Jul. 11, 2023
The realities of relocation
Across the Lower Mainland, many affordable rental housing buildings are aging and in need of upgrades. Many of these buildings can no longer meet the health and wellbeing needs of their residents.
Due to restrictive zoning and the high cost of land, it is often easier for non-profit housing providers redevelop and densify existing buildings or sites, rather than acquiring new ones. By improving their existing properties, non-profit housing providers can offer affordable homes to more people, and better meet the needs of their current residents.
Generally, redevelopment means that people have to move out temporarily while the new building is constructed, posing challenges to wellbeing and affordability. Cities, developers, and housing providers can improve residents’ experience of the relocation process by placing residents’ wellbeing front and centre—all the way from the first announcement of relocation, to completion of the new building.
Six ways to support resident wellbeing during relocation
Happy Cities worked with Brightside Community Homes Foundation, a non-profit housing provider in Vancouver, to study how the relocation process impacts people’s wellbeing—and make recommendations around how to improve this process. This article outlines six aspects of wellbeing to consider when relocating residents to redevelop inadequate housing:
- Sense of belonging
- Social connectedness
- Spatial inclusion
By centring the experiences of Brightside residents themselves, this study offers a roadmap for improving the resident relocation process, outlining concrete actions that housing providers and municipalities can take to support people’s wellbeing throughout redevelopment.
Trust is at the centre of all healthy relationships, and can help people accept and adapt to a relocation process. Trusting residents are more willing to engage with one another, participate in activities, resolve conflict, and ask for help when they need it. Not only is trust important for the wellbeing of residents, it benefits landlords, too. Many people we surveyed said they had developed trusting relationships with Brightside staff and neighbours over many years.
To build trust—and maintain it throughout relocation—housing operators must ensure open and transparent communication with residents, such through designated resident relocation staff. Housing providers can further build trust by offering choices—such as a range of building options to relocate to, and different choices for help with moving—and involving residents in making decisions about their home and their move.
People who have lived in the same building or neighbourhood for a long time report higher life satisfaction, increased interpersonal trust, and a strong sense of belonging. They also find it easier to build social bonds and trust with neighbours and the wider community. Further, long-term residents often pay lower rent than surrounding neighbours, showing how tenure is closely linked to affordability for renters.
Stable tenure is particularly important for seniors or people with various health conditions, who may find a move both physically and emotionally stressful. The majority of Brightside residents that we engaged had lived in their homes for 10 years or longer, with seniors particularly valuing long-term tenure and the ability to age in a familiar place.
Housing providers can help minimize the disruptions associated with moving by offering housing options to stay in the same neighbourhood at a similar cost, and ensuring that the buildings offered meet people’s long-term needs, so that relocated residents don’t have to move again if they don’t want to.
3. Sense of belonging
Relocation can interrupt people’s sense of belonging, particularly if they move to a new or unfamiliar neighbourhood. In our study, the key factors behind residents feeling a decreased sense of belonging after moving were a lack of relationships with neighbours in their new building, and the sense that it takes many years of living in one place to build close relationships. Many relocated residents said they found it difficult to form relationships in their new building.
Two key strategies emerged for supporting people’s sense of belonging after relocation. First, residents who relocated together with a group of neighbours were generally more satisfied with the relocation process, reported lower mental health impacts, and were more resilient throughout the transition period. Second, residents who moved to buildings that were within walking distance of neighbourhood amenities, such as community centres, also experienced a greater sense of belonging.
4. Social connectedness
People benefit from a wide range of social interactions, including both casual encounters in the community and deeper relationships with family and friends. Over time, strong relationships with neighbours can bring benefits including financial savings, better health outcomes, trust, and resilience, and even shared childcare, recipes, and meals.
However, around 30 per cent of the people we surveyed reported decreased social connection post-relocation, demonstrating the need to take extra care to support residents in forming new social ties after they move buildings. A quarter of respondents said they would like to get to know their neighbours better; however, some cited barriers, including a lack of trust, past experience of conflict with neighbours, or health concerns such as COVID-19.
“Past negative experiences have a huge impact on my ability to trust new neighbours,” said one resident. “Sometimes, it’s easier to stay in my own space rather than risk conflict.”
Safe, inclusive social activities and comfortable, shared amenity spaces are crucial to bridging these gaps in trust and connection. Housing providers can help residents organize social activities for their building, which help to build trust and comfort among neighbours. By offering more social spaces and opportunities, housing providers can increase resident satisfaction, ease the relocation process, and harness the wellbeing benefits of social connection.
“I don’t know many of my neighbours and we don’t get together socially,” said another resident. “It’s hard because there’s no social space in this building to meet people. It would be great to have barbecues and luncheons to get to know my neighbours better.”
Health includes how people perceive their mental and physical condition or state, and is closely linked to the types of homes and neighbourhoods we live in. For example, when people live in homes with views of nature, they are more likely to have positive outlooks on life and feel less stressed. Walkable neighbourhoods with nearby shops and services are also important, as people who walk or bike regularly report better physical and mental health. Stress—which can increase during a move or an insecure housing situation—is another major factor.
Just over half of the residents we interviewed reported negative impacts on their health following the relocation process, for reasons such as social isolation, chronic health issues, physical strain from moving, or anxiety in adapting to a new area.
Housing providers can take a variety of actions to help minimize the stress associated with moving, such as open and transparent communication, personalized help with moving, options for people to stay within the same neighbourhood, and ensuring that moving doesn’t bring a significant increase in cost of living.
6. Spatial inclusion
People need safe, comfortable, and equal access to shared spaces—both within their building and neighbourhood. Well-maintained, comfortable spaces feel safer, encourage people to spend more time there, and increase social encounters. Inclusive shared spaces can bridge gaps and build trust between neighbours, by sparking interactions among people of various backgrounds and ages.
In a residential building, housing providers can activate shared spaces with furniture, cooking facilities, games, or organized activities, for example, to offer something of interest to people of diverse ages, cultural backgrounds, and abilities.
Within the neighbourhood context, residents’ satisfaction is closely tied to their ability to visit neighbours’ homes, libraries, places of worship, health clinics, parks and plazas, community centres, and restaurants or cafés. Relocated residents expressed a strong desire for spaces to spend time outside and socialize with others.
“I love my new community and wouldn’t want to leave,” said one resident who relocated. “I have great access to parks, services, and transit here.”
A roadmap to wellbeing-focused resident relocation
Based on feedback from residents and results from the wellbeing study, Happy Cities developed a Wellbeing-focused Tenant Relocation Roadmap for Brightside, outlining five key phases of relocation. The Roadmap includes 19 recommendations to support residents’ wellbeing—each targeted at different phases of the redevelopment process.
As municipalities across the Lower Mainland are looking to strengthen their tenant relocation requirements, the learnings from this study can help inform equity-based relocation policies that centre resident wellbeing and support inclusive, resilient communities.
If you are interested in seeing the full study results, please email firstname.lastname@example.org