Vancouver can’t solve housing crisis alone

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

It?s time for senior levels of government to step up, writes Gregor Robertson

Gregor Robertson
The Vancouver Sun

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, centre, says much progress has been made on affordable housing but the city needs a ?dramatic reset? in its strategy with more than 10,000 people still on the waiting list for social and supportive housing. MARK VAN MANEN

Vancouver is at a critical point for affordable housing. Over the last five years, our housing market changed dramatically, impacting everyone from young families to seniors, from students to new Canadians. Most have felt affected by our housing crisis.

This is part of an urban affordability crisis extending far beyond Vancouver. Toronto, London, Sydney, Hong Kong, New York and other major cities worldwide are grappling with big flows of global wealth into their housing markets.

Our predicament is compounded by decades of our national government minimizing its investment in housing. Healthy, growing cities need affordable housing and a variety of housing types to remain diverse and vibrant, but we are all losing ground with the rapid commodification of housing as global capital continues to pour into real estate.

Housing needs to be, first and foremost, about homes and not to be treated as just a commodity, which is why — halfway through this city’s 10-year housing and homelessness strategy — it’s time for a dramatic reset. Despite meeting or exceeding many of our 10-year housing targets, like purpose-built rental and laneway homes, we continue to face an affordable housing crisis. Street homelessness persists despite getting thousands of people off the streets into shelters and permanent homes, there are more than 10,000 people on waiting lists for social and supportive housing, and on top of facing an unprecedented home ownership affordability challenge, Vancouver’s near-zero vacancy rate has renters in a state of crisis.

We need a better understanding of our housing market and with that, how we can better measure our success using city tools — as limited as they are — to deliver safe, accessible and inclusive housing for our residents.

As part of our housing reset, this week the City of Vancouver’s Re:Address housing summit and weeklong series of public events bring local and international experts together with the public for inclusive, frank and creative dialogue on developing fresh ideas as we overhaul our housing policy. By the end of the week, the city will have actionable ideas to implement on the ground in the near future that will make an impact on easing affordability on residents and ensuring housing options are meeting our residents’ needs.

Vancouver has aggressively stepped up its housing supply, building over half of all rentals and 20 per cent of overall housing in the region. We have offered 20 sites worth $250 million to senior governments to build affordable housing in Vancouver, and while we anticipate the provincial and federal governments will contribute funding in the near future to deepen affordability, we’ve already started. The city’s Affordable Housing Agency is working to build 3,500 more affordable homes on these 20 sites so when the provincial and federal governments are ready to come to the table with their expected investment, these new homes will be made even more affordable for Vancouverites.

We’ve also introduced innovative actions that help ensure our housing is put to its best use as home prices skyrocket and our dangerously low vacancy rate hovers near zero: Pursuing Canada’s first empty homes tax to return some of the 10,000 year-round empty properties to the rental market; regulating short-term rentals to protect long-term rental supply; and increasing lowrise townhouses, stacked row houses and laneway homes to give residents more housing choices beyond single-family houses and highrise condos.

Yet, even with these aggressive steps to relieve affordability pressures, the city can’t go it alone. We need senior governments at the table to relieve housing pressure on residents of all incomes and neighbourhoods. Right now we have a rare opportunity with the federal government in the process of shaping a new National Housing Strategy — the first in more than a decade — to develop inclusive, effective and impactful housing decisions that will directly benefit residents across Canada.

There’s no one solution to our affordability crisis, but the City of Vancouver will keep doing everything it can to tackle it head on. I encourage all residents to join the #ReAddressHousing conversation this week as we reshape Vancouver’s future.

© 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.

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