What Does Affordable Housing Really Mean? : The Saturday Weekend Review #257

Affordable Housing Canada


Affordable housing means different things to different people but what doesn’t change is that it’s a roof over your head.

I’m betting that everyone reading this today can tell me that they’ve heard about a certain area in the city they call home to stay away from because it’s sketchy.

Most often you will find housing projects, low-income housing and government-funded or geared to income housing for people in need.

There seems to be a stigma around housing projects such as low-income or no-income, disability or other health-related issues.

To be honest I couldn’t tell you anything about living in Ontario and what areas to avoid but back home, you just knew.

Now, I had plenty of mates that lived in council estates and they are still my friends today.

Don’t let income level and where someone lives dictates whether they are a good person or not. Just don’t do it.

Affordable housing doesn’t always mean what it seems especially when dealing with different pocketbooks and perspectives.

What is Affordable Housing?

Let me explain.

Affordable housing should be attainable by working full-time earning a living wage a wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living, but is it really?

I’m sure you’ve toggled with the should I rent or buy question in your head before but for some people, there are no other options but to rent.

The difference between affordable housing and affordable house hunting are two different things but often get confused depending on who the interpreter is.

I’ve had conversations with people who rent and are angry that landlords are charging just as much to rent as it would to buy a house and pay a mortgage.

Sadly, that’s what most landlords do because it’s a business and it may not seem like affordable housing but in many communities THIS is the reality.

It’s common in the Greater Toronto Area to rent a 3 bedroom upper level of a detached house for over $2000 a month plus utilities.

Tenants must consider the business side for the landlord who has maintenance costs, property taxes and other expenses that arise with a rental unit whether it be a building or a house.

What affordable housing really boils down to is, LOCATION whether you are BUYING or RENTING.

Is a mortgage only for the RICH?

No, but not everyone can see it that way.

Depending on personal situations we all view what we can’t have or goals that seem so far away as, not in our league or unattainable.

Don’t let this mindset distract you from reaching your goals because if someone was rich they sure as hell wouldn’t have a mortgage.

Dear Mr. CBB,

I am looking at moving to Ontario Canada and was hoping you could help me find cities that have affordable housing for my family.


Greg. K.

Hi Greg,

Thanks for your question and although I’ve emailed you back and you’ve answered my question I will explain to everyone elsewhere I was stumped.

When Greg sent me this quick message through my contact page on the blog I was more than happy to help him until I stopped and thought about what he was asking me.

When I moved to Ontario from the UK I already had a place to stay with my wife even though we were renting a room in the basement of a house.

It was affordable housing for us at the time which allowed us to continue our studies, work and save money to buy a home to call our own someday.

Then in my head, I was wondering if Greg wanted to know about buying a house that was affordable or he was looking for affordable housing that was a rental.

Council Housing

In the UK we also call affordable housing council housing where families are put into housing communities and that are paid or subsidized by the government.

When I lived in the UK it was easy to spot council houses because depending on the age of 1940’s pre-fab to ’60s and ’70s sprawling estates.

These days council housing still exists along with a new direction called the Housing Association.

The housing association buys houses in estates where others own houses to blend people so it builds a sense of pride.

At the end of your starter tenancy you’ll be offered either:

  • an assured tenancy – meaning you can normally live in your property for the rest of your life
  • a fixed-term tenancy – usually lasting for at least 5 years (your landlord will decide whether it’s renewed)

You rights may include:

  • buying your home
  • having your home repaired
  • swapping your home with another council or housing association tenant

Subsidized Housing Canada

Upon further conversations with my wife and a friend of ours who was over for dinner, I realized that affordable housing also meant subsidized housing for those in need in various communities across Ontario and all of Canada.

Depending where you live the government dictates affordable housing programs and who is suitable to apply.

Our government envisions an Ontario where every person has an affordable, suitable and adequate home. Through Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, the government has set a bold long-term goal to end homelessness.

Decent housing is more than shelter; it provides stability, security and dignity. It plays a key role in reducing poverty and building strong, inclusive communities. 

Apparently, it’s easy to spot affordable housing in Ontario as well but even I am not a housing pro and can’t tell one apartment building from the next unless there is a red carpet rolled out the front entrance.

My head was spinning because I thought we have one popular term but so many ways to describe it.

Which is correct? Are they all the same?

What are the differences?

Affordable Housing Is For Two Types Of People

When I think about affordable housing I consider two people;

  • The Renter
  • The House Hunter

Affordable Housing and The Renter

Let’s talk a bit about each and try to understand how affordable housing differs if at all for each of these types of people.

You may know the term affordable housing as “Welfare living” which is just as strong of a word dump as it is in the UK but not necessarily always the case and really, who cares right?

Affordable housing for renters should be about finding suitable housing quarters that offers a roof over their heads with clean surroundings and working utilities.

At least that’s what I think of when I think affordable housing from a rental perspective.

Inclusionary Zoning

What is inclusionary zoning?

Inclusionary zoning is one of the many actions Ontario has taken to address rising housing costs and help families access housing that meets their needs.

Newsroom: Ontario Paving the way for more Affordable Housing

Ontario is paving the way for more affordable housing by giving municipalities the ability to require that affordable units are created in new residential developments.

Inclusionary zoning is a planning tool that allows municipalities to require developers to include affordable housing units in residential developments.

The province has worked with municipalities, housing advocates, and developers to create regulations that give municipalities the flexibility they need to maximize the benefit of this new tool.

Under the new regulations, municipalities will be able to mandate that affordable units for low- and middle-income families are included in new housing developments to create mixed-income communities.

I can understand the beauty in flowers and pristine landscaping but realistically that doesn’t matter when all you really want is somewhere to call home.

Affordable Housing Terms

Other terms that spring to mind when you may think about affordable housing with-in your community may be;

  • subsidized housing
  • housing authority
  • government housing
  • affordable housing program
  • low-income housing
  • affordable rentals

Ontario is taking action and making investments to achieve the vision of a province where:

Every person has an affordable, suitable and adequate home to provide the foundation to secure employment, raise a family and build strong communities.

Applying For Affordable Subsidized Housing

How to get on the affordable housing list?

To apply for subsidized housing, you need to contact a coordinated access centre in your area.

 These centres give information on the non-profit, co-op and public housing opportunities in your area.

Affordable housing units are built around most communities where tenants apply for housing through government programs which helps gear their rent to income.

It’s not easy to get in and most community housing lists get longer and longer each year.

Through the grapevine, I’ve heard if you are a family with kids and end up in a local shelter you may get boosted up the list just to get you into a place even faster.

If this is true it’s certainly a sad time for all of us especially because affordable housing really isn’t that affordable whether you look at it from a renters point of view or a homeowner’s perspective.

Who Can Apply For Subsidized Housing?

1. All members of the household must be:

  • A Canadian Citizen, or
  • A landed immigrant (permanent resident), or an applicant for permanent resident status, or
  • A refugee, or a refugee claimant.

You must attach proof of status for each member of your household to your application

2. At least one person in your household must be 16 years of age or older and able to live independently.

You must attach proof of age.

3. If you or any member of your household has arrears owing to any social housing provider within Ontario, Access to Housing will require confirmation that the member has entered into an agreement with the housing provider for the repayment of the arrears before we can process your application.

4. Your application will be rejected if any member of the household has been convicted in court or at the Ontario Rent Tribunal within the last 2 years of an offence related to rent-geared-to-housing under section 85 of the SHRA or a crime under the Criminal Code in relation to rent-geared-to-income assistance.

5. If anyone in your household has a financial interest in another home anywhere in the world, you must agree, in writing, to divest yourself of the property within one-year of getting housed. You do not have to make this decision when you first apply but you will have to make it before you get housed.

Source: City Housing Hamilton

Toronto Community Housing

In the Toronto area, you must be at least 16 years old to apply and after you have a meeting with Toronto Community Housing you will be asked to fill out this APPLICATION FOR MARKET RENT.

In Toronto once they close the window for applications on new buildings for affordable living they are not opened. What you can do is look to apply in existing buildings that are older which may offer openings.

  • Toronto Community Housing has affordable units available for singles, families and seniors with lower incomes. Affordable units vary in size and rental rates.
  • Affordable units are not rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units. Rent is set at or below average market rent. There are income restrictions to qualify for an affordable rent unit.
  • To qualify for an affordable rental unit, an applicant’s household annual gross income cannot exceed four times the annual rent of the unit you are applying for. Use the calculation guide(below) to see if you qualify for an affordable rental unit.

These are sample calculations only (use the monthly rental rate of the unit you’re interested in renting to find out if you qualify).

For example: if you want to rent a bachelor unit with a monthly rent of $822, your household’s maximum annual gross income must be equal to or less than $39,456 ($822 x 12 months x 4 = $39,456).


Type of unit Sample monthly rental rates  x 12 months x 4 = Maximum household annual gross income
Bachelor $815 x 12 months x 4 = $39,120
1-bedroom $962 x 12 months x 4 = $46,176
2-bedroom $1,141 x 12 months x 4 = $54,768
x 12 months x 4 =

You can find all of the above and more for the Toronto area at www.torontohousing.ca especially if you plan to move to Toronto or want to gain a better understanding of how affordable housing works and if you qualify.

I managed to touch base with my parents finally after 4 months of them travelling the UK for work and they told me that they decided to sell their rental. My parents still have their main home which at one point was a rental for them as well.

When I asked them why they decided to sell their rental the answer was simple, “They were too old to deal with people who didn’t take pride in the house as if it were their own”.

Fair enough because as a landlord you either get the really bad tenant who doesn’t like to clean and keeps the place a disaster inside and out OR the amazing tenant who looks after the property and you don’t get much bothered from them.

Well, my parents have always had issues with renters all of which who were low-income or on government assistance.

This particular couple was amazing and my parents thought for sure they would stay for life but sadly they got subsidized housing which put them in a bungalow which was better for them since they are seniors.

Sadly, they handed in their termination of rental and my parents had a decision to make.

This was the only time they did not have to spend money or time to repair a rental they owned.

They knew they would be hard-pressed to find another renter like this couple and the listing agent felt the same.

They sold the house in one day. It’s over now but they don’t regret it because being a landlord is not easy and they are happy now.

My point here is that not everyone who rents will trash the place and keep it like a pig-pen whether they work or not.

There will always be fewer people who care about where they rent rather than if they owned the property themselves.

Even then there are homeowners who let their house fall apart and most often is because what they thought they were buying was affordable housing based on their net income really wasn’t that affordable after all.

Affordable House Hunting

THIS is what Greg was talking about when he messaged me looking for affordable housing in Ontario.

He was hoping to sell his home in the UK like I did and make a move to Ontario.

Bravo to Greg taking the time to do his research about housing in Canada.

I directed him to Realtor.ca which is a website geared to buying and selling homes in Canada as well as Kijiji and other sites such as Property Guys and Comfree which are For Sale By Owner.

June 15, 2018, Quarterly Forecasts Canadian Real Estate Association

june 2018 average price housing ontario canadaThe national average price is also forecast to rebound by 3.8% to $518,300 in 2019, reflecting an expected return to normal seasonal patterns for spring sales activity and prices in Ontario housing markets.

Indeed, the MLS® Home Price Index is rising among urban centres in B.C. and Ontario.

At the end of my research on the topic of affordable housing, I realized that it is MUCH MORE than about money. It’s about dignity and the right to have a place to call home in Ontario, Canada.

I hope to see more affordable housing from the rental perspective and as for the housing market, it is what it is.

If you want to find cheaper housing you must move to the cities that offer housing at a lower cost.

I’m afraid there’s not much more that can be done apart from tonnes or house buying research and building a budget that includes a mortgage to see just how much house you can afford and to go from there.

If affordable housing the community you choose to move into has homes on the market far out of your league then you can expect a longer wait to get into a home or renting may be a better long-term option for you.

Personally, (what I would do and what you do will differ) I’d rather buy a house if I had the down-payment even if that meant moving to a smaller town where housing was more affordable.

Again, that comes with other barriers such as proximity to work, availability and desire.

Lots to consider when it comes to buying a home that is affordable and affordable living costs when renting.

Discussion: What does affordable housing mean to you whether you rent or own?

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  1. Your article/essay on affordable housing was interesting, but I feel that the description of Britain’s Council housing system would not be very useful to Canadians. However, you omitted one segment of housing in Canada which generally falls into the ‘affordable’ category. That is Co-operative housing, which has been an alternative housing option since the late 1960s. Housing co-ops take on every form of shelter, from single family homes, through duplexes, apartments, town houses, mobile/manufactured homes, to converted warehouses and factories. They are found in every province and (I think) territories, particularly Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. Although they are categorised as affordable, their cost to members varies from very low monthly charges to market-cost matched rates. Co-ops are managed by the members of each co-op, so there are no conglomerate or for-profit owners, although some co-ops hire specialty companies to handle the day-to-day operations.
    You can learn much more from the Co-operative Housing Foundation of Canada, based in Ottawa, or from any of the provincial co-op associations.
    Because the residents have a say in the operation of their homes – only residents can be elected to their Board of Directors – and are also encouraged to do various volunteer functions, including committee memberships, most co-ops are well-maintained and are a definite asset to their communities.
    When we moved into our co-op (in 1972 !), it was one of Calgary’s first housing co-ops, and our new neighbours, almost exclusively single-family owners, were skeptical about this new form of housing, fearing that their property values might be at risk, with the spectre of unkempt properties, gangs of youth roaming around the area at all hours and causing damage and other situations often attributed to “lower-class” projects. The neighbours quickly learned that, despite the co-op members, despite having no equity in their homes, still regarded them as just that- their homes, with the same care of buildings and yards as any homeowner. As we approach our, and the co-op’s, 50th anniversary, we still see many of the same faces we got to know when we moved in. There is a constant turnover of units, but most of us recognise that we are HOME. It’s not just a mortgage that provides that feeling, it’s the neighbourhood and, of course, the neighbours.

    1. Thanks for sharing this Barry. I have lots of readers from the UK and around the world many of which who look to relocate so it has and I’m sure does help if in a small way. I’m still learning about Canada everyday and wish I had done more research myself. Thanks again Barrie.

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