Strong Foundations: Building Community through Improved Rental Housing Data

Catherine Leviten-Reid, Bridget Horel, Rebecca Matthew, Fred Deveaux, Peggy Vassallo


We examine limitations to extant data available to researchers and community developers on affordable rental housing, particularly as they pertain to smaller geographies. Drawing upon extensive, community-engaged research conducted in Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia, we find that 43% of rentals are in the secondary market (i.e., structures such as duplexes and accessory apartments), although data are not collected on this housing type on the part of government. We also find that most rents do not include all utilities, meaning that extant data present a partial view of housing costs. In addition, we examine how the inclusion of additional variables (e.g., utility costs, accessibility and targeting of the stock) and housing types—namely rooming houses—may contribute to a more robust understanding of rental housing in our communities. Data show that rooming houses are the most affordable source of market-based housing, and that landlords commonly target their units to particular renters, such as seniors and families. Less than 3% of rentals are accessible, and these units have higher shelter costs, despite an aging population.

Keywords: rental housing, affordable housing, secondary rental market, housing policy, poverty, Nova Scotia

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.