Single mothers in particular would benefit from more subsidized housing in Canada

A new study shows that children in single-mother families are best served by having access to subsidized housing.

 

A new study shows that children in single-mother families are best served by having access to subsidized housing. (Shutterstock)

 

Like many countries, Canada is currently facing a housing affordability crisis. Housing prices have increased at double the rate of income growth over the past two decades. Between 2021 and 2024, rental prices also increased by 10 per cent each year.

Because of the rapid rise in housing prices and rentals costs, 22 per cent of Canadian families live in unaffordable housing, spending at least 30 per cent of their pre-tax household income on housing.

To cope with housing affordability issues, people are increasingly “doubling up” with others and living in overcrowded housing.

Investing in subsidized housing

Many academics, policymakers, stakeholders and the media have emphasized the need for more subsidized housing units to tackle this crisis.

They point out that the Canadian government stopped investing in public housing after the 1990s. As a result, only three per cent of Canadian adults reside in subsidized housing, significantly lower than in places like Hong Kong (46 per cent) and Singapore (81 per cent).

The waitlists for subsidized housing in many Canadian cities are also unusually long. For example, in the city of Toronto, the wait time for a one-bedroom subsidized housing unit is 14 years.

A person walks by a row of townhomes.
A person walks by a row of houses in Toronto in July 2022. Strong demand for rentals and a shortage of homes has resulted in soaring rental costs that make saving up for a home even more difficult. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

 

National Housing Strategy

The federal government is taking steps to address Canada’s housing affordability crisis by implementing the National Housing Strategy. It has pledged to invest $82 billion to increase affordable housing. Roughly 25 to 33 per cent of these funds will be allocated to address the unmet housing needs of women and children.

The implementation of the National Housing Strategy has raised two important questions:

  1. To what extent does access to subsidized housing improve housing circumstances for Canadians?
  2. What groups benefit the most from having access to subsidized housing?

Access to subsidized housing

To address these questions, our study investigates how living in subsidized housing affects children’s exposure to unaffordable and overcrowded housing.

Living in subsidized housing is associated with significant reductions in housing affordability issues. The predicted percentage of children in subsidized housing living in households spending 30 per cent or more of pre-tax household income on shelter costs is just five per cent, compared to 15 per cent of their peers in non-subsidized housing.

However, children in subsidized housing are generally more likely to live in overcrowded housing relative to other children: 18 per cent versus 10 per cent.

These findings suggest that living in subsidized housing may require sacrificing adequate space for housing affordability.

Our study also examines whether the impact of living in subsidized housing differs according to children’s family structure.

A construction worker works on a roof of a house being constructed.
A construction worker works on a house in a new housing development in Oakville, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Richard Buchan

 

Regardless of their family structure, children in subsidized housing are less likely than those in non-subsidized housing to experience housing affordability issues. For example, only four per cent of children in two-parent families in subsidized housing live in households spending 30 per cent or more of their pre-tax income on shelter costs, compared with 12 per cent of their peers living elsewhere.

Conversely, the pattern of variation in children’s exposure to overcrowded housing according to their access to subsidized housing differs markedly between children in two-parent and other families. Among children in two-parent families, the predicted likelihood of being exposed to overcrowding for those in subsidized housing is 19 per cent, compared to 10 per cent for those living elsewhere.

The opposite, however, is true for children in all other families. For instance, 15 per cent of children being raised by single mothers living in subsidized housing have exposure to overcrowded housing, compared to 20 per cent of their peers living elsewhere.

Who benefits the most?

Our study also showed that children in single-mother households benefit the most by having access to subsidized housing.

For children being raised by single mothers, residing in a subsidized housing is associated with a 77 per cent lower predicted likelihood of living in households that spend 30 per cent or more of their pretax income on shelter costs. This compares with 65 per cent of children in two-parent families and 45 per cent of children in single-father families.

Similarly, for children in single-mother families, living in subsidized housing is also associated with a 24 per cent lower predicted likelihood of being exposed to overcrowded housing. This compares with six per cent for children in single-father homes and 15 per cent for children without resident parents.

a baby's legs as they walk with a parent behind them
Children in single-mother households living in subsidized households are less exposed to overcrowded living situations. (Shutterstock)

 

Implications for housing policy

Based on our findings, what steps should the federal government take to ensure more Canadians have access to affordable homes with adequate space?

It must rapidly build more subsidized housing units. In doing so, the government can reduce the wait times for subsidized housing and offer more units to those with high levels of housing vulnerability.

Ottawa should also aim to better understand the needs of those in subsidized housing and build units that address these needs. In particular, it must build a greater number of bigger subsidized housing units. Doing so will ensure that residents of subsidized housing have enough space to raise their families.

Finally, the government should also seek to better understand who benefits the most by having access to subsidized housing, and then allocate more resources to addressing their needs. In particular, it should continue to commit more resources to the housing needs of children being raised by single mothers.


Arabella Soave co-authored this article. She is an undergraduate student at Western University pursuing an Honours Specialization in Economics accompanied by the Scholar’s Electives Program.The Conversation

Kate Choi, Associate Professor, Sociology cross-listed in Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Western University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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