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Do realtors hold a key to reshaping Canada’s housing sector? There are innovative solutions to explore

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Canada’s housing supply is at a breaking point, and it’s time for an innovator’s mindset to overcome the barriers hindering progress. The business-as-usual approach is no longer working.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has stated that Canada needs to build 5.11 million new homes between 2022 and 2030 to restore affordability to the market. To put that into perspective, Canada has never built more than two million homes in any eight-year period.

There has been a lot of discussion about the bottlenecks preventing our country from meeting the housing supply challenge — but the biggest barrier is how we’re thinking about the problem. 


The ways of our past cannot get us to the future we need


To revolutionize the real estate industry, we must rethink legacy approaches and embrace innovation, and it needs to happen at every level of the ecosystem from government, industry players, realtors and consumers. We also cannot innovate in silos — true change can only come when all stakeholders are on board. And while it’s true that we all have a role to play, we need visionary leaders to lead the charge. 

These leaders must be willing to challenge the conventional ways of doing things. We need game-changing entrepreneurs, human-centric realtors, innovative corporations and early adopter customers to unlock new opportunities and drive industry-wide transformation. 

The 2024 Industry Innovation Agenda lays out a roadmap for exactly that kind of vision, offering clear objectives and actionable strategies in five key areas: leadership and institutions, affordability and supply, climate resiliency and low carbon, optimization and capital, and labour and supporting infrastructure. It’s a call to action for industry players to join forces and convert ideas into action.


An innovative approach to office building conversions


One opportunity for innovation is in the commercial real estate sector. By asking the right question — how can we convert underutilized office buildings into housing units? — we can begin to unpack solutions.

The challenge, in this case, is that many office buildings are not ideal for residential conversions because their floor plates create suboptimal layouts. In the past, we would have simply said it couldn’t be done. A more innovative approach, though, is to look at the broader ecosystem for solutions.

Imagine a scenario where office floors are transformed into schools, allowing parents to drop off their children and then head to their workplaces on different floors. By repurposing office buildings into multipurpose spaces and combining essential amenities such as schools, medical facilities and community centres with residential units, we not only create new housing opportunities but also reduce commutes and enhance the overall quality of life in our communities.


Modular housing and ADUs: A supply solution that can go beyond housing


Additionally, innovative technologies such as modular housing and mass timber can play a pivotal role in tackling the housing supply challenge. The key to unlocking the potential of these innovations lies in understanding what’s possible and then choosing to embrace innovative solutions.

For example, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), which allow two separate units within a single property, such as a laneway or garden suite, are a prime example of how innovative policies can support housing solutions. Modular housing offers great promise as a solution to the housing crisis. Realtors, with their professional understanding of real estate and housing issues, entrepreneurial thinking and extensive networks, have a great opportunity — and perhaps even a responsibility — to drive this kind of innovation. 

Consider this situation: a family of four resides in a detached home in the suburbs while their widowed parent or grandparent lives in a separate home in the city. The family provides daily care, support and transportation to medical appointments. A realtor who understands the needs of families such as this, along with the ADU regulations and market capabilities of modular housing, can help explain how adding an ADU to the senior parent/grandparent’s home creates an opportunity for the family of four to sell their home, move into the primary dwelling unit where the parent/grandparent lives and solve their own housing needs.

This solution goes beyond housing. A senior who may have struggled with loneliness now has loved ones nearby, countless commutes are eliminated, carbon emissions are reduced and a family has strengthened their financial position and family ties through a common-sense housing decision. 


Forward-thinking realtors are in a position to be true innovators in Canada’s housing market. Realtors are equipped with strong networks, industry expertise and deep relationships. They hold an important key to helping reshape the future of Canada’s housing sector through innovative thinking and strategic collaboration. 


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