Core Housing Need (Census-based and NHS-based housing indicators and data)


Starting with the 1991 Census, CMHC began deriving core housing need estimates from census data with the help of Statistics Canada. Since then, CMHC has published estimates regularly in a range of products.

Statistics Canada conducts the Census every five years. In 2011, the voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) replaced the former mandatory long census questionnaire from which housing content was obtained. Statistics Canada has cautioned that because of the change from a mandatory to a voluntary survey, data from the NHS may not be strictly comparable to those from earlier censuses.

For more information on the Census and NHS, visit


Acceptable housing and core housing need

A household is in core housing need if its housing does not meet one or more of the adequacy, suitability or affordability standards and it would have to spend 30% or more of its before-tax income to access acceptable local housing.

Acceptable housing is adequate in condition, suitable in size, and affordable.

  • Adequate housing does not require any major repairs, according to residents. Major repairs include those to defective plumbing or electrical wiring, or structural repairs to walls, floors or ceilings.
  • Suitable housing has enough bedrooms for the size and make-up of resident households, according to National Occupancy Standard (NOS) requirements. Enough bedrooms based on NOS requirements means one bedroom for each cohabiting adult couple; lone parent; unattached household member age 18 or older; same-sex pair of children under age 18; and additional boy or girl in the family, unless there are two opposite sex children under 5 years of age, in which case they are expected to share a bedroom. A household of one individual can occupy a bachelor unit (i.e., a unit with no bedroom).
  • Affordable housing costs less than 30% of before-tax household income. For renters, shelter costs include, as applicable, rent and payments for electricity, fuel, water and other municipal services. For owners, shelter costs include, as applicable, mortgage payments (principal and interest), property taxes, condominium fees, and payments for electricity, fuel, water and other municipal services.

Assessing whether a household is in core housing need thus involves two steps:

  1. Determining whether or not the household lives in acceptable housing; and
  2. If the household does not live in acceptable housing, determining whether it's before-tax income is sufficient to access acceptable local housing.

Not all households in below-standard housing are in core housing need

If a household not living in acceptable housing can access acceptable local housing for less than 30% of its before-tax income, it is not in core housing need; it is in core housing need only if acceptable local housing would cost 30% or more of its before-tax income. In communities where market rents can be estimated, the cost of acceptable housing is calculated using the median rent of rental units with the number of bedrooms the household requires. Elsewhere, the cost of acceptable housing is based on the estimated monthly carrying cost of a newly constructed home with the number of bedrooms the household requires.

Households assessed for core housing need

Only private, non-farm, non-band, non-reserve households with incomes greater than zero and shelter-cost-to-income ratios (STIRs) less than 100% are assessed for core housing need. Farms are excluded because shelter costs for farm households are not separable from costs related to other farm structures. Band households are excluded because shelter costs are not collected for households whose housing costs are paid through band housing arrangements. For the purpose of measuring affordability, CMHC regards STIRs of 100% or more, STIRs for households with incomes of zero or less, and STIRs of households living in non-band housing on reserves1 as uninterpretable.

The STIR is calculated for each household by dividing its total shelter cost by its total household income. The average STIR for a particular group is the average of the STIRs recorded for each household in that group; it cannot be calculated by dividing the group’s total average shelter cost by the group’s total average income.

1Given communal land tenure in most reserve communities, the distinction among different tenures as reported on-reserve may be less clear than off-reserve.

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