Urban areas across Canada are experiencing increasingly unstable housing markets. This volatility directly impacts low-income individuals and families as they are faced with a lack of affordable housing options, rising rental costs, and declining or stagnating incomes. These factors leave a substantial proportion of individuals and families at risk of losing their rental housing. 

As a result of these pressures, the Shelter, Support, and Housing Administration (SSHA) of the City of Toronto developed an intervention to help individuals and families to stabilize their housing. The Eviction Prevention in the Community (EPIC) program provides supports to low-income individuals and families in the City of Toronto who have received a notice of eviction. Since the intervention was new, SSHA worked with Hub Solutions, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness’ social enterprise, to conduct a rigorous program evaluation. 

The evaluation found that 90% were able to avoid an eviction and have their housing stabilized. Based on these findings, the program model used could be considered for other eviction prevention programs in different communities. These findings are important as the research and/or evaluation on eviction prevention programs is limited and virtually non-existent within Canada. Below we provide a brief overview of the EPIC program and highlight the results from our evaluation.

 

What is EPIC?

Eviction Prevention in the Community (EPIC) was launched in March 2017 by SSHA. EPIC uses wrap-around eviction prevention supports in order to help tenants facing imminent risk of eviction. Some of the supports offered by the program include:

  • Wrap-around case management supports;
  • Mediation with landlords to stabilize housing;
  • Referrals to community legal supports;
  • Navigation/Accompaniment to the Landlord Tenant Board;
  • Assistance securing income supports, trusteeship, or money management programs;
  • System navigation and referral to other services and supports; and
  • Rehousing supports and shelter diversion where the existing tenancy cannot be sustained.

 

Purpose of the Evaluation: Why was it done and how?

Our evaluation examined the program’s effectiveness in improving housing outcomes for clients, while also looking at the contributing factors to evictions, client/household profiles, and service gaps. 

In order to address these questions, we conducted several forms of data collection to speak with different stakeholders involved in the program. This included speaking with:

  • Program managers and program staff;
  • Landlords;
  • Referral sources; and
  • Previous and current clients.

 

What did we find? 

EPIC is effective at preventing evictions

Results demonstrated that the program was effective in preventing evictions and stabilizing clients in their current housing. Of the clients discharged from the program at the time of our evaluation, 90% were stabilized in their housing, 8% were rehoused, and 2% exited into homelessness. The program’s effectiveness was largely attributed to the strong program model and its implementation. 

Eviction notices are often a result of arrears

The majority of clients in the program received eviction notices as a result of arrears. The amount of arrears owed by clients ranged from $144 to over $40,000.  Although arrears were often the primary cause of evictions, poverty and the lack of affordable housing were also listed as factors impacting clients’ eviction notices. For example, EPIC clients’ income was rarely enough to keep up with the rising rental costs in Toronto. This was clearly demonstrated by EPIC clients spending over 70% of their incomes on rent. 

“So I was working in 2016 and then I had to go on EI, so employment insurance. And then just because my son dealing with stuff at his school, so he’s ADHD; it’s ADHD and OCD he was diagnosed with, and I had to take time off just because he has a whole bunch of appointments that he has to go to. And then my EI ran out and then I went to apply for social assistance and they told me that I needed to wait one month. So just the one month in waiting for my EI payment and Ontario Works I just got behind in my rent.” – EPIC Client

“So if I’m at work and I don’t have enough to cover daycare, and I don’t have enough to pay back rent, then I barely have enough for groceries, it’s kind of hard to kind of catch up.” – EPIC Client

A range of program supports prevent evictions

The program provided a wide array of services and supports to its clients. EPIC clients noted that the dedication of program staff and the financial supports [i.e., payment of arrears, connection to appropriate financial systems (i.e., Ontario Works) and rental supports (i.e., Housing Stabilization Fund) were instrumental in stabilizing their housing. These services and program supports working in tandem, in an immediate fashion, was critical to preventing evictions. The clients also found that supports related to landlord engagement and system navigation were crucial. Landlords are essential in the prevention of evictions, the stabilization of housing, and the opportunity for rehousing. The crucial impact of systems navigation for clients demonstrates the need for those working within these supports (employment supports, housing and homelessness supports, etc.) to work together in these critical windows of time to change a person’s life.  Although working across sectors, departments, and ministries may be difficult and challenging at times, cross-systems collaboration is essential when working to resolve and stabilize housing. This also requires staff skills and expertise, as key informants stated:

“Having teams that have knowledge, or having workers that have knowledge of prevention is a huge – …There’s so many complex parts to preventions. It’s understanding legislation, understanding the legal rights of tenants, you know, tenant rights, landlord rights.” – EPIC Staff

“[EPIC] actually has versatility to be able to handle all the various aspects of what this particular issue requires, which I think is a tremendous strength.” – EPIC Staff

 

Conclusion

Eviction prevention efforts are one of the five pillars of the COH’s prevention framework. Our results illustrate the tremendous impact of eviction prevention efforts, as the EPIC model of programming was effective in stabilizing the housing of clients who were at-risk of eviction. Through financial and case management supports, advocacy, and system navigation, EPIC staff were able to prevent the eviction of the vast majority of their clients and keep their housing. 

“It’s an epic recovery to an epic comeback, you know, at this point, because now I can – all the goals I set, everything I planned to do, I’m not always wondering … you know. I can actually plan and budget and focus on doing better, because there’s actually an opportunity.” – EPIC Client

For more information on eviction prevention, the results of the EPIC program, and what your community can do, read the full report here! The report includes information on elements of eviction prevention programs, cost of prevention (it’s most cost effective to implement prevention supports!), and program-level and systems-level recommendations.

John EckerDirector of Research & Evaluation, Hub SolutionsCanadian Observatory on Homelessness
Sarah HoldenResearch and Evaluation Officer, Hub SolutionsCanadian Observatory on Homelessness