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August 19, 2019, 10:44 am

The City of Kelowna's Wheelhouse: A New Way of Looking at Housing Needs

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

KELOWNA - The housing continuum model is a linear progression from homelessness or housing need to homeownership. Used around the word, it’s an approach to visually depict different segments of housing.

Some communities are exploring an alternative approach. One that can be customized to local housing needs and promoting greater equity, diversity and inclusivity.

The City of Kelowna’s Wheelhouse concept is a perfect example of a different way of thinking. Instead of taking a linear view of housing, the Wheelhouse is a circular model, reflecting the reality that people’s housing needs are changing as they go through their lives.

By de-emphasizing homeownership in favour of a more diverse and evolving approach, the Wheelhouse allows the City to respond more efficiently and effectively to people’s changing needs by adapting the programs and strategies.

The City of Kelowna
The City of Kelowna (Credit: City of Kelowna)

What is the Wheelhouse?
The Wheelhouse is a unique and innovative new way of looking at housing.

For most of us, housing needs change as we move through different stages of our lives. The traditional housing continuum model supposes that people will start somewhere on the axis and then move from left-to-right. Homeownership is the ultimate goal.

The Housing Continuum

The Housing Continuum

Text Version
Credit: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)

The conventional “housing continuum” approach, which follows a single, linear transition from homelessness to homeownership.

For some people, changes to housing needs can occur in different directions along the continuum. Additionally, many families and individuals may not chose homeownership as their ultimate goal. Reasons could include length of stay in a city; preference of proximity to work; or a change in household composition. 

The Wheelhouse model therefore allows the City to understand and address the needs of those residents who are housing-vulnerable as they move around or across the circle between all the different types of housing, rather than in a single straight line “forward” from homelessness to homeownership.

The Wheelhouse Model

The circular “Wheelhouse” model

Text Version
Credit: City of Kelowna

The Wheelhouse model is helping the City of Kelowna and its partners create a housing system that includes a wide variety of housing forms, types and tenures.

The Wheelhouse also reflects the fact that a healthy housing stock needs to include a variety of housing forms and tenures, in order to meet the diverse needs of residents from different socio-economic backgrounds and at every stage of their lives.

As a result, it gives city planners, developers and housing providers a clearer picture of both current and future housing need in the city. This enables them to prioritize a broader range of diverse options, such as preserving or expanding the supply of affordable rental housing instead of focusing solely on homeownership housing.

When and how was it developed?
The City of Kelowna first created the Wheelhouse as part of its city-wide Housing Needs Assessment, which was carried out in 2017.

The Assessment was a collaboration between the City, Interior Health, BC Housing, CMHC, local developers and the city’s Healthy Housing Stakeholder Advisory Committee. The goals of the Assessment were to:
  • paint a detailed picture of the current state of Kelowna’s housing stock, needs and challenges;
  • offer a better understanding of how that picture could change in the future;
  • identify potential gaps in housing demand, supply and services, and suggest ways to fill those gaps more effectively both today and tomorrow; and
  • provide a framework for developing a broader strategy to address the city’s most pressing housing challenges. These included the rising cost of housing, historically low rental vacancy rates, and an unprecedented increase in the number of people who were experiencing homelessness.

The Wheelhouse was pioneered as part of the Assessment to provide a new way of thinking about housing in Kelowna and to suggest how the City could better meet the housing needs of its residents. To this end, the Assessment involved extensive consultations with people from all walks of life, including those with lived experience of housing need and those experiencing homelessness.

The Wheelhouse model was officially launched during the presentation of the Housing Needs Assessment to Kelowna City Council in November 2017. Both the Assessment and the Wheelhouse have since been used by the City to develop its five-year Journey Home Strategy to address homelessness, as well as its Healthy Housing Strategy for creating more affordable homeownership, rental housing and subsidized rental housing initiatives. 

What are the primary goals and priorities?
The primary goal of the Wheelhouse is to change our view of housing from one where homeownership is the only end goal to a more diverse and inclusive view that takes into account the constantly changing needs of residents of all ages and income levels and at every stage of life.

The development of the Wheelhouse was shaped by three main priorities:
  • To ensure a healthy, safe, active and inclusive community.
  • To address the rise in homelessness and housing need in Kelowna.
  • To encourage housing diversity across the city.

As part of the City’s Housing Needs Assessment and Healthy Housing and Journey Home strategies, the Wheelhouse helps address these priorities by breaking down Kelowna’s housing supply into six key areas of focus:
  • Emergency shelters — temporary shelter, food and other support services, generally operated by non-profit housing providers.
  • Short-term supportive housing — stable housing along with support services offered by non-profit providers as a step between shelters and long-term housing (with typical stays of two to three years).
  • Ownership housing — includes fee simple homeownership, strata ownership, multi-unit and single-family homes, and shared equity (such as mobile homes or housing co-operatives).
  • Long-term supportive housing — long-term housing offered by non-profit providers, along with support services ranging from supportive care to assisted living and residential care.
  • Rental housing — includes purpose-built long-term rental apartments, private rental townhomes, secondary suites, carriage homes and single-family rental homes.
  • Subsidized rental housing — subsidized rental homes operated by non-profit housing providers, BC Housing and housing co-operatives through either monthly government subsidies or one-time capital grants.

The creators of the Wheelhouse made a conscious decision to shift the order of these six categories, so that homeownership was not at the top of the circle. This shift helps to illustrate the key point that no one level of housing is greater or more important than another.

Instead, as the Wheelhouse demonstrates, all types, forms and tenures of housing are vital components to creating and maintaining a healthy, sustainable and adaptable housing system.

Benefits and advantages: who does it help?
The main benefit of the Wheelhouse is that it is helping the City of Kelowna and its partners to both envision and build a housing system that includes all forms of housing, rather than focusing solely on homeownership.

The Wheelhouse helped set the tone for the City’s Housing Needs Assessment by successfully illustrating the current and future state of housing need in Kelowna. It is also helping to shape the projects and initiatives that are being developed to address those needs through the City’s Healthy City, Healthy Housing and Journey Home strategies.

Image of row housing. Image of two women pushing baby strollers on a sidewalk.
The Wheelhouse model is helping the City of Kelowna and its partners create a housing system that includes a wide variety of housing forms, types and tenures. (Credit: City of Kelowna)Because the Wheelhouse was developed in co-operation with Interior Health, it also recognizes that housing is a key factor in determining the overall health and well-being of residents. As a result, it reflects and reinforces the City’s view of housing as an essential part of creating a more truly livable, sustainable and healthy city.

What comes next?
Using the Wheelhouse, the City of Kelowna has been better able to understand — and respond to — the changing housing needs of its residents, both now and into the future.

Today more than ever, knowledge is power. Because it paints a more accurate, responsive and inclusive picture of the state of housing in a community, the Wheelhouse is an innovation that could easily be adapted or adopted by other municipalities across Canada.

In Kelowna, the Wheelhouse will continue to shape the conversation surrounding housing need and supply. It will help guide the City’s future housing policies, plans and strategies. It will also act as a jumping-off point for developing new programs and initiatives to meet the evolving housing needs of everyone who calls the city home for years to come.
Aerial photo of the City of Kelowna.
Building a diverse, inclusive and adaptable community for all. (Credit: City of Kelowna)


Senior Analyst: Sandra Baynes, CMHC
Specialist: Elizabeth Tang, CMHC
Writer: David Elver, David A.V. Elver Communications Inc.

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