Skip To Content

CMI Housing Affordability Watch: Looking Back to See the Way Forward – Part 1

1 November 2023

When looking at what could be done to improve housing, it’s helpful to revisit past efforts. This examination can offer valuable insights into potential policy recommendations, some of which may involve repackaging previously attempted policies from years ago.

During the 1970s Canada underwent a significant shift in housing policy orientation.  The shift entailed a substantial increase in government involvement in the housing sector, and reduced involvement in the private rental sector. At the same time, housing policy began to serve as a means for income distribution. This shift in policy coincided with the emerging view that housing was not merely a commodity but a fundamental right.

Prior to the 1970s, the federal government’s housing focus primarily revolved around programs operating through capital markets, rather than direct intervention through government ownership or assistance to low-income groups.

This policy shift across all government levels created a wholesale transformation in approach from supporting and enhancing the market system to direct intervention and regulation. Following the shift, federal and provincial housing policies took the form of:

  •  rental assistance and cash grants to home buyers 
  • rent controls
  • construction or subsidization of new dwellings for low-income households
  • changes to landlord and tenant legislation

Other policy changes from federal and provincial levels of government included:

  • new tax legislation and regulations
  • control on foreign investments and land speculation
  • anti-inflation regulations

At the municipal level, housing policies focused on:

  • height limitations
  • down zoning (changing the zoning regulations of an area from a more dense land use to a less dense land use)
  • building freezes

The policies implemented during the 1970s resulted in several long-term trends that have continued over the past fifty to sixty years. Notably, these trends include:

  • stimulating demand for homeownership
  • discouraging the private purpose built rental, and
  • replacing private rental housing with public or non-profit rental housing for low-income households

Today – sixty years later – we face a scenario where there’s a shortage of housing, home prices are unaffordable for many, and the regulatory system at the provincial and municipal levels discourages new development. Several of the proposed policy solutions currently under discussion are calling for policies that were tried in the 1970s.

According to CMHC, the housing crisis is too extensive for the federal government to resolve alone; it demands a collaborative effort from all stakeholders. A key item lacking in the policy framework is an investor segment that was prominent before the policy shift of the 1970s—small investors.

1 The note draws extensively from the monograph “Anatomy of Crisis: Canadian Housing Policies in the Seventies” by Lawrence B. Smith


Independent Opinion

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are solely and independently those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of any person or organization in any way affiliated with the author including, without limitation, any current or past employers of the author. While reasonable effort was taken to ensure the information and analysis in this publication is accurate, it has been prepared solely for general informational purposes. Any opinions, projections, or forward-looking statements expressed herein are solely those of the author. There are no warranties or representations being provided with respect to the accuracy and completeness of the content in this publication. Nothing in this publication should be construed as providing professional advice including investment advice on the matters discussed. The author does not assume any liability arising from any form of reliance on this publication. Readers are cautioned to always seek independent professional advice from a qualified professional before making any investment decisions.

Contact Us

Contact us today to set up an appointment.

    Thanks for contacting us! We will get in touch with you shortly.