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Toward a Better Understanding of Housing Vulnerability

Date created
Author: Zhu, Yushu
Author: Holden, Meg
Author: Han, Piao
Author: Kim, Steve
Housing vulnerability is a complex and elusive concept. In this report, we draw upon a scoping review and partner consultation to provide a systematic review of vulnerability associated with housing in the Canadian context. We identify five conceptual approaches to housing vulnerability. They can be differentiated based on different treatments of: • entities considered to be vulnerable;• risk factors of vulnerability;• ability to respond to vulnerability;• outcomes of vulnerability. Most studies of housing vulnerability in our review take an outcome-based approach, examining substandard housing outcomes, such as homelessness and severe housing deprivation. These studies expose both the systemic failures and individual deficiencies that drive vulnerability. The second category of approach is a risk-based approach to vulnerability. Research in this category treats poor housing conditions as indicators of the inability of households or communities to manage explicitly identified vulnerability risk factors or events that may affect them negatively in the future, such as natural hazards, food insecurity, or health risk factors. Thirdly, the household financial vulnerability model takes a similar risk-based approach, but its empirical focus is on the risks to households from their financial situation related to housing. Neither risk-based nor financial vulnerability-based approaches do an effective job of treating the outcomes that may result from these risk factors. Fourth, the capabilities approach incorporates housing vulnerability as a component of social vulnerability writ large, where social vulnerability of any kind is understood as a deficit in the freedoms and opportunities to pursue desired well-being outcomes. This approach emphasizes a composite measure of social vulnerability that takes vulnerability from housing situations into account. While appealing in offering a specific conceptualization of the human cost of housing vulnerability, negative capabilities outcomes are often poorly measured. Another strand of literature in economics distinguishes itself from other approaches by looking at the vulnerability of the housing market to economic shocks or risks. This strand is only treated in a summary way in this review. In consultation with our CHC partners on how they view their own understandings of housing vulnerability within this framework, there was recognition of each of the identified approaches. The most common affinity was with the outcome-based approach. However, our partners also pointed out that existing concepts and measures of "housing" and "vulnerability" should take the multi-faceted manifestations of vulnerability into account. The consultation highlighted the importance of re-conceptualizing housing in order to address housing vulnerability in both research and practice. Specifically, consulted partners agree that residential autonomy (i.e., choice or control over residential space), accessibility, social capital, social connectedness, cultural appropriateness, and intersectionality should be taken into account when defining housing vulnerability or the right to housing. There is also a strong consensus that housing vulnerability, despite its various definitions, stems from systemic failures rather than any individual deficiency. Beyond housing precarity, housing vulnerability brings with it a wide range of financial, social, and environmental costs along with the trauma inflicted on households living in this state. Based on our reviews and consultations, we offer a starting point for a policy research position to guide Community Housing Canada's common work. Namely, alongside housing policy analysis, research that identifies specific negative outcomes and associated risk factors of housing vulnerability is needed for effective rights-based housing policy in Canada.
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