McMaster research hub at heart of Canadian network on housing receives $1.135M in federal funding

Jim Dunn heads the McMaster-based Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative, which is at the heart of the $14-million Collaborative Housing Research Network. (Photo by Georgia Kirkos/McMaster University)

Everyone in Canada deserves a home that they can afford and that meets their needs.

The guiding principle of the National Housing Strategy has always been at the heart of Jim Dunn’s research. It’s also the focus of an ambitious new pan-Canadian research project on affordable housing that he leads, which received $1.135 million in federal funding announced Monday.

Dunn, the Senator William McMaster Chair of Urban Health Equity, is the director of the Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative, or CHEC, a centre within the Faculty of Social Sciences that brings together the findings of the pan-Canadian Collaborative Housing Research Network, or CHRN.


The network, which received $14-million in federal funding Monday, comprises researchers, policy makers and individuals with lived experience from across Canada to tackle the complex issues involved in making safe, healthy housing affordable for all Canadians.

These include questions about what people actually need — this is different for everyone, based on ability and disability, socio-economic status, lifestyle, diet, family circumstances, and much more. Government policies, from municipal infrastructure all the way up to federal programs and decisions, play a huge role in how and where Canadians live.

“Every Canadian deserves a safe and affordable place to call home,” Ahmed Hussen, minister of families, children and social development said at the announcement Monday.

“To strengthen our ability to make this a reality both now and into the future, a Collaborative Housing Research Network has been created to support housing sector innovation and new housing solutions. This will be accomplished through an interdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary and multi-sectorial approach, as part of the enhanced research agenda under Canada’s National Housing Strategy.”

CHEC also received an additional $200,000 to build a housing data center.

What it is

CHEC is the hub that brings together and translates into action research from across CHRN. The network was created to support the National Housing Strategy, a 10-year federal initiative that aims to cut homelessness in half and create 125,000 more affordable homes in that time.

The network will focus on finding solutions to homelessness among older adults, Northern homelessness and housing insecurity, community housing sector resilience, balanced housing supply, and affordable rental housing for those in the greatest need.

“We have a real dearth of academic research and information on housing in Canada,” Dunn explains. The federal funding will not only support the creation of a robust research ecosystem, it will allow CHEC to bring those findings together and speed up the process of translating research into action.

CHEC’s goals are to

  • Connect policy makers, researchers, housing providers and people with direct experience of where the housing system is not working
  • Identify research priorities
  • Facilitate access to housing data
  • Build Canada’s housing research capacity
How it works

Different teams, or thematic “nodes” across Canada are each working on an aspect of housing research. CHEC will translate and convey that academic research into the hands of policy makers, community leaders, industry partners and others who can put it into action.

Each node corrals research that relates to specific themes:

  • Community housing: Exploring not just ways to make housing affordable and more accessible, but also issues of social inclusion, a growing and diverse population, environmental performance and resilience.
  • Balanced supply of housing: Do communities have the right mix of apartments and detached or semidetached homes? What about renters and owners and co-op housing dwellers? This project will examine balances and imbalances of various kinds throughout Canada.
  • Northern housing: Addressing challenges identified by northern communities as they work to alleviate homelessness and housing insecurity.
  • Housing for those with the greatest need: Studying better ways to meet the housing needs of a growing cohort of older Canadians, aging LGBTQ community members and low-income Canadians.
  • Sustainable housing: Social and environmental sustainability are vital to create enduring housing solutions.
Why it matters

About 1.7 million Canadian households were in need of housing in 2016, and female-led households are particularly disadvantaged, with Indigenous households even more so, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation reports.

Beyond the fact that safe, healthy housing is fundamental human right, “there’s no question that people who are more satisfied with their housing and neighbourhood, and who feel safer and more secure, also enjoy improvements to their overall health,” says Dunn.

And yet, he notes, “the people who are most familiar with this simple truth are the ones who do not have access to safe and affordable housing.”

COVID-19 has further complicated issues surrounding insufficient housing and has widened existing income and gender gaps, Dunn says.

What’s next

CHEC is in the early stages of developing new housing data sources, made possible by an additional grant from CMHC’s Housing Supply Challenge. The vision is to acquire unique housing data and use methods from data science and machine learning to create new indicators for tracking affordable housing supply.

“There’s an important role for trusted, third-party organizations to play in tracking the state of Canada’s housing,” Dunn says, pointing to the Harvard Joint Center on Housing, which produces an influential report on the state of the America’s housing.

“McMaster is the ideal place for interdisciplinary, data driven and community-engaged research — a lot of the infrastructure we need is already here.”

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