Equitable Transit Oriented Affordable Housing

Ensuring the benefits of transit development are equitably shared

Equitable Transit Oriented Affordable Housing is an approach that addresses issues around housing affordability, transit-oriented development (TOD), and the negative impacts of gentrification and displacement. ETOAH builds on TOD principles by seeking to deliver housing affordability and inclusion as part of the  development process. Equitable TOD is defined as compact, often mixed-use development with multi-modal access to jobs, neighborhood-serving stores and other amenities that also serve the needs of low- and moderate-income people.

(Hersey, J., & Spotts, M. (2015). Promoting Opportunity through Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD): Barriers to Success and Best Practices for Implementation. Denver, CO: Enterprise Community Partners.)

As a result of the work of the many partners and participants engaged in the Hamilton Transit Oriented Affordable Housing Lab we have been able to identify and understand the barriers to ETOAH and how we might overcome them. As a collaborative, we are proposing to pilot an Equitable Transit Oriented Affordable Housing entity and fund. The project outlined here discusses how we will pursue its development, the models we are learning from other jurisdictions, and the outcomes we are aiming towards. We look forward to sharing our progress.

The ETOAH Challenge

Public investment in transit is a key driver of prosperity for our cities and towns. It strengthens our communities and connects our neighbourhoods to jobs and services. It’s essential in our fight against climate change.

However, transit investments often result in the displacement of vulnerable people and reduce the supply of affordable housing in the process. This is an unintentional outcome playing out in cities across Canada.

Barriers to ETOAH

The Lab’s examination of needs, local trends and analysis summarizes the following barriers to realizing equitable development along transit corridors:

  1. The development process, speculation, and increased demand increases acquisition costs and the cost of naturally occurring affordable housing, and the community housing sector can’t compete.
  2. Planning frameworks are often reactive to new transit, and housing and transit infrastructure policies are misaligned, including zoning and the requirement for disposing of lands for the “highest and best use.”
  3. Financing barriers faced by community housing providers are more acute and include a lack of access to financing for pre-development, cash flow issues, and lack of acquisition capital.
  4. Current transit strategies are not oriented to non-market housing. Despite affordability and inclusivity being the top two goals of transit funding, there are no federal or provincial incentives, policies, or programs to support non-market housing in transit development.

Overcoming the Barriers

To overcome these common challenges, research and our prototyping suggests attending to and developing the following elements:

  1. Knowledge resources, capacity building and cost-efficient technical support for municipalities, community housing providers and purpose-driven developers.
  2. Approaches that enable community housing providers ability to participate in the benefits of land value uplift.
  3. A clear framework and structured engagement approach to facilitate collaboration between stakeholders – governments, planners, developers, agencies that are working to provide affordable housing, those who own or manage land in proximity to transit infrastructure and those funding both important initiatives; as well as to create a community engaged wholistic housing and transit infrastructure plan;
  4. Targeted social financing tools to provide community housing providers with timely and affordable financing starting with pre-development, bridge financing for construction and equity investment for acquisitions.

A national approach​

Our lab partners and SI Canada envisage a new approach to Transit-Oriented Development that can deliver positive public outcomes, including affordability and inclusion. We believe the solution stands squarely at the intersection of policy and capital and could be structured to derive the most leverage from an investment of public dollars. A unified and aligned initiative can disrupt patterns of spiralling housing unaffordability, gentrification, and displacement with a three-pronged approach:

  • Knowledge resources, capacity-building and additive technical service provision for municipalities, community housing providers and purpose-driven developers;
  •  structured engagement process to support collaboration among stakeholders, to understand local needs and assets and develop an inclusive and integrated housing plan;
  • Application of proven social finance models for targeted investment in community housing in transit oriented development areas.


This multi-modal solution aims to create an impactful, sustainable, and perpetual solution to achieve the promise of Equitable Transit Oriented Development. Supporting the Lab’s confidence in this approach is a number of working examples of similar ETOAH and ETOD strategies in the United States. Lab partner, the Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative (CHEC) produced a research report examining the approach and its applicability to the Canadian context. See the resource below.

The Pilot

The ETOAH Pilot is designed to test the deployment of a simple revolving fund structure seeded with public funds, and financed with concessionary, below and at-market capital from public, philanthropic and private investors. Revolving funds are successfully used in multiple jurisdictions in the world for similar affordable housing projects.

The Lab participants have selected five real time projects to test the Fund against which, if successful, will result in more than 120 units of equitable transit oriented affordable housing.  The projects identified for investment specifically serve women fleeing violence, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals, as well as families experiencing homelessness. Barrier-free designs will support people with physical disabilities. We also anticipate that based on historical trends, these housing designs will accommodate racialized people, newcomers, and those with mental health and addiction issues.

We aim to have the Fund launched before the end of 2024 and will update this page with our progress.

The Vision

Our 5-year vision is the creation of a national Equitable Transit Oriented Affordable Housing entity that will create an innovative, collaborative framework for the alignment and deployment of relevant government funding programs with philanthropic institutions and investor interests to support the acceleration of transit-oriented community housing preservation and development in cities and regions across Canada.

As a result, more people of low and moderate income will have access to affordable housing options along transit and a safe and secure place to live. Their location along transit also allows them to thrive with the benefits of transit-oriented developments, including multi-modal access to jobs, neighbourhood-serving stores and support services.

Want to learn more about ETOAH and our pilot?

Resources

Financialization and Housing Lab Report 2021
Financialization and Housing Lab Report 2023
Hamilton TOAH Lab Challenge Brief
CHEC ETOAH Research Report
Hamilton TOAH Lab Interim Report
ETOAH Enterprise Backgrounder

This project received funding under the National Housing Strategy’s Solutions Labs Program. For more information visit www.cmhc.ca/SolutionsLabs

A number of CMHC employees took part in the lab as independent participants providing technical expertise and advice throughout the micro lab process. The views expressed are those of lab participants and should not be attributed to CMHC or to the Government of Canada.