Tiny idea a big winner for student team

Note: This article was originally published in the Queen's Gazette.

Four master’s students in the School of Urban and Regional Planning (SURP) at Queen’s University have won the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) challenge to bring fresh and innovative ideas to creating affordable rental housing in Canada.

The team, which earned the full award of $10,000 for their project Compact Homes: Innovative Solutions Solving the Affordability Challenge, included Lindsay Allman (MPL’18), Andrew Eberhard (MPL’18), Peter Huan (MPL’18), and Gabrielle Snow (MPL’19).  The Queen’s team was one of only three top prize winners from across Canada.

Ms. Allman says that “providing safe, affordable, and equitable housing for all is one of Canada’s greatest challenges.” The team’s CMHC project addresses that challenge by proposing “an innovative tiny home community” that leverages existing programs and unused sites in the city to produce homes at rents based on the incomes of single people struggling to find an affordable place to live.

The team learned about the CMHC challenge in Patricia Streich’s housing course last term. Dr. Streich offered her students the opportunity to participate in the challenge as an option in her course to learn more about Canada’s new National Housing Strategy launched in 2017.

Ms. Allman explained that the team members decided to compete in the challenge because of their own experience as students in urban planning living in Kingston:

“We have experienced first-hand the anxiety of searching for a room on a tight budget and we have learned about how inter-generational poverty is difficult to escape,” she says. “My team and I felt that it is our responsibility as planners to bring new housing ideas to the table.”

Kingston was the project’s case study site, and the location is just one of the many innovative aspects of the proposal.

“The idea of small homes is not new, but so far they have been built mainly in rural areas and on the outskirts of urban areas,” Dr. Streich sasys. “Building tiny homes within the city for low-income single people has not been proposed before.”

The case study in Kingston is also groundbreaking in terms of housing affordability and financing. Compact homes are much cheaper to build than apartment buildings and constructing the homes on vacant sites reduces costs for homes where residents are close to existing city services. The units can be constructed to meet stringent accessibility, environmental efficiency and sustainability requirements.

Perhaps most importantly to the team members and stakeholders, the model works for rent geared to income tenants with private market financing and does not require ongoing subsidies from governments. As a result, says Ms. Allman, it is “an approach to housing that provides equitable opportunities for all.”

The experience of participating in the challenge and the sense of responsibility for creating affordable housing for Canadians is something that the team members will take with them as they move forward in their careers as urban planners. Ms. Allman says she intends “to continue to advocate for affordable housing” and that she hopes that post-secondary students continue to engage with CMHC to bring innovative ideas to life.

For more information about the School of Urban and Regional Planning, visit the SURP website.

For more information about the challenge, visit the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation website