Glossary of terms and acronyms

Refer to this glossary to understand some of the terminology used in the community housing sector. Note: The definitions below explain how the terms, names and phrases are used in practice, rather than representing a precise legal definition.


Affordable housing: Under the current Investment in Affordable Housing for Ontario program (IAH) (formerly Canada/Ontario Affordable Housing Program), "affordable" means that projects must achieve average market rents for their areas. ONPHA has pointed out that this definition is not targeted to those in most need (without rent supplements).

Agency for Co-operative Housing (The Agency): This non-profit, non-governmental organization incorporated under the Canada Cooperatives Act, created in 2006 to administer the federal government's co-operative housing programs in Ontario (as well as P.E.I., Alberta and B.C.) that were not devolved to a service manager.

Alternative housing
: Non-profit housing for the formerly homeless or hard-to-house that emphasizes the provision and maintenance of stable housing and community development, rather than medical or psycho-social programs. Administration and funding of alternative housing was devolved to service managers and do not receive additional funding for support services from provincial ministries.

Annual Information Return (AIR): Annual reporting form between non-profits and service managers used to calculate government subsidies, track performance and report statistics to the federal government.

Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO): The organization that represents municipalities in Ontario. AMO is the voice of the municipal stakeholders in discussions about social housing modernization and new housing program funding opportunities.

Benchmarking: A management tool that allows the deliverer of a product or service to compare its performance with like providers. Benchmarking is an important instrument in the design of the Housing Services Act funding model, and involves setting a narrow range of acceptable operating revenues and expenses for social housing providers. Through benchmarks, the funding of operating costs and capital reserves becomes more predictable for both service managers and housing providers.

Best practices: A set of operational practices generally accepted by an industry as leading to increased operational efficiency, and thus worthy of being shared and copied among like service providers where applicable.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC): The agency responsible for carrying out the current responsibilities of the federal government with regard to affordable housing. In 1999, CMHC signed the Canada-Ontario Social Housing Agreement that transferred the funding and administration of social housing, which had been developed under federal programs, into the hands of the provincial government.

Canadian Housing & Renewal Association (CHRA): The organization that provides advocacy, policy and research, on affordable housing and homelessness issues at the national level.

Community Sponsored Housing Program (CSHP): This is a generic name for the pre-1979 social housing programs, including Sec. 26 and 27 of the National Housing Act, under which private and municipal non-profit projects were developed. In these programs, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation holds the mortgage owed by the provider and a related operating agreement, and rent supplement was administered by the former Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Under the Housing Services Act, the service manager is now responsible for the funding and administration of the rent supplement as well as the operating agreement. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation retained responsibilities as a lender and continues to hold these mortgages until maturity.

Consolidated Municipal Service Manager (CMSM): A level of government responsible for carrying out the funding and administrative responsibilities of the Housing Services Act. A CMSM could be a regional government, a county or a separated city, depending on the local circumstances. The can also be a DSSAB (see definition: District Social Services Administration Board). The CMSM is also responsible for administering other social service programs, such as Ontario Works and child care (See also: service manager).

Co-operative housing: Households in a co-operative housing project are all members of the co-operative corporation that owns the building. They elect from amongst themselves a board of directors who are responsible for overseeing the management of the building. They are subject to rules in the Co-operative Corporations Act and are not considered to be landlords, and are therefore not subject to the Residential Tenancies Act.

Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, Ontario Region (CHF Ontario): The organization that represents non-profit co-operative housing in Ontario. It has been consulted by the Province as the voice of the co-operative housing stakeholders in housing-related discussions.

Coordinated access
: A provincially-mandated system whereby social housing providers co-operate at a local level to provide consistent information about eligibility criteria for access to social housing, using a common application form. The purpose of the system is to provide "one-stop shopping" so that an applicant only needs to apply once for all of the local social housing providers. Under the Housing Services Act, the definition was altered to include the development and use of a centralized waiting list within the boundaries of a service area. Based on applicants' location preferences, the system maintains subsidiary waiting lists for individual projects. The system applies to all providers, except providers with mandates to house the homeless or hard-to-house (optional), federal providers not covered by the Housing Services Act, housing providers funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care or the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services and some affordable rental housing buildings funded under the Investment in Affordable Housing for Ontario. The system operates under the direction of the service manager, according to the Housing Services Act.

Devolution: The handing over of social housing administration and funding from the Province of Ontario to service managers. The exception is providers transferred to the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care or the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services. Devolution also refers to handing over the federal responsibilities for non-profit housing to the Province; the funding responsibility was transferred in 1998, and administration was implemented under the Social Housing Reform Act, 2000 and updated under the Housing Services Act, 2011.

District Social Service Administration Board (DSSAB)
: Special agencies created by the Province of Ontario and given the funding and administrative responsibilities of a service manager. DSSABs were created in the north where there is no existing municipal government with the legal jurisdiction to act as a service manager.

Eligible capital expenditure: Expenditures incurred by a housing provider for repair or replacement of major building systems or appliances of a housing project. These also include reasonable expenditures incurred by the housing provider in planning and budgeting for those expenditures.

F/P Program: The "Federal/Provincial" social housing program, in effect from 1986 to 1992, under which the Province of Ontario took the lead role in funding and administering social housing in Ontario. The majority percentage (about 60%) of the cost of the program was paid by the federal government through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Federal unilateral projects: Non-profit housing providers whose mortgage is held or whose subsidy was administered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation under Section 26, 27 or 95 of the National Housing Act. The Housing Services Act, 2011 does not affect the mortgages and operating subsidies of these providers. The Housing Services Act does apply to some rent supplement units in these projects.

Financial testing: The Housing Services Act gives service managers the responsibility for funding and administration of rent-geared-to-income programs, including deciding which households are eligible for rent-geared-to-income subsidy, verifying incomes, calculating rents, and conducting annual and mid-year subsidy reviews. The Act also permits service managers to delegate all or some of these responsibilities to housing providers. Financial testing refers to the practice of assessing eligibility for rent-geared-to-income housing based on a household's income as defined by the Act.

Head leases: The lease of one or more units in a private rental building to a non-profit housing provider or support agency, who then sublets the units to tenants from its own waiting list (and may also provide support to those tenants).

Homelessness Partnership Strategy: The Federal strategy that replaced the National Housing Initiative, including the Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative (SCPI) in 2007. Initiatives include access to multi-year matching funds to designated communities, funding to support single projects in outreach communities, including smaller cities, rural and outlying areas, including the North, and partnerships with Aboriginal communities.

Household Income Limits (HILS): Income levels for each unit size in each service area, set out in Regulation 370/11 of the Housing Services Act. The Housing Services Act requires service managers to have a specific number of rent-geared-to-income units in their service area, which are occupied by tenants whose incomes are below the HILS.

Housing allowance: Term used to include both Portable Shelter Allowances (attached to tenants) and Rent Supplements (attached to buildings).

Housing Services Act, 2011 (HSA): This legislation replaced the Social Housing Reform Act on January 1, 2012. It preserves the administrative and funding responsibility for housing with service managers within a more flexible framework.

Housing Services Corporation (HSC): This agency (formerly SHSC), controlled by the municipal sector (but with representation from the social housing sector), has the responsibility for ensuring that some services will be carried out province-wide. Such services include property and liability insurance, the pooling of capital reserves, the maintenance of a best practices system, research, education and advice.

Internal transfer: The transfer of a household from one rent-geared-to-income or market unit to another within the same project or to another project owned by the same housing provider.

Investment in Affordable Housing for Ontario (IAH): Federal/provincial investments spread over many years for affordable housing creation and repair, rent supplements and housing allowances. Social housing market rental units were eligible for rent supplements and housing allowances. Existing social housing was ineligible for repair funds. Federal/provincial investments for the program were later extended to March 31, 2020 and included funding for off-reserve Aboriginal housing.

Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs): Organizations created by the provincial government to facilitate effective and efficient integration of health care services. LHINs possess significant decision-making power at the community level including the funding of support services to transferred housing providers providing supports to people with mental illness and the frail elderly.

Local housing authority (LHA): An agency of the provincial government that managed public housing owned by the province of Ontario, and carried out other administrative responsibilities such as the rent supplement program for private-sector landlords. The LHAs ceased to exist as of January 1, 2001. See Local housing corporation.

Local housing corporation (LHC): A new type of business corporation created by the former Social Housing Reform Act and overseen by the service manager as sole shareholder, to take over the ownership and other responsibilities of Local Housing Authorities (LHAs).

Local priority rules: Under the Housing Services Act, a service manager may establish local priority rules for rent-geared-to-income assistance. Priority is typically given to disadvantaged groups such as the homeless or newcomers. Local rules apply in addition to the provincial priority rule (i.e. special priority: those who have experienced domestic violence). They are meant to address particular local housing market issues.

Long-Term Affordable Housing Strategy (LTAHS): A strategy launched by the Province of Ontario in 2010 that committed to making Ontario's housing system more equitable. Updates to the strategy in 2015 saw funding allocated for housing allowances and support services, construction of 1,500 supportive housing units, improved access to supportive housing, and increased service manager-Local Area Health Network collaboration.

: Official designation of a housing provider pertaining to the housing of particular groups in society (e.g. seniors, hard-to-house, families, youth, those with physically disabilities).

MCSS: The Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services. This ministry has the responsibility of funding and administering non-profit housing for people with developmental disabilities.

MMAH: The (former) Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. This ministry had the lead role in designing and implementing the Housing Services Act and the Residential Tenancies Act. They continue to be responsible for ensuring the Acts are administered appropriately (as the current Ministry of Housing).

Modified unit: A housing unit with accessibility modifications, allowing tenants with a physical disability to perform daily in-house activities as independently as possible. Some coordinated access centres maintain centralized waiting lists for modified units. In other service areas, housing providers keep their own waiting lists. (See also: Special needs unit)

MHO: The Ontario Ministry of Housing. In 2016, the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing was split into the Ontario Ministry of Housing and the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs. The MHO is responsible for housing in Ontario and the administration of the Housing Services Act and the Residential Tenancies Act.

MOHLTC: The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This ministry is responsible for funding and administering housing for people with high needs, such as the mentally ill, those with an acquired brain injury, people with substance abuse problems, and the frail elderly in need of support services in order to live independently.

Municipal flexibility: The Housing Services Act and regulations allow service managers the flexibility to set some local policies, such as delegating rent-geared-to-income administration, policies on asset limits, income limits, absences from units, optional rent-geared-to-income rules, and occupancy standards for rent-geared-to-income households.

Municipal non-profit housing corporation (MNP): A non-profit housing corporation established at the initiative of a municipality. Its relationship to the municipality varies widely, ranging from total independence with no municipal appointees on the board of directors, to municipal councillors being the only board members.

Municipal Non-Profit Housing Program (Sec. 95): Under this program, affecting only municipal non-profit housing projects developed between 1979 and 1985, operating subsidy was originally provided by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and additional rent-geared-to-income subsidy by the Province. Service managers now have full administrative and funding responsibilities for this program.

Non-profit housing: Community-based affordable rental housing provided by non-profit corporations, overseen by a volunteer board of directors. A percentage of non-profit housing tenants pay rents geared to their incomes (known as rent-geared-to-income housing), and the remaining pay market rents. The percentage of tenants paying rent-geared-to-income ranges from 25 to 100 per cent of tenants in a building or community; generally the ratio is around 60 per cent rent-geared-to-income and 40 per cent market rent.

Ontario Community Housing Assistance Program (OCHAP): This is a rent supplement program that provided rent-geared-to-income assistance to allow private non-profit housing providers (PNPs) funded under the federal Sec. 95 program to house low-income tenants over and above the number that could be subsidized by relying on federal program assistance alone. This program is now funded and administered by service managers. The Housing Services Act rules for eligibility, rent calculation, and use of the centralized waiting list system apply to these units.

Ontario Housing Corporation (OHC): This former agency of the provincial government had responsibility for provincially-owned housing and for the direction of local housing authorities. It no longer exists. See Local housing corporation.

Ontario Municipal Social Services Association (OMSSA): This organization represents municipal employees working in social services including housing and homelessness services, child care services and social assistance. Its mandate is to enhance the capacity of communities to plan, manage and deliver human services.

Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA): The organization that represents non-profit housing providers in Ontario. It has been consulted by the Province as the voice of the non-profit housing stakeholders in discussions about legislative reform.

Operating agreement: A contract signed between a government agency and a housing provider that sets out funding, operating, and other responsibilities of the parties. Providers with federal unilateral funding and providers administered by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care or the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services have operating agreements; the operating agreements for all other providers (unless they were specifically excluded from the legislation) have been replaced by the Housing Services Act and regulations.

Operating subsidy: A government subsidy under the Housing Services Act paid to social housing providers and guaranteed for the life of a mortgage (usually 35 years), to bridge the gap between revenue from market rents and the total cost of mortgage and operations. Over the next 20 years, the obligations of government to fund operating subsidies will gradually expire, housing provider by housing provider, as mortgages mature.

Pooling of capital reserves: Mandatory investment of capital reserve funds with SHSC Financial Inc (known as “Encasa”). It applies to all housing providers to whom the operating framework of the Housing Services Act applies. The pooling of capital reserves are part of the activities of the Housing Services Corporation, but is governed by a separate independent corporation with its own board of directors.

Portable shelter allowance/housing benefit: Income assistance provided to a tenant on the social housing waiting list outside the social assistance system to help them pay the difference between rent-geared-to-income and market rent in the private rental marketplace.

Private non-profit housing corporation (PNP): A non-profit housing provider initiated by a local organization such as a church, ethno-cultural group, service club, labour union, or other community group. It is a non-share corporation incorporated under the Corporations Act. The Not-for-Profit Corporations Act set out some new requirements for all provincially incorporated non-profit corporations. A few PNPs are incorporated under federal legislation and some have charitable status with the Canada Revenue Agency.

Project in difficulty (PID): A housing provider who has breached its operating agreement or has had operational and/or governance difficulties resulting in a triggering event as defined by the Housing Services Act. The breach or triggering event is frequently an accumulated deficit on the balance sheet, or other indication of mismanagement. Under the Housing Services Act, a service manager has several remedies at its disposal. The service manager may appoint an operational advisor, replace the board of directors, or in extreme cases, place a PID in receivership, taking away all management responsibilities for the housing.

Project under review (PUR): A housing provider with management or governance difficulties that the service manager thinks may give rise to a triggering event as defined in the Housing Services Act. Under the Housing Services Act, the service manager has an obligation to provide assistance to the housing provider if it becomes aware that the housing provider is headed for trouble.

Provincial standards: The set of rules that establish provincially-mandated outcomes for various aspects of the social housing system, including rent-geared-to-income subsidies, co-ordinated access and financial testing.

Public housing: Housing developed predominantly by the Ontario Housing Corporation (OHC) in the 1960s after the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's mandate broadened to housing for low-income families. Managed by local housing authorities with local boards, OHC set policy and provided services (such as legal and technical support). The projects were 100 per cent rent-geared-to-income housing and tended to be large high-rise buildings built in large urban centres. Ownership was downloaded from the Province to the municipal service managers in 2001. The Social Housing Reform Act renamed public housing as "local housing corporations." (See: Local housing corporation)

Pursuit of income: Service managers may require rent-geared-to-income applicants to pursue basic income for which they might be eligible, from pension income, Ontario Works, child support, and Employment Insurance. Applicants or tenants that do not make a reasonable effort to pursue these income sources may become ineligible for rent-geared-to-income subsidy.

Regulations: Regulations provide details regarding how legislation is to be implemented. The Housing Services Act has five regulations that impact the operations of housing providers. Regulation 367/11 sets out roles and responsibilities of service managers, rules governing the operation of local housing corporations and aspects of rent-geared-to-income (including eligibility rules, waiting list management, privacy requirements and appeals). Transitional Social Housing Reform Act Regulation 298/01 sets out the rules for rent-geared-to-income calculations. Regulation 368/11 lists the designated housing projects subject to the legislation. Regulation 369/11 explains how the government subsidies for housing providers are calculated. Regulation 370/11 sets out household income limits for use in determining whether service managers are meeting federal requirements for the income of rent-geared-to-income households for whose rent subsidy federal money is provided.

Rent-geared-to-income (RGI) or rent subsidy: The subsidy paid to a housing provider named under the Housing Services Act to allow a defined number of units to be rented to low-income tenants on a rent-geared-to-income basis. The RGI or rent subsidy equals the difference between the actual rent paid by the qualifying tenant (paying approximately 30 per cent of their income), and the government-approved market rent of a unit.

Rent supplements: Paid to a landlord to bridge the gap between a tenant's rent-geared-to-income and the market rent ceiling set by the municipality, for units rented to applicants from the social housing waiting list. Historically, private landlords have been interested in signing rent supplement agreements when vacancy rates are high; otherwise they have not been quite so interested.

Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP): A number of renovation programs provided by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in the past that helped low-income households, people with disabilities and Aboriginal people to make mandatory repairs or improve accessibility of their homes. These programs also support renovations to rooming houses and shelters to increase the availability of housing for those in need. Under the post-2011 IAH programs some service managers have continued to offer RRAP-like programs while others have elected not to do so.

Residential Tenancies Act (RTA): The provincial legislation that replaced the Tenant Protection Act and that governs the relationship between landlords and residential tenants in Ontario. Social housing is exempt from a few of its provisions (including the guideline for rent increases) but not others (including the processes for evictions).

Review: The appeal process established by service managers under the Housing Services Act and outlined in O. Reg. 367/11 to review any adverse decision made about a household by a housing provider, such as refusing to offer a unit, changes in rent, or ceasing to be eligible for a particular size or type of unit or for rent subsidy.

Service agreement: An agreement between a service manager and housing provider governing the delegation of some or all of the service manager's responsibilities pertaining to financial testing. (See also: Financial testing)

Service area: Geographic area in which the responsibility for the funding and administering of subsidized housing by a service manager applies. There are 47 service areas in Ontario.

Service manager (SM): The term used in the Housing Services Act for a Consolidated Municipal Service Manager (CMSM) or District Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB). The term has been misperceived as a job position within the municipality or DSSAB. (See also: CMSM or DSSAB)

Social housing
: Housing that is community sponsored, i.e. by local faith groups, service clubs, YMCAs, other community organizations, or by municipalities. Designed to address some of the public housing issues, it is mixed-income housing (some rent-geared-to-income, some market units), in smaller-sized projects (the term now includes public housing). Social housing is technically defined as either non-profit rental or co-operative housing funded by a legally-prescribed government program (although some social housing providers are now building housing with no government funding).

Social Housing Agreement (SHA): This agreement, signed in November 1999 between the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Province of Ontario, set out the terms and conditions by which the Province would take over the administrative responsibility for most federally-assisted housing in Ontario. It also gave the Province the necessary legal authority to devolve the administration of the Federal/Provincial program to the municipal level of government.

Social Housing Apartment Improvement Program (SHAIP): A four-year program introduced in 2017 to fund energy-efficient upgrades to social housing apartments. The program supports the Province's Climate Change Action Plan.

Social Housing Apartment Retrofit Program (SHARP): A program funded through the Ontario Green Investment Fund introduced in 2016 to finance retrofits that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in social housing apartment buildings.

Social Housing Electricity Efficiency Program (SHEEP): A program introduced in 2016 as part of Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy that provides funding to improve electrical efficiency in single-family social housing homes, which are typically found in Ontario’s smaller or rural communities.

Social Housing Improvement Program (SHIP): A component of the Social Infrastructure Fund (SIF) introduced in the 2016 Federal Budget that provided funding for improvements to social housing. Service managers were responsible for identifying eligible projects and applying for funding.

Social Housing Reform Act, 2000 (SHRA): This legislation, announced in December 2000, gave the Province of Ontario the power to transfer responsibility for social housing administration to the municipal level.

Social Housing Renovation and Retrofit Program (SHRRP)
: A Federal/Provincial capital grant program introduced in 2009 to provide funds for social housing repair and energy efficient retrofits for eligible housing projects.

Social Housing Services Corporation Investment Program: This is the investment pool managed by Encasa in which prescribed providers are required to invest their capital reserves as of February 2003. If your non-profit is named in Regulation 368/11 of the Housing Services Act, you are a prescribed provider for purposes of the investment program.

Social Infrastructure Fund (SIF)
: 2016 Federal Budget investments dedicated to funding the construction and renovation of affordable housing for seniors, funding for the renovation and retrofits of social housing, and funding for the construction and renovation of shelters and transitional housing for survivors of domestic violence.

Special needs unit: A unit that is occupied by or made available for occupancy by a household having one or more individuals who require accessibility modifications or provincially-funded support services in order to live independently in the community.

Special needs waiting list: The waiting list for housing that has been modified for people with disabilities or has available support services. Under the Housing Services Act, special needs waiting lists are maintained by the service manager or by housing providers or support agencies designated as special needs administrators in the legislation.

Special priority: Status granted through an approval process by service managers to applicants or in-situ tenants who have experienced domestic violence, giving them higher priority on a centralized waiting list for rent-geared-to-income housing.

Support services
: Services provided to tenants to enable them to live independently in the community. Supportive housing providers receive support-service funding through the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care or the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.

Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative (SCPI): Funding program under the National Homelessness Initiative that focused on homelessness services and included short-term funding for shelter space, supportive or transitional housing. The SCPI was replaced by the Homelessness Partnership Initiative.

Supportive housing: Non-profit housing for people who need support to live independently, e.g. the frail elderly, people with mental health problems, addictions or developmental disabilities. Administration and funding of supportive housing providers were not downloaded to the municipal service managers in 2001; the responsibilities were transferred to the provincial ministry that funded the support services, either the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care or the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.

Target plan: Indicates the number of rent-geared-to-income units within a project.

Transferred provider: A non-profit housing provider formerly administered by the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, which meets a provincial definition of supportive housing, and receives support funding for its tenant population from either the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care or the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services. The Province transferred the administrative responsibility to either ministry as appropriate.

Triggering event: Twelve situations defined in the Housing Services Act that indicate that a housing provider is not fulfilling its responsibilities under the Act. Evidence of a triggering event gives the service manager the authority to impose additional requirements on the housing provider, such as replacing board members, or providing an operational advisor. In extreme cases, subsidy may be cut, and the responsibility for managing the housing may be transferred to a receiver or receiver-manager.

Veterans' housing: Post World War II housing for veterans' families, administered by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Now sold off and has left the realm of affordable housing.