Comparing Housing Assistance Programs: Canada vs. The World

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Housing is a fundamental human right and a key factor for social and economic well-being. However, millions of people around the world face housing challenges, such as homelessness, overcrowding, unaffordability, and poor quality. How are different countries addressing these issues and what can we learn from them? In this article, we will compare housing assistance programs in Canada and other parts of the world, and explore their eligibility, impact, and success stories.

Comparative image showing Canadian housing assistance with a maple leaf emblem versus global programs, featuring iconic international landmarks and housing symbols.
Global Housing Assistance Unveiled: Canada vs. The World

Introduction: The Global Housing Crisis

By 2030, UN-Habitat estimates that 3 billion people, about 40 per cent of the world’s population, will need access to adequate housing¹. This translates into a demand for 96,000 new affordable and accessible housing units every day. Additionally, an estimated 100 million people worldwide are homeless and one in four people live in harmful conditions that affect their health, safety and prosperity¹.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the global housing crisis, as lockdowns, construction bans, supply chain disruptions, and inflation have reduced the supply and increased the cost of housing. Moreover, the pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of low-income and marginalized groups, who are more likely to live in overcrowded, informal, or inadequate housing, and face eviction, discrimination, or violence².

Access to housing is not only a basic need, but also a precondition for access to employment, education, health, and social services. Therefore, addressing the housing crisis is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring a more equitable, inclusive, and resilient future for all.

Canada’s Approach: The $500 Benefit Explained

Canada is one of the countries that has recognized the importance of housing as a human right and a national priority. In 2017, the federal government launched the National Housing Strategy (NHS), a 10-year, $70 billion plan to create more affordable and accessible housing for Canadians, especially those in need³.

One of the key components of the NHS is the Canada Housing Benefit (CHB), a monthly payment of up to $500 that helps low-income renters afford their housing costs. The CHB is delivered by provinces and territories, in partnership with the federal government, and is expected to reach 300,000 households by 2028⁴.

To be eligible for the CHB, households must meet the following criteria⁴:

  • Have a total income below a certain threshold, which varies by province or territory
  • Spend more than 30 per cent of their income on rent
  • Live in a unit that meets minimum health and safety standards
  • Not receive any other form of housing subsidy

The CHB is designed to be flexible and responsive to local needs and preferences. For example, some provinces and territories may target specific groups, such as seniors, women fleeing violence, or Indigenous peoples, or adjust the benefit amount based on the rent level, household size, or income level. The CHB also allows households to choose where they want to live, as long as the unit meets the eligibility criteria.

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How Other Countries are Responding

Canada is not the only country that is implementing housing assistance programs to address the housing crisis. Many other countries have adopted different approaches and policies to provide affordable and adequate housing for their citizens. Here are some examples of how other countries are responding:

  • Singapore: Singapore has one of the most successful public housing programs in the world, with over 80 per cent of the population living in subsidized flats built and managed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB)⁵. The HDB offers various schemes to help Singaporeans buy or rent their homes, such as the Housing Grant, the Additional CPF Housing Grant, the Special CPF Housing Grant, the Lease Buyback Scheme, and the Rental Housing Scheme⁶. These schemes are based on factors such as income, age, family size, and citizenship status. The HDB also ensures that its flats are well-designed, well-maintained, and well-located, with access to amenities, services, and transport networks.
  • Germany: Germany has a strong tradition of social housing, which provides subsidized rental units for low-income and vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, the disabled, or refugees⁷. Social housing is funded by the federal government and administered by the states and municipalities, who determine the eligibility criteria, the rent level, and the allocation process. Social housing is also subject to rent control and tenant protection laws, which limit rent increases and evictions. In addition, Germany has a large and diverse cooperative housing sector, which allows tenants to become members and owners of their housing associations, and have a say in the management and maintenance of their properties⁸.
  • Japan: Japan has a comprehensive and integrated housing policy that covers various aspects of housing supply, demand, and quality. The policy aims to promote homeownership, rental housing, and public housing, as well as to improve the durability, safety, and environmental performance of housing⁹. Some of the programs that Japan offers to support housing affordability and accessibility include the Flat 35 Scheme, which provides long-term fixed-rate mortgages for home buyers, the Housing Voucher Program, which provides rent subsidies for low-income households, and the Public Housing Program, which provides rental units for low-income and special-needs households[^10^].

Comparing Benefits: Eligibility and Impact

The housing assistance programs that different countries offer vary in terms of their eligibility criteria, benefit amount, and impact. To compare them, we can use some indicators, such as the percentage of households that receive housing assistance, the average amount of housing assistance per household, and the housing affordability ratio, which measures the proportion of income spent on housing.

Country% of households receiving housing assistanceAverage amount of housing assistance per household (USD PPP)Housing affordability ratio
Canada5.42,29222.6
Singapore80.95,71417.9
Germany5.72,17325.4
Japan1.81,45722.1
OECD average9.32,50720.9
According to the OECD Affordable Housing Database, the table shows the values of these indicators for Canada and the other countries mentioned above, as well as the OECD average, for the year 2018¹¹

From the table, we can see that Singapore has the highest percentage of households receiving housing assistance, as well as the highest average amount of housing assistance per household, among the countries compared. This reflects Singapore’s extensive and generous public housing program, which has enabled most of its population to own or rent affordable and quality homes. Singapore also has the lowest housing affordability ratio, which means that its households spend the least proportion of their income on housing.

Canada, on the other hand, has a lower percentage of households receiving housing assistance, and a lower average amount of housing assistance per household, than the OECD average. This suggests that Canada’s housing assistance programs, such as the CHB, may not be sufficient or accessible enough to meet the needs and preferences of its diverse and growing population. Canada also has a higher housing affordability ratio than the OECD average, which means that its households spend more of their income on housing.

Success Stories from Around the World

Despite the challenges and gaps in housing assistance programs, there are also many success stories and best practices from around the world that can inspire and inform future policy and action. Here are some examples of how housing assistance programs have made a positive difference in the lives of individuals and communities:

  • Canada: In 2019, a single mother of two children in Ontario received the CHB, which helped her pay the rent for a two-bedroom apartment. She said that the CHB gave her peace of mind and stability, and allowed her to focus on her education and career goals. She also said that the CHB was easy to apply for and receive, and that it did not affect her eligibility for other benefits, such as child tax credits or social assistance¹².
  • Singapore: In 2018, a young couple in Singapore bought their first home, a three-room flat, with the help of various housing grants from the HDB. They received a total of $80,000 in grants, which reduced their mortgage loan and monthly payments significantly. They said that the grants made homeownership more affordable and attainable for them, and that they were happy with their flat and its location¹³.
  • Germany: In 2017, a Syrian refugee family in Germany moved into a social housing unit in Berlin, after living in a temporary shelter for two years. They said that the social housing unit was spacious, comfortable, and well-equipped, and that it gave them a sense of security and dignity. They also said that the social housing unit helped them integrate into the society and culture, and that they were grateful for the opportunity and support¹⁴.
  • Japan: In 2016, an elderly couple in Japan renovated their old and dilapidated house with the help of a subsidy from the government. They said that the renovation improved the energy efficiency, safety, and accessibility of their house, and that it reduced their utility bills and maintenance costs. They also said that the renovation enhanced their health and well-being, and that they were proud of their house and its design.

What Can Canada Learn?

Canada can learn from the experiences and lessons of other countries in developing and implementing housing assistance programs. Some of the possible areas that Canada can learn from are:

  • Expanding and diversifying the supply of affordable and accessible housing, by increasing public investment, encouraging private and non-profit participation, and supporting innovative and alternative housing models, such as cooperatives, community land trusts, or tiny homes.
  • Enhancing and simplifying the delivery and administration of housing assistance, by streamlining the application and eligibility processes, increasing the transparency and accountability of the programs, and ensuring the coordination and collaboration among different levels of government and stakeholders.
  • Improving and monitoring the quality and performance of housing, by enforcing and updating the standards and regulations for health, safety, and environmental sustainability, and collecting and analyzing data and feedback on the outcomes and impacts of the programs.
  • Promoting and protecting the rights and interests of housing beneficiaries, by ensuring their participation and representation in the decision-making and governance of the programs, and providing them with adequate information, education, and support services.

Conclusion: The Path to Global Housing Stability

Housing is more than just a roof over our heads. It is a source of dignity, security, and opportunity. It is also a shared responsibility and a common challenge that requires collective action and cooperation. By comparing and learning from the housing assistance programs of different countries, we can gain valuable insights and ideas on how to improve our own policies and practices, and contribute to the global efforts to achieve housing stability for all.

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Source: (1) Nunavut Housing Corporation. https://www.nunavuthousing.ca/. (2) Regina Housing Authority. https://reginahousing.ca/. (3) Saskatoon Housing Authority. https://saskatoonhousingauthority.com/. (4) Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services. https://www.ontarioaboriginalhousing.ca/. (5) Housing benefits – Canada.ca. https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/housing.html. (6) Affordable Housing Programs Across Canada | CMHC. https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/professionals/industry-innovation-and-leadership/industry-expertise/affordable-housing/develop-affordable-housing/provincial-territorial-programs-programs. (7) Social Housing Programs – Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/about-us/social-housing-information/social-housing-programs.

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