February 1, 2023

How will YOU help solve Canada’s housing challenge?

A group of futuristic-looking manufacturing robots in a factory

Bring your ideas for construction innovation to Round 4 of the Housing Supply Challenge by April 13, 2023!

How would you make it easier to build affordable housing supply in Canada? Through innovative technology? Novel processes? Unique materials? Revamped policies? Round 4 of the CMHC Housing Supply Challenge wants your ideas.

Building on three previous rounds that tackled a variety of roadblocks to better housing supply, Round 4, called Building for the Future: Innovative Construction for Housing Affordability, is focused on construction. But it’s not just building more homes faster. It’s about getting there more sustainably and affordably – and preserving what we already have in place.

The goal is a big one: making sure all Canadians have the housing they need, no matter what their income.

To introduce you to this new round (launched January 19th), we spoke to housing activist and Challenge advisor Sean Gadon about why Round 4 matters, and the exciting possibilities he sees coming out of this phase of the Challenge.

Sean Gadon

Solving supply isn’t just about building new homes

Round 4 tackles any and all barriers to innovation in construction, from high costs to access to materials to project delivery complexities. According to Gadon, however, there are a couple of deep-set perceptions around housing and real estate that pose some of the biggest roadblocks.

First off, there’s the idea that our housing supply crisis can only be solved by new builds. But new construction is only part of the puzzle: maintaining and repurposing existing supply should be a much bigger focus.

“In battling climate change, the greenest buildings are those already built,” says Gadon. “So while we definitely need new homes, this round is also very much about the renovation and preservation of the existing 14.6 million homes in Canada. We need to figure out how to make them more energy efficient and accessible, how to retrofit and maintain them, secure innovative financing, and preserve what is already a tremendous legacy of housing in Canada.”

The financialization of housing is also a barrier

We live in a society that sees housing as a commodity first and a human need second. Real estate has become a vehicle for building wealth. As a result, it’s built for the needs of investors, not end users, especially in urban settings.

“The condo developer is selling a product they aren’t responsible for maintaining,” Gadon says. “It will be someone else’s problem in a couple of years, so why spend more than they have to to make it operate better or last longer? There’s no incentive. On the other hand, a rental housing builder who will be running the building has a vested interest in incorporating environmentally-efficient and sustainable practices from the outset to reduce operating costs and extend durability.”

So how do we shift mindsets so homes are built for the people who are actually going to live in them?
That’s one of the many questions for Challenge participants to address.

It’s time to tackle outdated municipal zoning

Another major stumbling block Gadon mentions is municipal policy. Rigid zoning prevents densification and contributes to urban sprawl. Rather than just continuing to expand our cities with endless tracts of single-family structures, we need to find smart, sustainable alternatives.

So why can’t more housing be built in existing neighborhoods rather than taking over greenbelts? Why can’t people live in commercially-zoned spaces? The rigidity is outdated, and a definite barrier to increasing supply.

“The idea of adding homes into neighbourhoods is getting traction now, with Vancouver being the first to take it on and Toronto looking at it as well,” he says. “It’s time to crack those zoning bylaws open and build multi-family homes, laneway suites, garden homes and other accessory buildings. The post-pandemic conversations around repurposing underused office towers are another positive trend.”

Need some inspiration? 

Prefab Homes

Here are some other examples our housing expert is excited about. 

Learn about more innovative construction technologies here

3D printing

Those are just a few examples of how we’re doing things better when it comes to housing. But a challenge of this magnitude needs LOTS of big ideas…and not just from the “usual suspects.”

“I hope to see applications from academic and think tank foundations, community organizations, non-profit and co-op housing groups, municipal, provincial and territorial governments, the private sector, and any groups who have been underrepresented or discriminated against when it comes to housing,” says Gadon. “We want everyone’s ideas.”

R4 Objectives

Free support to help with your application

The application process is friendly and there’s plenty of support available from Evergreen and Innovation 7 at no charge – we want to help you complete the best possible applications. Gadon, who has worked with dozens of Challenge applicants on their solutions, emphasizes just how accessible and inclusive the program is: “People are surprised and delighted that the federal government is running a program that’s so friendly and supportive, and there’s even seed money to pressure test your ideas.”

Want to submit your idea for construction innovation that will build a better future for Canadians? Get in touch to get started.

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