It all started with a wicked problem and an ambitious goal.
In late 2011, the Mental Health Commission of Canada commissioned “Turning the Key,” a report designed to inform Canadians about the current housing and community support needs of people living with mental health challenges in Canada.
The report’s findings were clear: There are too many Canadians with mental health issues who cannot find homes. Hundreds of thousands of our neighbours are inadequately housed, and 119,000 of our fellow citizens who face mental health challenges are homeless.
There is a powerful moral and economic imperative for action. Canadians with mental health challenges can face grim living conditions, including chronic health challenges, extensive use of emergency rooms and greater risk of imprisonment. The economic cost is unsustainable. Collectively, we are accumulating hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity, increased healthcare costs and remedial costs (such as for prisons).
An ambitious goal: 100,000 housing units over 10 years
It is clearly a wicked problem, and the solutions are relatively simple. We need to create affordable housing for individuals living with mental health issues, while also ensuring that adequate income supports are available for this type of housing. The report set an ambitious goal: developing and funding 100,000 supportive housing units and related supports over the next 10 years. A monumental commitment of policy, capital and sheer determination is required to meet this objective.
One pre-determined pathway to support this objective is social finance.
The Social Finance Working Group
A number of supportive housing providers in Canada struck a Social Finance Working Group in the spring of 2012 to explore social finance opportunities in the supportive housing sector. The objective of their Blended Financing for Impact project was to provide a clear pathway for supportive housing providers to learn about and engage in alternative methods of financing for improving and developing new dedicated housing units in Canada. The project was co-ordinated by the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and Housing Services Corporation, and was led by a number of supportive housing providers and mental health organizations in Canada.
The Blended Financing for Impact report:
So why is social finance relevant for supportive housing?
There are a number of factors that drive interest in social finance.
What are potential actions?
The report outlines 10 priority actions (and a comprehensive list of other actions) for all levels of government, housing providers and potential investors to expand capital availability, allow for scaling and sharing of successful models, increase financial capacity and expertise for governments and providers, decrease operating and capital costs, and increase the ability of housing providers to earn revenues, without significant financial impact to government treasuries or the bottom line of community organizations.
Some examples of priority actions follow.
If you would like to learn more, please visit SocialFinance.ca to access the project toolkit.