The market has failed to solve the housing crisis, indeed private developers have made it worse through luxury development and gentrification. Only a non-market approach can end the crisis now. To get the housing we need, it’s time for the city to start acquiring land to get it out of the market, and begin a significant program of building non-market housing. If we start now, we can expand the proportion of publicly-owned, non-market housing in Vancouver from today’s 3% to 30% in 25 years.
The City can buy the land and build the homes we need by properly taxing the rich and property speculators.
The initial phase of public housing development should be for those who need it the most - - starting with 2,181 modular homes for the homeless, 3,500 people living in inhumane conditions in SRO hotels, followed by 18,000 households spending over 50% on rent. We call this “moving up the ladder”, starting with those most in need.
Rapidly build 2,181 modular homes to end homelessness
The 2018 homeless count of 2,181 is the highest in history. The average life expectancy in BC is about 80 years, while people who are forced to be homeless die at almost 40 years on average - many younger than that. Homelessness kills. Each winter more than 1000 people will freeze on our streets. Another 1000 will lie on cots and mats in shelters. Recently the City built modular housing at Main and Terminal for $75,000 per unit. It takes less than 6 months to build modular housing.
The City should build 2,181 modular homes, one for each homeless person counted in Vancouver in 6 months. At $75,000 a unit, ending homelessness in Vancouver will cost $160 million - less than one year of Mansion Tax revenues.
It actually saves $23,000 a year to house a homeless person, so the units would pay for themselves in less than four years. This is another incentive for the provincial government to give Vancouver the power to tax mansions.
Replace SROs and stop gentrification
Around 3,500 people are living in uninhabitable Single-room Occupancy (SRO) hotels. SRO hotels are being lost to gentrification, and those that remain are in terrible repair.
The City needs to improve conditions of the SROs immediately, including through acquiring them. Over the next 4 years, all 3,500 units should be renovated or replaced with self-contained homes, with a kitchen and a bathroom.
Build social and cooperative housing to meet current need of 18,000 households
More than 18,000 households are paying more than 50 per cent of their income on rent. We have to build enough low-rent social and cooperative housing to meet this need. The City’s Housing Agency can expand its non-market housing stock to meet the need.
The City claims to have a target of 12,000 units of social housing for the next 10 years. But it refuses to say how many of these units will be for low income people and there is no senior government funding for them. We need action to ensure that low-income people can afford new social housing and to pressure senior governments to fund it. The city must take real leadership. The time for buck-passing is over.
We need to build low-rent social and cooperative housing to meet the need of 18,000 Vancouverites currently spending over 50% of their income on rent. The City’s Affordable Housing Agency must begin construction of 4,500 units for each of the next 4 years.
Invigorate Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency to own all the city’s public housing, under democratic tenant control
This new non-market housing will be on city-owned land. The municipality is already Vancouver’s largest landowner. The Property Endowment Fund alone includes land and assets worth over $5 billion. In addition, the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency (VAHA) can acquire new land at current value, then rezone it for non-market housing. The land can be purchased using revenues from progressive taxes and speculation taxes.
VAHA should selectively and rapidly up-zone lots it purchases or receives across all neighbourhoods in the city. Unlike luxury development, the supply of affordable, public, non-market housing open to all will counter displacement and support the growth of vibrant neighbourhoods.
Leverage Property Endowment Fund to build the housing we need:
The City should transfer 20% of Vancouver Property Endowment Fund’s assets to the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency to serve as seed capital, including land, and collateral for loans for Housing Agency projects. These assets can be leveraged to borrow capital through the BC Municipal Financial Authority, BC Housing, CMHC, or any other credit union or financial institution.
How to pay for this housing:
- Low-interest loans backed by the City’s $5 billion property endowment fund
- Mansion Tax revenues
- The City reserves another $70 million per year for affordable housing with Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) and Development Cost Levies (DCLs).
- The City should also push higher levels of government to match the City’s efforts.
This investment in publicly-owned housing will help end the obscene injustice of homelessness and poverty. Doing the right thing is also more financially sustainable. It costs the government more for someone to sleep on the streets than to build them homes. When renters are spending more than 50% of their income on housing, we cannot afford to spend money in our communities -- from buying food at neighbourhood stores or restaurants to going to cultural events. It makes no economic sense for us to be spending a majority of our income simply to put a roof over our heads, which should be a human right.
Other housing actions
- Repair the definition of social housing, so that low-income people can actually afford it.
- Tie welfare disability shelter supplement to actual Vancouver housing costs. If we want to end homelessness, this is absolutely crucial. The City has to make it clear that this is a top priority, and negotiate an agreement.
- Enact a moratorium on the loss of existing low-income housing units across the city by strengthening and expanding the Rate of Change bylaw.
- Amend the Single Room Accommodation (SRA) bylaw so that landlords are penalized if they raise rents above welfare and pension rates.