’s unique needs, and uncovering crucial information that may be missing. The Healthy Communities approach takes this extra step by critically examining existing data sources for gaps, identifying those gaps, and designing information-gathering and engagement processes that are accessible to and inclusive of those whose input is often neglected in a traditional process.
At the heart of this process are the people in your community. The most valuable input comes from those who live, learn, work and play there. For instance, it is known that housing instability disproportionately affects low-income persons and other vulnerable groups, and causes financial and psychological stress. Supporting an engagement process that prioritizes these marginalized voices will ultimately lead to a housing strategy with greater impact.
When done in a way that is inclusive, safe, and culturally appropriate, engaging your community in an information-gathering process can improve health and well-being while providing essential information to fill gaps in the data and better inform your efforts to provide healthy and appropriate housing.
If you’d like to learn more about the Healthy Communities Approach to housing needs reports, contact our Healthy Community Planner.
Author Credit: Sarah Ravlic