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Social Science Social Classes

Our Crumbling Foundation

How We Solve Canada's Housing Crisis

by (author) Gregor Craigie

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Mar 2024
Social Classes, Social Policy, Urban & Regional
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    Publish Date
    Mar 2024
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An urgent and illuminating examination of the unrelenting housing crisis Canadians find ourselves facing, by Balsillie Prize finalist and CBC Radio host Gregor Craigie, Our Crumbling Foundation offers real-life solutions from around the world and hope for new housing innovation in the face of seemingly impossible obstacles.

Canada is experiencing a housing shortage. Although house prices in major Canadian cities appear to have topped out in early 2023, new housing isn’t coming onto the market quickly enough. Rising interest rates have only tightened the pressure on buyers, and renters, too, as rising mortgage rates cost landlords more, which are passed along to tenants in rent increases. Even with the recent federal budget commitment to bring more housing online by 2030, there will still be a shortfall of 3.5 million homes by 2030.

Gregor Craigie is a CBC journalist in Victoria, one of the highest-priced housing markets in the country. On his daily radio show On The Island he's been talking for over 15 years to local experts and to those across the country about housing. Craigie has travelled to many of the places he profiles in the book, and in his interviews with Canadians he presents the human face of the shortfall as he speaks with renters, owners and homeless people, exploring their varying predicaments and perspectives. He then shows, through comparable profiles of people across the globe, how other North American and international jurisdictions (Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Helsinki, Singapore, Ireland, to name a few) are housing their citizens better, faster and with determination—solutions that could be put into practice here.

With passion, knowledge and vigour, Craigie explains how Canada reached this critical impasse and will convince those who may not yet recognize how badly our entire country is in need of change. Our Crumbling Foundation provides hope for finding our way out of the crisis by recommending a number of approaches at all levels of government. The prescription for how we’re going to house ourselves, and do so equitably, requires not just a business solution, nor simply a social solution, but rather a combination of both, working hand-in-hand with all levels of government, and quickly, in order to catch up with and outpace the needs of Canadians in this ever-intensifying crisis over a basic human right.

About the author

Gregor Craigie is a friendly public radio journalist, currently hosting CBC Radio One’s On the Island in Victoria, BC. He is generally well-liked and known for being fair, but will occasionally push people on political and social issues – while maintaining his manners, of course. Inspired by his interest in earthquakes, Craigie’s non-fiction book On Borrowed Time was a finalist for the inaugural Writers’ Trust Balsillie Prize for Public Policy. In an effort to stay healthy and as a tiny offering in the fight against climate change, Craigie bikes to work daily.

Gregor Craigie's profile page

Excerpt: Our Crumbling Foundation: How We Solve Canada's Housing Crisis (by (author) Gregor Craigie)

Just the Beginning

Canada is caught in a housing crisis. It’s been obvious in Toronto and Vancouver for years, as the sight of homeless people on the streets became as common as news stories about record-high home prices. But in between the two extremes of multi-million-dollar homes and people with no homes at all, there’s a huge and growing segment of society whose lives are dominated by the difficult question—where will I live? Some simply give up on their dreams of buying a home. Others spend their free time looking for a better place to rent. Some have been evicted by landlords cashing in on those high prices. Others are plagued by panic attacks everytime a rental application is rejected and are terrified of ending up homeless. And for those experiencing homelessness, of course, every day is a crisis.

Stories like these aren’t new. Housing affordability in Canada has been a concern for some people for years. What is new is the scale of the problem. In 2022, Canada’s first Federal Housing Advocate, Marie-Josée Houle, put it bluntly: “housing and housing affordability is becoming more and more out of reach for most Canadians.” Many are young, employed, and well-educated. But those things don’t mean what they used to mean in Canada. The old rule that going to school and getting a good job would allow you to buy a home doesn’t apply anymore for many young Canadians. There are many reasons for this. Perhaps the most obvious is that incomes haven’t kept up with rising housing costs. Between 2001 and 2021, the average price of a single-family home in Canada more than tripled, while the cost of everything else rose only 43 percent. The result is that homes are too expensive for many Canadians. On top of that, there just aren’t enough of them. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates that by the end of this decade Canada will need an extra 3.5 million homes. That’s on top of the more than 2.3 million new housing units already predicted to be built by then. But this crisis is about much more than just supply and demand. Single-family zoning, divestment from social housing, decades of low interest rates that encouraged the commodification of housing, and short-term vacation rentals have all contributed, along with many other factors. British Columbia and Toronto have recently eliminated most single-family zoning in an effort to increase the housing supply. But if Canada is going to make housing more affordable, or at least attainable, then it will need to make many more changes. That’s why I wrote this book. After reporting on this issue for more than twenty-five years, I want to see more people move into secure housing.

I’ve reported on housing and homelessness more times than I can remember. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people about this—renters, landlords, buyers, sellers, developers, real estate agents, homeless people, housing advocates, builders, building inspectors, market analysts, economists, municipal councillors, mayors, housing ministers, premiers, and prime ministers. It’s not that I’m obsessed by the issue of housing—though it has always interested me—so much as the fact that the issue has dominated life in British Columbia for as long as I’ve lived here. And it’s only got worse, both here and across a lot of the rest of the country. It took many years before it finally dawned on me exactly how big the problem is.

It may seem counterintuitive, but this epiphany came to me not at work but at home, when my wife and I received our 2021 property assessment in the mail. The number seemed to scream out at me as soon as I ripped open the envelope: $1.3 million! Our 110-year-old, ramshackle wood frame house was worth a fortune. I felt a brief moment of jubilation, and even heard the Barenaked Ladies singing in my head. If I had a million dollars . . . I’d be rich. But my momentary elation at our new-found wealth on paper was eclipsed almost immediately by a sobering realization—there is no way I could afford to buy my house today. I thought back seventeen years to when we bought our first house in Vancouver. I remembered the nagging suspicion that the $305,000 price tag would lead us to financial ruin. Little did we know it would be the best financial decision we’d ever make. Sure, we have another decade or so of mortgage payments in front of us, but we’re extremely lucky. Today, my journalist salary combined with my wife’s teacher salary simply wouldn’t be enough to buy that house, or the one I now call home. I thought of my young colleagues who won’t have the same opportunity I had, simply because they were born too late. Then I thought of my kids. How will they ever afford homes of their own? And where? If these sound like the middle-class concerns of someone who’s relatively fortunate, well, that’s because they are. I own a safe house in a beautiful city. It’s walking distance to schools, shops, and the beach. Everyone should be so lucky. And I know my kids will likely be able to rely on at least some financial help from their parents in the future—a factor that matters more and more these days, and only exacerbates intergenerational inequalities. But this book isn’t about me or my family. It’s about the millions of Canadians who are struggling with unaffordable housing, and the impact it is having on both them and the country as a whole.

This book tells the stories of Canadians who are suffering due to the lack of affordable housing in this country. It also profiles people in other countries who have benefited from changes that could work here. As a journalist, I’ve heard countless tales of struggle over the years. But in writing this book, I’ve heard many success stories too. They’ve convinced me that there is no single measure that will fix this problem. Instead, most or even all the solutions presented in this book will be needed. Of course, many measures have already been introduced in Canada, like co-op housing, which has been around for decades, and the recent two-year ban on non-Canadians buying residential properties here.

But much more is needed. It’s tempting to think we might just do nothing and wait this all out. While house prices smashed records during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, they started to drop in 2022. But make no mistake, housing is still too expensive for millions of Canadians. In fact, rising interest rates made mortgages more expensive, which effectively cancelled out any benefits to buyers of lower prices. In the third quarter of 2022, housing in Canada was more unaffordable than ever. A Royal Bank report estimated the share of the average household income needed to cover the ownership costs of an average home had risen to 62.7 percent—an all-time high. In Toronto, the average house cost 85.2 percent of pre-tax income. In Vancouver, it cost 95.8 percent. “The current decline in house prices will not save us,” Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC, said. “By any stretch of the imagination, this is not the end of the housing crisis. This is just the beginning.”

Editorial Reviews


“Gregor Craigie’s Our Crumbling Foundation is a deeply reported look at Canada’s ever-growing housing crisis. It’s also so chockful of solutions that it makes you want to shake politicians and policymakers and ask: ‘When are you going to act?’André Picard, author of Neglected No More
"Craigie’s new book dives into the depths of the crisis, and offers ways to fix it.... A coast-to-coast primer on the crisis, touring the country city by city.... These personal stories of housing and instability are the strength of the book.... [Includes] colourful insight on how the problem is tackled under different regimes.... Craigie lays out 37 solutions surfaced from his home tours of the country and around the world... Craigie [is] the beloved CBC host of 'On the Island'.” The Tyee
“Gregor Craigie blends clear writing, deep research and deeper compassion in this essential study of the housing crisis that affects us all—but especially society’s most vulnerable people. By applying a global lens to a national crisis, he highlights realistic ways to solve one of the most urgent problems of our time.” —Josh O’Kane, bestselling author of Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy

“This is an exhaustive look at one of the most important issues facing this country right now. With impeccable timing, Craigie presents a thorough analysis of the mechanics of housing affordability, and just how far off the path we’ve gone.” —Daniel Foch, co-host of The Canadian Real Estate Investor podcast

“In this insightful and accessible blueprint, Craigie navigates readers through the crisis of the Canadian housing landscape with national and international examples, that include both failures and innovative [outcomes]. Written like a novel, each micro-chapter transports readers to the location of the story and into the lives of the characters, However, unlike fiction, this book provides copious amounts of facts, advice and moments that tug at your heart and inspire action. While the alarm rings loudly, Craigie’s calm and expertly crafted narrative provides a beacon of hope. With compelling clarity, he empowers policy makers, and others, to embrace these transformative insights and breathe life into much-needed solutions. Don’t miss this essential read; the future of Canadian housing depends on it.” —Celina Caesar-Chavannes, former MP and author of Can You Hear Me Now?

Our Crumbling Foundation is a must read, not just for policy wonks but for anyone affected by a housing crisis that knows no bounds. With a focus not just on the problem, but also tangible solutions, Craigie provides numerous paths forward. From Duncan to Paris with many stops in between, Our Crumbling Foundation explores the multitude of factors that got us into this housing mess, and how we can get ourselves out of it, by bringing to life the housing frustrations of real people and a range of policy solutions tried around the world. Starting with the Vancouver Special and concluding with 3D printed homes, Our Crumbling Foundation takes us on an exploration of how the housing crisis affects real people while offering real policy and building solutions for finding our way out.” —Jill Atkey, CEO, BC Non-Profit Housing Association

“To solve Canada’s housing crisis, Gregor Craigie roams the globe seeking answers in 20 disparate places, among them Tokyo, Santa Monica, Helsinki, Paris, Singapore and Tabasco, Mexico. Astonishingly, he finds individuals in every location willing to share intimate details of how they are coping with upheaval—by creating co-ops or crowding into mice-infested apartments or investigating 3D printed homes. Along the way, Craigie provides an avalanche of facts and figures. He warns that Canada’s housing crisis is just beginning, offers a list of 37 measures to address the emerging nightmare and, in ‘Craigie’s Index,’ even adds a touch of statistical whimsy. Our Crumbling Foundation is a transformative tour de force—a breakout book that bodes well to change the author’s career.” Ken McGoogan, author of Searching for Franklin
I needed to read this book! Our Crumbling Foundation is a captivating mosaic of housing need across Canada. You travel when you read this book. Gregor Craigie draws on his journalism roots to illustrate the housing struggles of a diverse group of Canadians. Interspersed with his visits to living rooms, even a RV park across the country, he brings to life solutions being implemented around the world: the huge co-op movement in Berlin, La Samaritaine and the public housing project Bois-le-Prêtre in Paris, tiny home and modular construction in Ireland and Oregon, even 3-D printing homes in Mexico. The solutions are at hand!”Cathy Crowe C.M., Street Nurse, Visiting Practitioner at Toronto Metropolitan University
“Gregor Craigie’s Our Crumbling Foundation has nailed the issue of the moment with its overview of the housing crisis causing so much anxiety in cities around the world, especially amongst young people. Gregor’s weaving of stories of real people and their real struggles to find suitable and affordable housing makes this book accessible to the reader and demystifies a complex and perplexing housing crisis. His Canadian perspective illustrates how much more still needs to be done in our country to get it right. The plight of young Canadians must be addressed so that they can see a future for themselves living here. Gregor provides practical solutions that have worked elsewhere and opens our minds to the possibility that new technologies will ultimately save us. This book leaves us with hope that governments will formulate policy that will create the conditions to build more housing that is urgently needed now.” —Mitzie Hunter, MBA, Former MPP Scarborough-Guildwood and Ontario Minister of Education

“Author and journalist Gregor Craigie delves into the heart of the housing crisis in this latest work, exploring the diverse struggles faced by individuals across Canada in their pursuit of affordable and adequate housing. Through compelling storytelling, Craigie not only navigates the challenges but also unveils global insights, highlighting both triumphs and setbacks worldwide. Ultimately, Craigie presents a comprehensive list of ‘repairs’ for our crumbling foundation. A must-read for those seeking understanding in the face of this complex societal change.” —Carolina Ibarra, Chief Executive Officer, Pacifica Housing
"A compelling call to action for politicians, policymakers, and Canadians to not wait until it's too late." —2021 Balsillie Prize Jury citation

“Craigie has interviewed countless experts in the past two decades, which gives him authority as he scouts the situation in North America in particularly chilling detail.” —Literary Review of Canada

“The book offers much more than technical information; personal accounts, journals, old news articles, even diaries illustrate all too clearly the threats posed by shifts in the earth beneath us. Some of these stories are heartbreaking.”Miramichi Reader

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