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Cloe St-Hilaire

As the Canadian rental housing crisis is exacerbated, the need to identify strong evidence-based solutions is reaching new urgency. Cloé St-Hilaire, PhD Candidate in the School of Planning, has put forward a new research proposal to investigate a gap in this issue that has been awarded the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

Her proposal, Financialization and digitization in the Canadian rental housing sector: A three-tier approach to understanding the emergence, specificities and impacts of digital technologies as they relate to rental housing financialization, will build a portrait of digitization and financialization in our three largest metropolises to determine the impact of the dark digital divide on tenant outcomes.

Financialization, or the increase of financial motives, markets, actors and institutions in Canada’s rental housing sector, has increased in the past four decades due to new technologies. Online platforms and mobile technologies enable companies from all over the world to finance, acquire and manage rental housing. This new form of property ownership is raising questions regarding privacy and housing outcomes for tenants, which Cloé aims to expose.

“There are a lot of actors contributing to the dire housing situation in Canada, and yet we know little about their practices and their impacts on tenants and cities,” she said. “I want to contribute to the effort to understand this form of ownership, one that is in direct contradiction with the provision of housing as a basic human right.”

This research opts for a three-phase approach to studying digitization and financialization in Canada's rental housing sector. Cloé will review media sources from real estate news channels to provide a temporal analysis of the emergence of digital tech in the Canadian rental housing sector. She will then use Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver as case studies to look for the presence and use of digital technologies by financialized landlords. Finally, she will conduct semi-structured interviews with housing organizations and tenants to assess the impact of digital technologies and financialization on landlord-tenant relationships and tenant outcomes.

“My research will spark conversations about housing policy, promote social change, and strengthen the work of housing organizations and communities on housing justice,” says Cloé.

Her supervisor, Dr. Martine August in the School of Planning, will offer guidance throughout the next three years.

“Dr. August is the leading Canadian scholar on financialization. She has written pillar papers on the subject and collaborated with multiple academics and housing organizations,” says Cloé. “Her expertise, along with that of the other stellar professors in the School of Planning, provides me with a strong environment to conduct policy-shifting research.”

Cloé says that receiving the Vanier scholarship is a life-changing honor. “Coming from a lone-parent household and being the first person to attend university, I know first-hand the impact that struggling to be housed can have on your life. I hope that my research will contribute to exposing vital information on who owns what in Canada and shining light on class-based inequalities in housing.”

Cloé St-Hilaire joins the ranks of four other Vanier award-winning researchers at Waterloo this academic year, and the greater community of Canada’s Vanier scholars. Congratulations to all the scholars who have been awarded. 

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