Affordable housing? Not if Elizabeth Murphy can help it


Vancouver proposes to make all new housing serve affordability goals.

According to community activist and former planner Elizabeth Murphy, anyone hoping for action to produce affordable housing in Vancouver should forget it.

Murphy’s weekend op-ed in the Vancouver Sun condemns Vancouver’s Housing Re:set as more of the same old status quo. But when you get right down to it, the status quo is her preferred option.

We can’t solve the problem with supply, she declares, but how she proposes to house a growing population without more supply remains a mystery. (Neither I or my Vision colleagues has ever suggested supply could solve the problem on its own, but without new supply, nothing will change.)

Introduce a very successful rental housing program producing more than 1,000 units a year? Vancouver has one, now producing more than half the rental housing in the entire region,  but Murphy acts like it doesn’t exist. Set firm targets for social housing, as Vancouver does? Not on her radar.

Create an interim rezoning program to encourage extra units, if affordable, along arterials? Vancouver is doing it, but Murphy doesn’t like it.

Open up the discussion about more townhomes and rowhouses in single family neighbourhoods? Vancouver is doing just that, but the effort is futile, she says, because the new homes won’t be affordable. Yet the purpose of the Housing Re:set it to ensure that they are.

Most real solutions are beyond the city’s power, Murphy claims, even though Vancouver’s actions to curb short-term rentals and tax empty homes are now being studied by cities across Canada.

Vancouver’s Housing Re:set is far from “more of the same,” as Murphy claims. It will define hard targets, for the first time, to link new construction to particular income groups not being served by the current programs or the private market.

When you get right down to it, Murphy likes the status quo, where low-density, single-family neighbourhoods are kept out of the housing affordability debate.

Auditor General pinpoints concerns about BC Housing’s Non-Profit Asset Transfer Program

BC Housing’s Non-Profit Asset Transfer Program may not provide long-term protection for social housing stock, says BC’s Auditor General, and could cost taxpayers more than it generates in benefits.

The Lux, a BC Housing project on the Downtown Eastside.

Last month’s report by Carol Bellringer has confirmed many of the fears expressed by housing advocates — including elected officials — since it was unveiled two years ago.

The program is strongly supported by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association and was stoutly defended by BCNPHA director Kishone Roy in an interview this week.

Indeed, many leading non-profit housing organizations have been itching to be free of provincial constraints, take control of their own destinies and expand their housing stock.

The new program allows that by effectively selling non-profits the land on which their housing sits. The cash they pay to BC Housing is used to trigger new construction, particularly through partnerships possible with new federal funding. So far, BC Housing has generated $250 million in cash for new investments.

But Bellringer confirms many of the worries I have heard expressed by elected officials, particularly those who were briefed on the program at the Metro Vancouver Housing Committee last year.

They include:

  • the likely loss of “rent geared to income” units, the most affordable of all, in new housing projects;
  • the increased reliance on rental supplements, which help families find housing in the private market, but provide no control over the quality of the housing;
  • the possible loss of land, now in public ownership, as the new non-profit owners go out of business or sell;
  • the lack of capacity in smaller non-profits to undertake the complex and risky business of redevelopment, which could result in their collapse.

To make the whole scheme work, BC Housing must subsidize non-profits to pay for the mortgages they require to buy the land. Over time, this creates a $1 billion long-term cost commitment for the province.

Bellringer concluded, after reviewing BC Housing’s numbers, that “the transfer of assets could result in a financial cost, rather than a financial benefit.”

When every dollar counts, that’s bad news.

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Here’s the link again:


Affordability will be part of every development with new city housing strategy

Every new development, regardless of size or type, will have to contribute to housing affordability, says chief city planner Gil Kelley, a measure of how significant the city’s emerging new policies are.

Under Housing Vancouver “emerging directions” approved by council today, the city will shift its housing targets to deliver units directly to meet the needs of all city residents by income group.

Until now, the city could deliver a few units — depending on provincial support — to social housing, but far fewer than required. Incentives to generate market rental are producing more than 1,000 units a year for households earning over $50,000 a year. (See the staff presentation here.)

But the “missing middle” earning below that number, or even more, are not getting relief despite the large number of new units being built each year.

Business as usual would produce a dramatic oversupply of 10,000 market condominiums, but leave unmet demand equally large for affordable rental. We have plenty of supply — but not the right supply.

The “housing reset,” as it has become known, is intended to change that.

When final policy options come to council in July, Kelley and the rest of the city team will be proposing important new initiatives to require affordability across the housing spectrum.

In this crisis, no one can sit on the sidelines. The new approach is designed to make sure that practice ends.