On March 18 and 19, 2024, CIP representatives joined decision-makers from coast-to-coast-to-coast for Unlocking Solutions Together, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) 2024 National Housing Conference. This sold-out event provided an engaging forum to discuss emerging ideas and solutions to address the housing crisis.

Here are some of our key takeaways from the two days:

Innovation is Important

We can’t keep doing what we have been doing and expect a different result. To solve the housing crisis, we are going to need to be innovative because what we have been doing has not been working, or at least not working fast enough. This theme was picked up throughout the conference where participants and panelists alike underscored the importance of innovation in strengthening the housing system and increasing affordable supply.

In sharing the early success of the Housing Accelerator Fund, the Honourable Sean Fraser, Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities, identified the need to rethink not just where but how homes are built, and what that end product could look like.

Sessions like “Building Tomorrow: Robotics Revolutionizing Affordable Housing Construction,” led by Horizon Legacy, captured one way to transform this process – by making use of robotics similar to how much of the car manufacturing process has been automated.

The importance of upscaling modular and pre-fabricated construction was also stressed in “Changing the Way We Build: Construction and Implementation,” where it was suggested that factories with 24/7 building capabilities and environmental controls could fast-track and modernize the building of affordable, sustainable, and structurally robust housing to help meet federal targets. By building housing off-site, construction companies can work faster and cut down on production expenses – offering Canadians greater options for their families. But it goes beyond the building of physical dwellings and includes innovative ways to incentivize and use policy to achieve the housing starts we need.

The session “How Municipalities are Changing the Way We Build Housing” also featured innovative solutions to combatting the housing crisis, showcasing the programs and policies put forth by the Cities of Waterloo, Victoria, and Edmonton to build a greater variety of homes at a faster, more responsive rate.

Housing is lagging when it comes to innovation compared to other industries. Now is the time to take risks and think outside the cookie-cutter-single-family-home box.

The Climate Connection

The CMHC conference showed that decision-makers are working to achieve solutions that work for both people and the planet. Through “How Innovation is Driving the Perfect Trifecta: Housing Which is Affordable, Resilient to Climate Change and Aligned with Net-Zero Emissions,” attendees learned more about the co-efficiencies in tackling the housing and climate crises together. For example, by supporting net-zero and transit-oriented development, builders and communities can save on construction costs while increasing supply and reducing the carbon footprint at the same time.

The conference also challenged the notion that sprawl is the only way to provide for growing families, with density-driven measures such as infill, accessory dwelling units, townhouses, tri- and quadplexes, and “missing middle” development being recognized as better for our climate due to their gentle intensification, often on brownfield sites.

The Future of Housing Must Be Equitable

Another takeaway from the conference was the role of housing in shaping and sustaining equity and inclusion in our communities. In the plenary session “Building an Equitable Future: Innovations in Housing for Inclusive Communities,” panellists discussed the need for a human rights-based approach to planning to ensure we are building inclusive designs that reflect the needs and abilities of community members in a regionally and contextually-specific way.

Housing policy is also interconnected with reconciliation, making it critical for decision-makers to engage Indigenous Peoples in addressing the crisis. In his introductory remarks, Minister Fraser addressed the transformative power of Indigenous leadership in creating housing solutions for Indigenous communities, which can offer a more culturally aware alternative to traditional forms of housing development.

If we want to build homes for those most in need of adequate and affordable options, we need to engage them in the process to know what their needs are and how best to meet them first.

Unlocking Potential

Although the housing crisis continues to exert pressure on our cities and communities across the country, the greatest takeaway from CMHC’s Unlocking Solutions Together was that organizations from across the industry remain driven and determined to foster better outcomes for all – and solutions are there if we look for them and harness them. Minister Fraser recognized that to properly address housing challenges is to create places where everyone can reach their full potential, discarding the idea of a “one-size-fits-all” approach in favour of initiatives that recognize the diverse priorities of Canadians and their families. Powered by their appreciation for innovation, inclusivity, and sustainability, change-makers in Canada are already working to ensure that a brighter future starts at home.