A New Building Solely For Social Housing Tenants?

restored transit bus at transit centre
Vancouver CCF-Brill T44 2040 at VTC photo by Jason V is licensed under CC BY 2.0
What does a bus have to do with social housing? Its portrait was taken on a 5.6 hectare (13.8 acre) lot that is slated for housing development in Vancouver, B.C.

A Vancouver based developer is proposing to consolidate social housing units in a single building, rather than spreading them across multiple buildings.

What should we make of this?

These days, public-private partnerships predominate the delivery of affordable housing. By necessity, the units are part of a larger construction project. In this case, there will be multiple buildings, so one building dedicated to affordable housing is possible.

Still, the proposal doesn’t sit well with affordable housing advocates. Evidence from the US, which indicates that income integration means better outcomes for households than in public housing, would seem to support their position.

However, stories from other cities suggest that even when the units are integrated in a single building, developers and managers find ways to exclude the households that will live in the units that are affordable. The idea of integration is more of a myth.1

Advocates also point to the sorry state of public housing buildings, where all of the units are subsidized. The state of the housing is undeniably bad, but the reasons for its condition are the subject of debate. Some people blame the bad conditions on tenants, while others attribute the situation to management neglect, limited maintenance and relentless budget cuts.2

Models such as proposed by this developer were actually the norm when constructing social housing during the 1960’s and 1970’s in Ontario. Looking back, that experience possibly sheds light on the debate about dedicated housing. Fifty years on, all of the buildings (private and public) are in need of significant upgrades, especially to improve energy efficiency.

The United Way of Greater Toronto surveyed residents in the public and private buildings in 2009. Residents’ opinions about building management were pretty consistent between the public housing units and the privately operated buildings with one exception. The tenants in public housing were less confident that needed repairs would be completed. This could indicate that private landlords were investing more in repairs. The United Way’s research tends to support the view that building condition is a function of management, maintenance and budgetting. Read more at the United Way Of Greater Toronto: Poverty by Postal Code 2: Vertical Poverty

Read more about the current proposal in the Vancouver Sun: Oakridge-area developer wants to consolidate social housing in 14-acre city project


  1. Poor Doors: ‘Excluding The Included’ Lives On In Snob-Ravaged Britain and The Fuss About ‘Poor Doors’
  2. Try: America’s Public Housing: Born To Die