How sociable is life in multi-unit rental housing? 

Results from Hey Neighbour Collective’s 2020-21 resident surveys.

Three members of Hey Neighbour Collective’s community of practice – Brightside Community Homes Foundation, Catalyst Community Developments Society and Concert Properties – are all working to proactively build community, social connectedness, and resilience in the rental buildings they own and operate.

Since 2020, SFU and Happy City researchers have been supporting their efforts by conducting surveys to help them better assess and understand their ‘baseline’ states of resident well-being, including dimensions such as sense of belonging, loneliness, neighbourliness, social participation, and safety. 

The first full set of resident surveying was done late 2020 through early 2021, well into the COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically, for much of the time Hey Neighbour Collective (HNC) has been active, landlords and property managers have been strongly encouraged to support ‘social distancing’ efforts, not social connection efforts!

Despite the challenges presented by physical distancing measures, our partners are using results from their individual surveys – which included questions about the impacts of COVID – to inform safe and effective approaches to programming aimed at reducing loneliness and social isolation and boosting neighbourly connections.

How sociable is life in multi-unit rental housing? Results of 2020-21 Hey Neighbour Collective Resident Survey.

How sociable is life in multi-unit rental housing? 

This report provides results of the initial 2020-21 round of resident surveys completed by 619 residents of housing provided by Catalyst Community Developments Society, Brightside Community Homes Foundation, and Concert Properties in British Columbia. The surveys were administered by the Hey Neighbour Collective (HNC) and aimed to assess the state of social connectedness, social isolation, loneliness, and well-being, as well as the impact on residents of COVID-19.

In the summer and fall of 2021, our SFU research team including research assistants and faculty supervisors, took the lead on a comparative analysis of the three housing partners’ 2020/2021 survey results, in collaboration with other colleagues at Happy City.

Close readers will notice one of our key challenges: each housing provider has its own traditions of keeping in touch with residents and this resulted in some different ways of phrasing survey questions. This made it tricky to directly compare across groups of residents or combine all of their responses into more aggregated summaries. Future surveys will endeavour to standardize phrasing of key well-being questions for better comparability.

The attached report summarizes what we found to be the most interesting results of surveys with 619 Brightside, Catalyst and Concert residents. It also highlights results of some partner-specific questions related to COVID and resident needs and impacts. 

Read the full report (PDF) to find facts that are heartening and others that cause concern, such as:

  • Half of respondents never or hardly ever feel lonely, but those who have fewer conversations with neighbours have higher odds of feeling lonely;
  • Half of respondents are willing to get to know their neighbours better, but one quarter are not. Respondents who are newer to their buildings have higher odds of being interested in getting to know their neighbours better;
  • Three quarters of respondents feel a sense of welcome and belonging in their home communities, but 26% report having no close friends at all; 
  • Nearly half of respondents reported very good or excellent health and wellness, but 37% said their physical or mental health had declined since the beginning of the pandemic.

With these and other baselines in place, we hope that future HNC resident surveys will tell interesting stories about positive changes that are taking place, in relation to specific buildings, their neighbourhood contexts, specific programs and initiatives etc. In combination with upcoming resident interviews and more participatory research methods like a recently completed Photovoice project, HNC researchers aim to deepen our partners’ understanding of their residents’ needs and perspectives on sociability and neighbourliness.