Social Interventions: Housing

Living in poor quality housing is a well-established risk factor for behavioural and educational problems which are, in turn, clearly linked to higher likelihood of criminality. Research studies have also found that crime rates tend to decrease in areas where there is a higher proportion of owner-occupied dwellings.1

CCSD research found that the percentage of children living in inadequate housing who did not exhibit direct aggressive behaviours was more than 20 percentage points lower than among those who lived in adequate housing.2 Children living in adequate housing also did better on a whole range of tests which measured developmental outcomes.

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Researchers have also found that housing that is in poor physical condition can adversely affect the physical and mental health of children. Crowded housing is known to contribute to the spread of infections, and a lack of space and quiet due to crowded housing conditions can lead to poorer school performance among children.3

In 1996, 30% of renter families with children and 13% of families who owned their housing were considered to be living in overcrowded conditions. Families who pay more than 30% of their pre-tax income on dwelling costs are considered to be in "core housing need." The number of such families rose by 91% between 1989 and 1996.4

The number of households that pay more than 50% of their income on dwelling costs rose by 43% between 1990 and 1995. As a result, families are the fastest growing segment of the population requiring emergency shelter.5

One way to address this problem is through income supports. The federal government is currently the Canada Child Tax Benefit to this end, but organizations such as the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, Campaign 2000, and the Canadian Council on Social Development have called on the government to increase the value of this benefit.

Another way to address the problem is through government support for affordable housing. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities reported that Canada's urban centres lost a minimum of 13,000 rental units between 1995 and 1999. This loss of rental units is one of the reasons why rents have increased substantially in many urban centres. But the federal government has done little to create affordable housing. According to the National Housing and Homelessness Network, the federal government has spent only a tiny fraction of the $680 million it pledged for affordable housing in 2001.

The problem of affordable housing can also be addressed through a combination of community economic development initiatives and government funding. A very effective project is currently underway in inner-city Saskatoon: the Quint Community Economic Development Corporation is providing housing for homeless teenagers and offering a program which allows families to buy their own homes. The project has had excellent results for this very low-income community, where crime rates are high. For more details, see "Building Communities in Inner-city Saskatoon," our web-only report from Preventing Crime through Social Development Bulletin No. 8.

Another organization which is seeking to prevent crime through housing solutions is the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa. "Lack of affordable housing is a key factor in crimes committed by women," says Jodie Golden, Executive Director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa. Her organization has found that 34% of women incarcerated in Ottawa are homeless at the time of their arrest. E.Fry Ottawa now offers a housing support service for youth, and they have created a transitional housing facility for women who have been in conflict with the law. For more information, see "Community Alternatives in a Conservative Era" in the Preventing Crime through Social Development Bulletin No. 6.

Other Social Interventions

  Addictions Treatment
  Countering Violence
  Early Childhood Education
  Employment
  Income
  Neighbourhoods
  Positive Parenting
  Recreation
  Rehabilitation
  Secondary Education
  Special Needs Programming

Notes:

1 Waller, I. and Weiler, D. Crime Prevention through Social Development. Ottawa: Canadian Council on Social Development, 1984.

2 Lee, K. and Roberts, P. "Housing Canada's Children," in Perception, Vol. 24, #1, June 2000. Ottawa: Canadian Council on Social Development.

3 Jackson, A. and Roberts, P. Physical Housing Conditions and the Well-being of Children. Ottawa: Canadian Council on Social Development, 2001.

4 Ibid.

5Hanvey, Louise. The Progress of Canada's Children. Ottawa: Canadian Council on Social Development, 2002. Available at www.ccsd.ca/pubs/2002/pcc02/hl.htm#cr.