Written by: Michelle Verbeek
As a graduate student in Toronto, I developed an interest in Canadian housing policy. I wanted to better understand government decisions, initiatives and policies that shaped how and where we lived. Toronto itself served as a great starting point as the city is a melting pot for a wide range of housing challenges. Intensification, rising rents, homelessness, or missing middle- it’s all there.
In one of my graduate courses I found the research opportunity I was looking for. I developed a plan to analyze and assess anticipated changes to the First-time Homebuyers Incentive, a shared-equity mortgage program being run by CMHC. I wanted to better understand whether any amendments would have positive tangible outcomes for young adults seeking homeownership in Toronto.
At the outset, I needed to understand how housing policy across all levels of government was administered in Canada. This is where the confusion began. It became clear that although each level of government has their hands on delivering housing policy and programs, no single one was in full control. From reducing homelessness, to providing social housing, to implementing rent regulations the housing policy was confusing as the system was inherently complex.
I attempted to untangle these complex roles and responsibilities as a means of developing clarity in my research and policy evaluation skills. I combed through academic articles, NGO reports, government briefings and news articles. In addition, I attended undergraduate lectures on social housing, coordinated a panel of housing policy experts for a conference, and re-oriented my graduate course load to include public policy and urban planning courses. Through these actions I developed a capacity to better understand goals, intentions and housing action plans set out in policies like municipal housing strategies, FTP cost-sharing programs, and the National Housing Strategy.
In academia the catalogue of specializations was vast, but housing wasn’t in it. Housing itself is mixed into a number of different programs including, urban planning, geography, social work, public policy- but it rarely stands alone. Given the pressing and critical issues embedded within housing policy (increasing housing insecurity / homelessness and decreasing affordability across many regions in Canada) I wish that knowledge and expertise on housing had been centralized in one program.
While the housing policy landscape itself may always remain inherently complex and confusing, there is an opportunity to better prepare students for careers in housing policy. If we give them the tools necessary to excel in this field. Knowledge of land use planning, municipal governance structures, or the financing of housing projects exists in academic settings. It needs to be brought together through specialized courses or programs. Only then can begin the process of building well-rounded future housing policy experts.
Housing policy is confusing, even for those hungry to study it, but it doesn’t have to be.