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The Challenge of Safe and Affordable Housing in Canada

Source: Health Canada website and Media Photo Gallery, Health Canada, Reproduced with the permission of the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2006.
A growing number of Canadians have incomes so low that there is not enough money after paying the rent or mortgage to buy necessary food, let alone transportation and basic phone service. Low income and unaffordable rent are major contributing factors to unstable housing and place families at risk of homelessness.

The unpredictability of rising utility costs can cause unanticipated demands for money and divert resources away from food, transportation, clothing, health and education.[1] Many people with low incomes cannot afford to keep electrical service or to pay heat costs in the coldest months. [2]

People with low socio-economic status are more likely to be exposed to housing health risk  and less likely to be aware of the risk and less able to address or avoid the risks.

Low income families are twice as likely to live in shared, crowded, rented or sub-standard housing.They are also more likely to live near high traffic corridors or in unsafe neighbourhoods. All of these pose psychological and physical risks to health, especially to children.[3] Acute and chronic respiratory problems because of over-crowding or contaminants such as mold and mildew are more common in poor housing as are exposure to lead and asbestos.[18] Injury, malnutrition, sleep deprivation, behavioral problems, and lower school performance are all more common when children are living in housing that is compromised.[Shillington R.][6] Inadequate housing can also have a negative impact on parent-child relationships and leave parents less involved and less responsive to the needs of their children.[4][6]

The three family types with the highest rates of poverty are all unattached women or families headed by single women, these are the people who will have the greatest challenges when choices need to be made between shelter, heat and food.[7][8]

When families live in unaffordable housing, they are at greater risk of being forced to move multiple times.  This can have detrimental effects on child development.  Research indicates that children who move more than three times in their lifetime are more likely to have problem behaviours, repeat a grade and have lower math scores than children who have not moved. Social supports are also affected when families move frequently.  Without stable and secure housing, children can lose important connections with family, friends and their community. [9]


1. Child and Youth Health Network for Eastern Ontario (2003). Adequate and Affordable Housing: A Child Health Issue.

2. Child and Youth Health Network of Eastern Ontario and Determinants of Health Working Group. March 2000. The Challenges Our Children Face: Are we building healthy communities? Is there room for improvement? A report card on Child Poverty in Renfrew.

3. Cooper M (January 2001.) Housing Affordability: A Children's Issue. Canadian Policy Research Networks Discussion paper. Available:

4. Canadian Council on Social Development. (May 2000). Housing Canada's Children. Ottawa: Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

6. Canadian Institute of Child Health (2000). The Health of Canada?s Children: A CICH profile (3rd ed.). Ottawa: Author.

7. Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. Fact Sheet: Women and poverty. 2005. Available at: Accessed July 2005

8. Watt J, Dickey M, Grakist D. Middle Childhood Matters: A Framework to Promote Healthy Development of Children 6 to 12.]

9. Beauvais C, Jenson J. (March 2003). The well-being of children : “are there neighbourhood effects“? Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks Inc.

18. Ross DP, Roberts P. Income and child Well-being: A New Perspective on the Poverty Debate, Canadian Council on Social Development, 1999.

All references for this section