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By Altus Group | November 20, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already dire situation for housing affordability and homelessness in our vulnerable communities across Canada.  Through CMHC and as a supplement to the National Housing Strategy, the Government of Canada has committed to ensuring every Canadian has a safe and affordable place to call home and is launching a new program called the Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI).

As more details are announced, we will update these frequently asked questions, so please bookmark this page. 

Last updated:  Friday, November 20, 2020

What is the Rapid Housing Initiative? (RHI)

The federal government has committed to spending $1 billion to address the housing needs of Canada’s most vulnerable.  Their goal with this program is to commit all funds before March 31, 2021 to support the creation of up to 3,000 new permanent affordable housing units. Projects on reserve, in the north, in remote areas and projects where seasonality is a factor for construction may be provided flexibility to the 12-month construction timeline.  

The recipients of this funding will have 12 months to ensure housing is available, which is why there is great focus on modular and conversion of existing assets.

Who can apply for this funding?

RHI funding is available to municipalities, provinces, territories, Indigenous governing bodies and organizations, and non-profit organizations. 

What funding is available in this program?

CMHC will provide up to 100% in funding to cover eligible residential construction costs.

For non-government entities, a Quantity Surveyor (QS) report is required for the duration of construction.  It needs to be updated in advance of each construction draw.


What does the funding cover?

The funding associated with this initiative is for addressing the needs of vulnerable Canadians through the construction of modular housing, land acquisition, and the conversion of existing buildings to affordable housing. 

Can this funding be used to cover operational expenses?

CMHC will provide up to 100% funding to cost in capital contributions. RHI funding cannot be used to cover operational expenses. RHI will not fund costs related to non-residential space.  

Source: Rapid Housing Initiative webinar on November 4, 2020 
How do I apply?

The application portal is now open, and applications will be prioritized by CMHC based on the strength of the application. Note that all applications must be submitted by December 31, 2020.

What are the key deadlines / dates I should be aware of for this program?

Some of the key dates you need to know are as follows:  

  • October 27, 2020: Program launch, applications can be received for the Projects Stream
  • November 27, 2020: Investment Plans are due from the cities receiving funding under the Major Cities Steam
  • December 31, 2020: Application window closes for the Projects Stream
  • January 31, 2021: Projects Stream application review period ends
  • March 31, 2021: Expected that all funds under both streams will be committed
  • March 31, 2022: Sunset date for the initiative – most projects expected to be completed 
Source: Rapid Housing Initiative webinar on November 4, 2020 
What will the application process be like?

The application process is outlined on the Rapid Housing Initiative webpage. The program will deliver funds via two separate streams:

  • Major Cities Stream: Immediate support for pre-identified municipalities ($500 million) – for municipalities with severe housing needs and high degrees of homelessness.
  • Projects Stream: Application based support ($500 million) – for provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous governing bodies and organizations, as well as non-profit organizations.

Those that wish to take advantage of the Projects Stream and apply for support can do so directly on the RHI site.

Altus Group can offer support for the application process in all regions across Canada, whether you are looking to convert existing assets, acquire land or leverage modular development.

Why modular and what do I need to consider with this form of development?

It’s not surprising that modular development is being encouraged as part of this initiative, especially given the 12-month window to use the funding. It allows for fast-tracking of some stages of development, while not compromising quality. This is a win-win for getting housing to our most vulnerable communities in an expedient manner.

Benefits of modular: 

  • Shorter timeline for delivery (occupancy) 
  • More efficient approach to construction 
  • Greater ability to control costs, labour, schedules, delivery 
  • Environmental – control waste 
  • Safer during winter months, and fewer instances of injury 

Challenges with modular: 

  • Greater upfront time spent on design 
  • Harder to make changes after the design stage 
  • Not all areas across Canada can readily take advantage 
  • Efficiencies are usually seen by those more experienced with modular developments 

Some key things to look at if you are considering modular development: 

  • Cost savings v time savings  Yes you will likely save time during development, but you may spend more time in the design stage given it’s more difficult to make changes or pivot during construction.  Make sure you understand how this could impact your pro forma. 
  • Lifespan  Does the modular design have any impact on the lifespan of the asset?   
In terms of this program, how is modular defined?

The RHI program is defining modular as a product that is prefabricated, constructed away from the project site, constructed in sections or modules and delivered to the project site upon completion and set on a foundation. 

Source: Rapid Housing Initiative webinar on November 4, 2020 
What do I need to consider for land acquisition?

Before acquiring land for development, whether for affordable housing or not, it is always recommended that you do you your due diligence – and more specifically, development due diligence, to make sure your development play makes sense 

During this process, you’ll want to consider the following: 

  • What are the existing zoning bylaws and do they align with my plans?  
  • What is the likelihood of my development application being approved? 
  • How should I budget for this development?  Is there a way to understand the implications of different scenarios, like an increase in development costs? 
  • Am I eligible for any additional incentives?  This is especially applicable when it comes to affordable housing. 
  • Are there any opportunities to partner with someone with sector experience? 
  • Is the site appropriate for what I’m trying to develop? 
What do I need to consider for conversion of an existing asset?

COVID-19 has impacted some sectors more negatively than others, which could create an opportunity for those sectors to reposition their assets.  For example, while the hospitality sector struggles, there is still strong demand for multi-family housing in many markets and taking advantage of the RHI to help fund affordable housing makes the opportunity even more attractive. 

Doing your development due diligence will be extremely important, and you’ll want to consider some of the following during the process: 

  • Location is key – the housing needs of the area should align with what you are developing and what’s possible for this asset 
  • What is the likelihood of my development application being approved in this municipality and location?  Are there zoning bylaws or restrictions that I need to be aware of? 
  • What is the current value of the asset?  Where are values headed for this type of asset in this region? 
  • What is the cost to convert? Smaller and older properties are not the most easily converted, and the associated cost to do so can be prohibitive. 

Read our recent article on converting hotel assets to multi-family.  There are lots of hotel owners out there looking for municipalities that could leverage RHI funding for this purpose. 

What are the eligibility requirements?

The Rapid Housing Initiative is open to municipal, provincial and territorial governments including their agencies, Indigenous governing bodies and organizations as well as non-profit organizations. All eligible applicants must have both property management experience and construction management experience.

The property type and size requirements are limited to standard rental, transitional, and permanent supportive housing, single room occupancy and seniors housing (that requires light to no care) where the primary use is residential. These projects must have a minimum of five units or beds, with some exceptions being made for remote projects and must also be considered permanent housing meaning long-term tenancy of 3 months or more. The affordability of these units must be maintained for a minimum of 20 years. 

Lastly, eligible projects must have a minimum funding request of $1 million.

For more information on eligibility, please visit the RHI page.


Are there target groups for this affordable housing?

There are many target groups for this initiative and successful applications must serve at least one of these groups to qualify: 

  • Homeless, or at risk of homelessness 
  • Women/Women and children/Women fleeing family violence 
  • Seniors 
  • Indigenous peoples 
  • Veterans 
  • Those with physical and developmental disabilities 
  • Those dealing with mental health and addiction issues 
  • Black Canadians 
  • Young adults 
  • Newcomers, including refugees 
  • LGBTQ2+ 
  • Racialized groups 


Source: Rapid Housing Initiative webinar on November 4, 2020 


Are there criteria that will be used to prioritize projects for the funding?

Projects will be prioritized based on several criteria which assess how they address key questions including, but not limited to:  

  • Need 
  • Duration of confirmed operating subsidy 
  • Cost sharing 
  • Expediency 
  • Land status 
  • Duration of affordability 
  • People or populations who are served (targeting) 
  • For modular – energy efficiency and accessibility 
Source: Rapid Housing Initiative webinar on November 4, 2020 


Where can I get more information on this program?

Your main source for RHI will be on CMHC’s website, on their RHI page. You can also contact Altus Group to help you with your application and to walk you through the application process.

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