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Supportive Housing: Neighbourhood Fears and Realities

Author Sharon Hill et al.

Year of Publication


Subject Area

Neighbourhood opinions about supportive housing




Report - 44 pages, including four appendices

Funding Agency/Source

Program in Planning, University of Toronto

Primary Objectives

The objectives of the research were threefold:
  • to solicit neighbourhood opinion about a variety of issues after supportive housing was built;
  • to make comparisons between the three projects surveyed; and
  • to compare results of the survey with a previous Supportive Housing Coalition (SHC) case study in 1991.


Three of the 34 operating Supportive Housing projects in Toronto were selected for the research - Landsdowne Avenue, Kingston Road and Queen Street East. The three apartments were chosen because of their differences in design and location. They were located in areas of mixed commercial, single family and multi-family neighbourhoods.

Face-to-face interviews were carried out with residents located close to and near the buildings. It was decided that residents located closest to the building may have greater sensitivity to impacts and, therefore, they were sampled at a higher rate. Those residents living within 30 metres of the buildings are defined as "inner ring", and those between 30 and 120 metres from the buildings are defined as "outer ring. The following residents were surveyed:

  • Landsdowne - inner ring n = 2 1; "outer ring" n = 89;
  • Queen - inner ring n = 3; "outer ring" n = 46; and
  • Kingston - inner ring n = 45; "outer ring" n = 74.

The survey asked questions about a number of issues regarding:
  • neighbourhood quality of life;
  • familiarity with SHC buildings;
  • design of SHC buildings;
  • external features such as parking;
  • noise or disruptions associated with the SHC building;
  • safety concerns;
  • familiarity with SHC tenants; and
  • general household characteristics.

Key Findings, Conclusions

The study gave a brief description of the three Supportive Housing Coalition projects. Kingston Road was assumed by SHC and, therefore, received little resistance at time of occupancy. Queen Street East included an extensive door-to-door consultation prior to occupancy and received almost no opposition. Landsdowne Avenue received the greatest amount of opposition in the planning stage.

The research identified a number of issues:

  • only 55 per cent of inner ring and 30 per cent of outer ring residents were familiar with the SHC building, leading to the conclusion that the SHC building was not seen as distinctive;
  • nearly 75 per cent of residents did not recall seeing anyone from the buildings, and over 90 per cent did not know anyone in the SHC buildings, suggesting that tenants have a low profile in the neighbourhood;
  • eighty-five per cent of respondents reported no problems with noise or disruption associated with SHC buildings;
  • eighty-one per cent of all respondents expressed no concerns for safety in their neighbourhoods as a result of the existing SHC buildings;
  • over 70 per cent of respondents gave positive responses about the attractiveness of the SHC building;
  • there was inconclusive evidence whether the existence of the SHC buildings caused parking problems in the neighbourhood;
  • only 3 per cent of all respondents felt that the building maintenance was inadequate; and
  • the presence of SHC buildings did not appear to negatively influence quality of life.

The report concludes with a list of recommendations to increase community acceptance of social housing projects. These include:
  • ensuring a high level of building maintenance;
  • renovating existing buildings seems to develop good neighbour relations with the community, since the building is already somewhat established; and
  • paying attention to location and design since they are key factors. Edge locations were found to elicit a more neutral response from neighbours since they may be perceived to be not in a particular neighbourhood. Design features which are sometimes overlooked are location on the block, building orientation on the lot, the placement of exits and entrances, and distribution of open play space.

Applicability for British Columbians

This study has particular relevance to urban areas. Non-market housing projects are often located in mixed land use areas. These urban areas offer access to transit, shopping and lower property values.

The case study approach is one which could be easily duplicated in British Columbia. Information has been gathered on a project-by-project basis and gives some background information of individual neighbourhoods.

Other Comments

The report, although well presented, has one shortcoming. The projects selected were ones with design or location merits and therefore are not the best examples for NIMBY research. Two of three projects had had very little community opposition and, therefore, conclusions about the strategies for overcoming NIMBY at the pre-approvals could not be drawn.

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