The Province: Steady commitment to affordable housing needed to address B.C.’s rising rents (Opinion)Posted
Kishone Roy, BCNPHA CEO & Thom Armstrong, CHF BC Executive Director – Opinion for The Province, May 6
British Columbians will head to the polls Tuesday and there’s no question that housing affordability is an important issue facing voters and dominating the leadership debates.
From massive increases in homelessness, severe unaffordability in the rental market and a growing scarcity in the supply of affordable housing, the province is at a tipping point. Doing nothing is no longer an option.
Renters are a crucial component of B.C.’s social fabric and economy, accounting for a third of households. Almost half of renters face an affordability problem, spending more than 30 per cent of their gross income on rent. According to the Affordable Housing Plan that we released with the B.C. Rental Housing Coalition last month, this figure is only the tip of the iceberg.
We estimate in our plan that the province requires 80,000 units of rental housing just to fix the current backlog, and over the next 10 years B.C. will need an average of 7,000 units of rental housing to keep up with new demand.
When it comes to ending chronic homelessness, the numbers are even more bleak. Throughout B.C. there are at least 7,000 individuals experiencing homelessness. In Metro Vancouver alone the numbers have increased 30 per cent since 2014. Homelessness costs the B.C. economy a staggering $1 billion annually — money that could be used to get individuals off the streets, help families in need and ensure everyone has access to secure, affordable housing.
Fortunately, tackling the rental crunch is good for B.C.’s social fabric and economy. Investment in rental housing will create jobs, contribute to increased labour mobility and economic competitiveness, as well as save us billions of dollars in reduced costs relating to policing, health and justice.
Whichever party forms the next provincial government, it’s clear that housing affordability will require big ideas and a bold vision to tackle a lack of stable investment over the last 20 years.
The federal government’s release of the National Housing Strategy this spring will bring Ottawa back to the table with long-term funding commitments of roughly $1 billion annually over the next 11 years. And while this is a good start, new approaches that leverage public investment are badly needed to invest strategically in affordable housing.
Similarly, we need a permanent provincial program for affordable housing that provides stable, predictable and reliable investments in housing on an annual basis that will create long-term certainty for the community housing sector.
But solving the affordable-housing crisis isn’t the job of government alone, nor will it be solved by one level of government or in one election cycle. We need a comprehensive, multi-year strategy that brings together the resources and expertise of the Community Housing Sector, as well as cause-driven, private-sector organizations and financial institutions.
We’re ready to come to the table in a big way through land contributions and leveraging equity from assets, private donations and financing. This approach, as real partners with government, will ensure affordable housing for future generations. But it also requires municipalities to step up in partnership by bringing their powerful tools to the table, such as property-tax exemptions and inclusionary and fast-track zoning when needed.
Governments at all levels also have a role to play in implementing new policies that link affordable housing to transportation and health planning, but also protect existing, affordable rental housing for those who need it most.
The housing crisis affects us all, from homeless individuals to struggling students, new immigrants, growing families, business owners and seniors, and it’s imperative that we work together on the solution.
Thom Armstrong is executive director of the Co-op Housing Federation of B.C. Kishone Roy is CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association.
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