What is meant by “affordable housing”?

This term is used to refer to housing that is provided permanently at a below-market rent or price so that it is affordable to moderate- and low-income households that cannot find suitable market-rate housing.

This housing is made available only to income-eligible households  — namely, those earning below maximum income limits that are commensurate with the below-market rent or price.

It is also subject to legal controls that ensure that the housing will remain affordable for a very long time, if not permanently.

This definition is meant to encompass conventional social housing typically provided through government financial subsidies.    But it also includes both rental and ownership housing for households earning too much to be eligible for social housing, but too little to affordable new  market housing.  In the case of  inclusionary zoning, this housing is typically provided through regulatory concessions, and not financial subsidies.

This approach to defining affordable housing is commonly used across the US, but not widely in Canada.   Unfortunately, in this country (and much to our own confusion) the term is defined in widely disparate ways.  For example, Toronto’s OP definition bears no resemblance to Ontario’s official definition — the former essentially is narrowed targeted to social housing, while the latter generously includes “low-end-of-market” housing.

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