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One Window Access to Affordable Housing in Calgary

Our community will leverage technology and partnerships to radically improve how low- and moderate-income Calgarians access the affordable housing that they need. Through a coordinated intake process across over 60 organizations, we will improve the experience for Calgarians needing access to affordable housing so that more people can be efficiently and successfully housed.

Why is this an ambitious idea?

90,000 Calgary households (1 in 5) are in need of affordable housing, meaning that they earn less than $60,000 per year and spend more than 30% of their income on shelter costs. Currently, there is no single place where these Calgarians can go to find transparent information about their options or apply for affordable housing.

There are over 60 independent non-profit organizations operating affordable rental housing in Calgary. Most of these providers have different eligibility criteria and siloed intake processes, which for the most part are heavily paper-based or reliant on inadequate technology systems. At least 36 different organizations maintain a waitlist, and the extent of duplication across these lists is unknown. Many clients do not know about their options, while others spend significant time and effort to complete multiple application processes with different providers. Several social service organizations have created full-time “housing locator” positions just to help clients navigate this complex system. In 2016, The City of Calgary completed a current state assessment through extensive engagement with affordable housing providers, other social service agencies, and tenants and applicants. This engagement confirmed that the process of finding affordable housing is difficult, time intensive, and traumatic for citizens.

A coordinated intake process for affordable housing has been repeatedly identified as a priority by community initiatives and plans over the years, including Enough For All: The Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative, Calgary’s Updated Plan to End Homelessness, and the Community Housing Affordability Collective’s Prioritized Action Plan. This project is also identified in The City’s Corporate Affordable Housing Strategy as well as in the Government of Alberta's Provincial Affordable Housing Strategy.

How do we measure the effectiveness of this idea?

Implementation of a One Window coordinated intake process for affordable housing would substantially improve access for all Calgarians to appropriate, affordable housing that meets their needs. This approach would create a centralized system that is client-centered and easy to navigate, removing systemic barriers to entry, increasing transparency, and ensuring that Calgary’s affordable housing is effectively utilized to meet clients’ basic needs. As a secondary benefit, a centralized system would remove duplication and create significant efficiencies for affordable housing providers through automation and integration of resource-intensive processes. Additionally, a common intake system would make possible for the first time a single, centralized waitlist for housing in Calgary, which would generate new citywide data and analytics on housing need and supply to inform future policy decisions. Making affordable housing easier to access for all Calgarians who need it will ultimately contribute to a more equitable and inclusive city for everyone.

How is this idea attainable through the use of technology or data?

A shared technology solution would centralize all aspects of the housing application across housing providers, from the initial client screening through to matching each person with a home. From a client perspective, this would create a single application process, with all sharing of data across stakeholder organizations taking place on the back end. There are opportunities to leverage technology to make this system easily accessible to clients through multiple channels, which could include one or more staffed offices, a self-serve online portal, decentralized kiosks, or a mobile app, to meet the diverse needs of applicants.

This project is attainable because government and non-profit partners are already collaborating to lay the groundwork for a future state system. The City of Calgary and the Government of Alberta have collectively committed $1.3M since 2016 to support scoping, planning, and detailed design for the future One Window coordinated intake process. The City is currently working with housing providers and other community partners to gather requirements for a new IT system and determining a viable operating model and governance structure for a future state solution. However, a funding source to build and/or operate a future One Window housing intake system has not yet been identified.

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Submission No. 162