Local government levers: Accelerating housing solutions

Posted on November 13, 2023
By Jill Zacharias


A row of houses in Canada with a bright blue sky above them.


Recognizing the power of local government to lead positive social change, the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria has produced a comprehensive toolkit that outlines "every tool in the municipal toolbox" to accelerate housing solutions at the local level.  

Canada’s affordable housing crisis has been years in the making and is now one of the most influential indicators of poverty. More than ever before, construction of safe, accessible, affordable, suitable housing in any community requires an ‘all hands on deck’ approach. While all levels of government as well as community partners have important roles in addressing this complex social issue, local governments – large and small – have a wide variety of tools within their jurisdiction and a high degree of influence to accelerate housing solutions.


New! Local Government toolkit highlights options 

Recognizing the power of local government to lead positive social change, the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria has produced a comprehensive toolkit that outlines “every tool in the municipal toolbox” to accelerate housing solutions at the local level.

The Local Government Levers for Housing Affordability report: 

  • Provides an overview of tools and their municipal context, 
  • Explores success factors and key considerations for each tool, and 
Shares numerous case studies, best practices, and examples of tools in a range of municipal contexts and diversity of housing types. 

The toolkit acknowledges the power and ability of local governments to implement positive long-term change and influence the trajectory of the housing crisis in communities. There is recognition that activating this power is both a choice and a challenge.  There is also recognition that exclusionary local government policies can impede progress or perpetrate inequities. While there are many good examples of local governments leading this important work in one way or another, now more than ever before a comprehensive – rather than piecemeal – approach is needed. 


Key ingredients for success for local governments

  1. A consistent, reliable revenue stream specific to the development and management of non-market, perpetually affordable housing. Of necessity, revenue contributions must be garnished from every possible source, from grants to inclusionary zoning.

  2. A consistent, reliable regulatory environment – embedded in both bylaw and policy – that uses “every tool in the local government toolbox” to support both the protection and development of affordable housing. This includes policies and bylaws that create opportunities for both private market and non-market developers to contribute and participate in the development of affordable housing. There is a need to simultaneously understand two things: 

    -The private market will not provide unless mandated to do so
    -The time has come to embrace non-market housing

  3. Funded, staffed organizational capacity – for both not-for-profit providers and local government partners – to undertake the depth and breadth of work needed to establish readiness and capacity at a local level. This includes capacity to: 

    -Capitalize on opportunities that come down from higher levels of government
    -Take time to work together to explore and support local initiatives and innovations
    -Manage projects over time
    -Engage in research, data collection, evaluation and re-evaluation – including of city policies to ensure they are meeting the needs of the community
  4. The contribution of municipally owned land – this represents one of the most significant opportunities for local governments to partner in the development of affordable housing. It is a contribution most funders expect, including higher levels of government. 

  5. Political leadership to ‘be brave’ in the face of difficult situations and to innovate in times of necessity, and long-term political will to carry the work through over time. 

  6. A collective and collaborative approach, including willingness to create space and take time for convening important community conversations, hear new ideas, address concerns and myths, and bring new, potentially unexpected partners to the table. 

    -Within local governments, inter-departmental engagement and formalized dialogue is critical to ensure a multi-faceted approach and that various operational mandates align with affordable housing goals and strategies. 

It is by combining municipal tools with innovation, leadership and community partnerships that sets the stage for change.


Urban and rural examples in Canada:


A sunny photo of a body of water with mountains in the background in Canada


RURAL EXAMPLE | Innovative funding acquisition builds local capacity 

Early in 2023, the City of Revelstoke received $500,000 funding from the Rural Economic Diversification and Infrastructure Program – Forest Impact Transition (REDIP-FIT) for infrastructure development to support affordable housing. As Revelstoke transitions from a forestry-based economy, the project forges a direct connection between affordable housing and economic development, recognizing that “access to affordable housing is the single biggest barrier right now to a sustainable economy”. The funding enabled the City of Revelstoke to contribute $100,000 to the Revelstoke Community Housing Society to support project development and capacity-building. A portion of the funding will also go towards master and site planning, as well as initial site servicing of municipal lands earmarked for affordable housing. 

 Source: https://www.revelstoke.ca/DocumentCenter/View/9595/CORP-RCHS-REDIP-funding-announcement-2023-04-03  

3A photo of skyscrapers against a blue sky in Edmonton, Canada


URBAN EXAMPLE | Community Development Company neighbourhood revitalization 

Following a recommendation in the End Poverty Edmonton Road Map and founded by key partners, the Edmonton Community Development Company (ECDC) launched in 2017 to support “neighbourhoods that face unique challenges through the development of commercial and residential real estate.” ECDC priorities include five pillars: 

  1. Adequate income 
  2. Affordable and relevant housing 
  3. Attracting local businesses 
  4. Enhanced employment opportunities  
  5. Supportive social programs 

The City of Edmonton’s role in kickstarting ECDC was pivotal. City Council and Administration supported the concept, provided funds to complete a business case, start-up funds, five years of operational funding, and agreed to provide surplus lands for development or sale – ensuring ECDC was financially feasible. Today, ECDC is an independent social enterprise working in four neighbourhood communities, with numerous new homes completed, more nearing completion and several other properties ready for development. Neighbourhood vibrancy and housing options are identified as a priorities in the City of Edmonton’s 10 year Strategic Plan. 

This blog is part of a series – ‘Local Government Levers’ – exploring the social role of local government. 


Take your learning further: 

BLOG | Local Government Levers: Reconciliation and Poverty Reduction 

BLOG | City of Delta Promotes Social Role of Local Government 

GUIDE | 10 Ways Local Government Can Propel Positive Social Change 

WEBINAR | Local Government Contribution: A Gamechanger for Positive Social Change 

Affordable Housing, Housing, Government, CRP Blogs, Communities Ending Poverty

Jill Zacharias

By Jill Zacharias

Jill has recently joined the Vibrant Communities team as the BC Manager of Growth and Impact, Cities Reducing Poverty. Jill brings extensive experience in municipal government, social planning and poverty reduction, and has worked closely with Tamarack as a CRP member and as chair of the BC Community of Practice on Poverty Reduction.

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