Glossary

This glossary provides definitions for various terms as used in this website.  It was originally prepared through funding provided by the Wellesley Institute.

‘Inclusionary housing’ refers to a broad range of practices and policies directed at securing affordable housing mixed into market developments through the pro-active use of the development regulations and approval process. The most notable and effective examples are inclusionary zoning as practised in the US, and ‘planning gain’ as practised across England. Various inclusionary housing practices have been used in Canada, but none have achieved the sustained productivity of the programs in the US or Britain.

‘Inclusionary zoning’ refers to the particular set of practices and policies used in the inclusionary programs in the US.  Put another way, it might be described as “American-style” inclusionary housing. Although the programs there all vary somewhat in their details, they all conform to the same and recognizable overall model. There are no corresponding programs in this country.

‘Affordability controls’ refer to the restrictions used to protect the affordability of the affordable units, including specifically affordable ownership units. In the latter case, these controls deal with the selling price, resales process, income limits, and other related matters. The controls are maintained through legal instruments registered on the title of the property, such as restrictive covenants, second mortgages, ground leases and rights to purchase.

‘Affordable housing’ refers to rental and ownership housing that is provided at a below-market price or rent through some government involvement, and that is subject to enduring controls on its affordability and occupancy. It encompasses conventional social housing typically provided through government assistance, and also affordable rental and ownership housing provided by regulatory concessions or incentives associated with a inclusionary housing program.

‘Affordable ownership housing’ refers to ownership housing provided at a price below the market price for the equivalent market units. This reduced price is typically achieved through regulatory concessions or incentives, and is locked in a way that ensures that affordability is passed on to succeeding buyers for long or permanent period of time.

‘Area median income’ is the yardstick used universally across the US when setting the price or rent thresholds and determining the income eligibility for affordable housing. For example, the price of the units might be set at a price affordable at 80%, 100% or 120% of the area median income, depending upon the housing conditions in any particular jurisdiction.

‘Below-market housing’ is another way of referring to affordable housing. It more explicitly expresses the most fundamental characteristic of this housing – namely, that is provided at a price or rent that is below the market rate for that housing. Although technically this would include social housing, it more generally is only used with regard to affordable housing for households not eligible for social housing, but also not able to afford new market housing. In that way, it refers to the same housing as ‘gap housing’ or ‘workforce housing’.

‘Community land trusts’ are independent community-based organizations established to hold land and protect it in perpetuity. There are trusts dedicated to providing affordable housing, and others to protecting natural or environmental resources. The housing trusts typically use a shared-equity model to provide housing at an affordable rate and to protect its long-term affordability. Under this model, the trust sells the structure, but continues to own the land, which it leases at a nominal rate to the homebuyer.

‘Cost Offsets’ refers to the concessions offered by municipalities to cover the costs incurred by developers in providing the affordable units through inclusionary programs. These typically come out of concessions related to the regulatory process, and might include density increases, fee waivers, and regulatory relief of various kinds. Notably, the cost offsets do not include financial subsidies or property tax relief.

‘Fees-in-lieu’ are allowed in many inclusionary programs as an alternative to providing the affordable housing. The fees collected are used to support the provision of affordable housing in other ways.

‘Gap housing’ is affordable housing specifically for the large and growing number of households with relatively good-paying jobs that fall into the gap between government-assisted and market housing. In other words, they are unable to obtain new housing because they earn too much to be eligible for social housing, but too little to afford new housing provided by the private sector. Inclusionary programs in the US in the main targetted this particular need.

‘Key workers’ is a term coming out England.  It refers to certain designated classes of essential public-sector workers (like teachers and firefighters) that are eligible for special housing assistance because they are unable to afford housing in the high-priced urban markets in which they work.

‘Permanent affordability’ refers to the principle of controlling the affordability of the affordable units so that their price or rent remains affordable to the targeted households for a long period of time. The term is widely accepted and used in the US with regard to affordable ownership housing specifically. In the inclusionary programs there, it is generally taken to mean at least 30 years, but increasingly for perpetuity or the life of the building.

‘Restrictive covenants’ are the legal instrument used across the US to register the enduring affordability controls on the title of the affordable ownership units. Due to the differences in how common law has evolved in the two countries, this instrument is not available for this purpose here. BC has addressed this hurdle by authorizing the use of ‘housing agreements’ – a form of positive covenant – to impose the equivalent controls in that province.

‘Shared-equity housing’ refers to affordable ownership housing in which the local government (or some other organization committed to preserving affordable housing) maintains an equity stake (like 25%) in the property. It serves two purposes: a way of protecting the long-term affordability of the unit, and a way of reducing the cost of home purchase because the buyer acquires only the other partial stake in the housing unit.

’Workforce housing’ is the same as ‘gap housing’. It is a term coming of the US that refers to housing – mainly, but not necessarily, ownership – for families with relatively good-paying jobs, but left out of the private market by rising house prices.  Put another way, it also often seen as serving those households that earn too much to be eligible for social housing, but too little to afford new market housing.  Inclusionary programs in many jurisdictions are an important way of providing for workforce housing.
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