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Financialization of purpose-built rental housing:Paving the path to homelessness

Submission to the National Housing Council Review Panel

Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness
2023 August 29

Since the 1980s there has been a steady evolution in how people have been oriented to think

about housing, a change that has moved from seeing adequate housing as something

fundamental to human, family, and community life, an adequate physical context in which to

create a home, a secure place to live a satisfying life, to being seen as a matter of acquiring

assets and/or making a profit.

In the 21st century that unfortunate evolution has speeded up significantly. Much of that can

be linked to the financialization of housing, as real estate investment trusts (REITs), hedge

funds, pension funds, private equity funds, and similar financial organizations have actively

pursued ownership and operation of housing as a source of profit. Governments have chosen

to ignore this development or failed to identify it for too long. We are now in a place of having

to react to where we now are, rather than being able to chart a proactive course-- so strong

and timely action is essential.

The Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) is concerned about this

issue because financialization in Edmonton has developed much more quickly than in most

places in Canada. Information from the Affordable Housing Research Lab at the University of

Alberta suggests that in 2022 48 percent of purpose-built rental units were owned by such

businesses, compared to a national figure of 20 percent.

For people with modest or low financial resources, renting, both acquiring and maintaining a

place, has become much more of a challenge as a result. Edmonton saw a decline of 50 000

units in the $999/month or less category in the decade from 2006 to 2016. In 2006 81

percent of rental units were in this category but by 2016 only 27 percent were. It is difficult not

to suspect a causation link between the rapid financiailization over these years and the loss of

more affordable units, but there is at least a suspicious correlation. Greatly inadequate public

funding for non-market housing over many year further adds to the problem, with funding not

even matching the loss of subsidized housing-- funding is not increasing the supply, just

slowing the decrease.

ECOHH’s concern about the financialization of housing connects with its call for an end to

homelessness and to recognize adequate housing as a human right. Homelessness is the

terrible end point on a road that begins with struggling to maintain adequate housing.

Everything that threatens housing security increases the danger of homelessness. And

homelessness threatens health, and even life. ECOHH has been tracking the number of

people who die because of homelessness and that number has steadily grown from 32 in

2005 to 156 in 2022.

ECOHH appreciates the detailed analysis and background to the rapid growth of

financialization in housing that has been and is being done by other bodies with resources

and expertise in this area. ECOHH’s submission complements this as it reflects the street-

level observations and experiences of its individual and organizational members that they are

seeing how financialization has growing negative impact on the ability of people with small

economic resources to secure or maintain decent housing.

Financialization in the housing sector is decreasing the affordability of rental housing, security

of tenure (dangers such as eviction, harassment, and threats) and the physical condition and

accessibility of housing. Many ECOHH members, organizations and individuals, are active in

providing services and resources for people who do not have adequate housing. They are

hearing many stories from people losing the modest housing they have had because they

were in buildings bought by a financial business with “renovictions” following soon, or

experiencing rent increases far beyond their capacity to meet, or seeing the quality of their

housing deteriorate as maintenance and repair needs are ignored.

Canada has been clear internationally in identifying itself as supportive of human rights and

ready to express such commitments through legislation. This makes it especially troubling

that the experience of ECOHH organizations working with people is that being able to

maintain adequate housing in the midst of the financialization storm is especially challenging

for Indigenous people, newer immigrants (especially refugees), people of colour, older people,

people with disabilities requiring housing with various features, people with mental health

challenges, and women with children. It is a significant concern that many of the people with

the greatest difficulty avoiding poverty and meeting their own housing needs receive little or

no priority in housing funding or policy from government. The impact of housing

financialization is not evenly distributed and these populations that are feeling it more


Those assisting people who have lost housing or are struggling to maintain it are aware that

the public financial costs of people being in such situations are much greater than if they were

able to maintain adequate housing. Other significant costs are in terms of health and well-

being of body, mind, relationships, and spirit.

From deep involvement with people experiencing the dangers of homelessness, ECOHH is

confident in asserting that (a) having adequate housing is crucial to all other aspects of being

able to have a good life, and (b) as more rental properties have been acquired by financial

corporations, the ability of people with few fiscal resources to maintain housing has


Financialization of housing will continue as long as governments, through legislation and

regulation, do not take a firm stand to affirm in practical action that adequate housing is a

human right, and not a place for speculation and the deliberate pursuit of profits. The growth

of financialization might have escaped notice by government for some time, but has become

so extensive now that it is urgent for action to be taken.

There are many tools available to the federal government directly, and, through the

agreements made with other orders of government for transfer payments, indirectly by making

conditions for transfers to require actions by them as well. The most effective response will

include elements that address supply assistance with expanding affordable stock AND

demand assistance for people with little money.

Finding effective approaches to stop the current financialization tsunami and to ensure the

human right to adequate housing is met for people living in housing owned by financial

businesses should begin with much more consultation with those familiar with the

consequences of what is happening, especially tenants. It is good to see the National

Housing Advocate taking steps in this area, but there needs to be a clear commitment from

the federal government that this will be an on-going practice and that it will influence

decisions, not simply be left to sit on a shelf.

In the meanwhile, there are available tools that include:

  • Ensuring tax laws discourage speculation and the financialization of housing,

  • Ensuring that Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation does not take a role that supports the involvement of financial bodies in expanding participation in the housing market in any way,

  • Limiting or denying public funding assistance or financing of housing stock by financial businesses,

  • Expanding funding to support cooperatives and social profit/not-for-profit organizations to acquire and maintain much more housing, given the track record of this sector to provide stability in the housing market,

  • Rules requiring clear and easily-available information about ownership of all housing,

  • Landlord licensing, with more stringent regulations and enforcement of maintenance and repairs,

  • Enhanced measures to ensure rents in for-profit housing remain modest, without denying owners fair return on investment or profit,

  • More available support for tenants experiencing difficulties from unfair treatment such a renoviction by landlords and property owners, and

  • Expansion and Improvements to income support programs, the Canada Housing Benefit, rent supplements, and emergency rent assistance programs to make ability to pay rent more secure for people with low financial capacity and resources.

In summary, ECOHH asserts that:

1. Government has a moral imperative and an urgent need to address the financialization

of housing and ensure it does not prevent every person in Canada from having

adequate housing,

2. The mandate of the Federal Housing Advocate to make recommendations to improve

Canada’s housing laws, policies and programs so that they enable people and families

in Canada to have access to adequate, affordable and safe housing that meets their

needs places a significant responsibility to move such action forward in that office,

3. There are many effective ways to address this issue and they must involve a careful

and creative mixture of both regulatory actions and a major increase in the supply of

non-market and modest housing that is only possible with a large investment of public


4. There are serious negative consequences of failing to address the issue, and

5. Canada has a proud history of using public policy and funding to ensure the housing

needs of lower-income people were met and this pre-1990 situation needs to be

revived. And improved in the current dangerous time.

Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homelessness

The Edmonton Coalition Housing and Homelessness (ECOHH) was created in 1986.

Membership consists of both social profit organizations and businesses, as well as

individuals. Its mandate includes education and advocacy on homelessness and affordable

housing. ECOHH provided leadership in the formation of the Edmonton Housing Trust Fund in

1999. This fund now operates as Homeward Trust and is part of a long-term initiative to

provide quality affordable housing in Edmonton by investment in projects. ECOHH presented

an annual awareness event, Homefest, for ten years, and led the development of the public

art sculpture honouring the importance of housing, located in Homeless Memorial Plaza,

north of City Hall on 103A Avenue. ECOHH has presented an annual memorial service for

people who have died because of housing challenges in their lives, for the past 14 years.

ECOHH is a broad based voice to promote change in public policy, increase

community knowledge, and share information on all aspects of housing security, especially

homelessness and affordable housing.

ECOHH’s key messages are:

- Decent affordable housing is essential for all people.

- Good homes for all create strong healthy communities.

- Housing is more than four walls and a roof-- it's homes, support, and community.

- Lack of decent affordable housing has negative consequences for everyone.

- In Alberta we have the resources, knowledge, and skills to make sure everyone has a

decent place to call home in a strong healthy community.

200, 12120-106 Avenue Edmonton Alberta T5N 0Z2

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