Researchers looking at how housing assistance impacts people’s housing experiences and quality of life are seeking participants for a study they hope will help inform future policy.

If you’ve moved into a public housing unit for the first time in the last 30 days or were approved for the Canada-NS Targeted Housing Benefit (CNSTHB) within the last 30 days, Lynn Liao and her fellow researchers want to hear from you.

The research associate with Pier Labs is the lead investigator of the Project HALO (Housing Assistance and Life Outcomes) research study. Besides learning more about how housing assistance impacts people’s housing experiences and quality of life, they also want to gain insight into how those impacts differ depending on the kind of housing assistance received.

“We’re looking at quality of life in a really broad sense, measuring things like financial well-being, social well-being, your health, your mental health, so a more well-rounded idea of quality of life and how receiving this housing assistance really impacts that,” Liao said in an interview.

“There’s a lot of literature out there looking at if you’re living in a neighbourhood that you would prefer to be in, maybe you’re close to friends, family, and that could have a lot of impact on your well-being versus you having to maybe live in a unit that’s far away from everybody you know, and you feel really isolated.”

From the Pier Labs Project HALO web page.

Researchers are looking at public housing, which they categorize under ‘place-based’ housing assistance (non-portable). This is where people have little to no choice about where they’re living and take what’s offered and available.

The second type of assistance they’re examining is what they refer to as a portable, tenant-based subsidy. In this instance, the money goes directly to the head of a household rather than a landlord. The relatively new Canada Housing Benefit (CNSTHB in this province, but each province has its own acronym) is supported by provincial and federal governments.

Pier Labs research associate Lynn Liao is the lead investigator of the Project HALO (Housing Assistance and Life Outcomes) research study. Photo: Contributed

“In theory, you should be able to take this money and use it to help pay rent, you can take it from place to place so you can move if you want, you can apply it to rent anywhere theoretically in Nova Scotia, as long as you find something that suits your needs in the neighbourhood you want and within the the amount that makes sense for you,” Liao explained.

“There’s a lot of debate in the policy arena around which ones (housing assistance) might be best. Is it better to give people more choice and just give money directly and they can buy what is best suited for their needs? Or do we really need to designate these units, maintain and build more public housing units?”

The project is funded by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). Liao said CMHC is also eager to learn more about how the portable subsidy impacts people versus the more traditional “place-based” housing assistance options.

The study involves a survey taken at three different points in time to capture people’s experiences over the course of a year. It can be completed either online or via phone. The first survey is completed within 30 days of being approved for housing assistance. A second will be filled out at six months, and the third after one year.

Liao said there will eventually be another component that will involve interviews or a focus group with select participants to gain more in-depth insights.

“When somebody gets the portable subsidy, for example, what was their experience looking for housing in the private rental market? It’s very hard even when you’re not on a subsidy,” she said.

“So how long did it take them and what hoops they have to jump through, and were landlords amenable to this? We’re interested in all of those questions and all of those factors as part of the study.”

The research is taking place across Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta in order to ensure a large sample size and to make it more “generalizable,” Liao said.

“Jurisdictions from all across these provinces as well as other provinces will be interested. Policymakers, decision makers at the government level I hope will be interested in these findings,” she said.

“We have a lot of community organizations recruiting for us because they are very invested in this research. They want to know the same things. They want to know for whom this assistance is helping or not and what challenges might be there and how we can improve those policies based on what we find through the study.”

Project HALO hopes to recruit between 400 and 500 participants. Finding people within that 30-day window of first receiving assistance is what Liao described as “the tricky part,” but they hope to reach that number by the end of March.

Because they’ll be following participants over the course of a year, Liao said they expect to have publishable findings by the end of 2023.

Anyone who’s eligible to participate is encouraged to reach out. Project HALO is also inviting organizations that work directly with people who are precariously housed to reach out if they have clients who might be interested in filling out their survey.

For more information, email or call 1-833-643-HALO (4256).

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor, covering the COVID-19 pandemic and health issues. Twitter @ydentremont

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