New lab aims to expand affordable housing in Edmonton

The Affordable Housing Solutions Lab at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Science will strive to create local affordable housing solutions.

Katie Willis - 16 June 2020

Nearly 2,000 Edmontonians experienced homelessness in January 2020, according to Homeward Trust Edmonton. Sixty-three per cent of these individuals are Indigenous, and half are between the ages of 25 and 44. In 2019, roughly 6,000 Edmonton households were on the affordable housing waitlist, according to a recent report by the Edmonton Social Planning Council. These figures point to the severe shortage of affordable housing in Edmonton. 

“Safe, adequate, and affordable housing is pivotal to a healthy and vibrant city; it is critical to the flourishing of individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities,” said Joshua Evans, assistant professor in the University of Alberta’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Evans is co-lead of the The Affordable Housing Solutions Lab (AHSL), alongside fellow co-lead Leo Wong from MacEwan University

A new lab is dedicated to the co-creation of innovative affordable housing solutions in Edmonton, Alberta, and beyond. Funded by the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Community Development Company, the AHSL involves scientists from the University of Alberta and MacEwan University, program and policy leaders from the City of Edmonton, and representation from the community.

“Our vision is to act as a catalyst for expanding the supply, diversity, and accessibility of housing choices in Edmonton, Alberta, and beyond. At present, we have two specific objectives: raise awareness of the need for and right to housing; and research innovations in affordable housing,” said Evans. 

The AHSL takes a community-based, participatory approach to research, which means that it includes community members, people with lived experience, urban planners and professionals working within social housing organizations, and scientists. “We work in partnership with a diverse group of housing stakeholders to collectively generate and scale up transformational housing solutions suited to the specific needs of individuals, families, and neighbourhoods in Edmonton,” said Evans.

The Pivot, the AHSL’s first initiative, is a two-year research program that will convene research and innovation teams to prototype and evaluate affordable housing innovations. 

“Our most important collaborator will be the Edmonton community,” said Evans. “Community is a key dimension of the entire endeavor. Part of this work will be engaging faculty and students at the University of Alberta and MacEwan University as well as stakeholders at other post-secondary institutions in Edmonton.” 

"The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly illustrated the critical role that housing plays in ensuring the health and safety of individuals, their communities and the city as a whole," said Hani Quan, acting director of Affordable Housing and Homelessness at the City of Edmonton. "It will take a collective effort to address the shortage of affordable and supportive housing. The City is proud to support and fund the Affordable Housing Solutions Lab and to work together to ensure all Edmontonians have the safety and stability that housing provides."

Collaborators on this project include Laura Murphy from the University of Alberta, as well as Rhea Kachroo from MacEwan University. This spring, the AHSL will host a series of workshops on various aspects of affordable housing, with the aim of identifying innovations to evaluate and prototype in the city. To learn more about the workshops, visit the AHSL website.