Publications, opinions, and speeches


Modernizing core housing need: Why the key indicator in Canadian housing policy needs a refresh

Published on 06/03/2023

In Canada, the federal government and its agencies use a concept called core housing need to measure how many people face challenges finding housing that is affordable, adequate, or suitable. Housing is considered unaffordable when it costs 30 per cent or more of before-tax household income, inadequate when it needs major repairs, and unsuitable when there aren’t enough rooms to fit the size and make-up of the family.

Core housing need is not just a theoretical concept or rule of thumb: it has practical implications for people, too. Core housing need is increasingly being used in housing policy—to measure progress against the federal government’s National Housing Strategy and to determine eligibility for housing programs for people with lower incomes.

With its prominent use, it would be reasonable to assume that core housing need shows an accurate picture of Canadians’ housing cost burdens and the quality of our housing stock. Yet, upon closer examination, the measure is disconnected from reality.

In our new report, “Modernizing core housing need: Why the key indicator in Canadian housing policy needs a refresh,” we take a deep dive into what core housing need means, what it measures, and how it stacks up against best practices. We also examine how Canada has changed since core housing need was initially created. In addition, we discuss how the involvement of provincial, territorial, and local governments in housing policy has complicated the design and application of programs targeting people in housing need, with programs often working at odds with each other for competing purposes.

Taken together, our analysis demonstrates that the current definition and use of core housing need does not always reflect the realities people face. It also should be updated to align with a human rights-based approach to adequate housing, as set out in the National Housing Strategy Act, 2019.

Based on an examination of the strengths and limitations of core housing need, including where and when it may be appropriate to use in policy, we conclude by providing recommendations to the federal government to give core housing need a much-needed refresh.


Housing and homelessness


The report finds that the main statistical indicator upon which Canada builds its housing policy—core housing need—does not show an accurate picture of housing need in this country.