Reduce housing costs

Homelessness is an emergency in Vancouver, but there’s a crisis for tens of thousands of others. In our super-heated real estate market, even Vancouverites who making a decent living but with no prospect of owning a home or finding a quality rental within their means. A 2007 study by the BC Real Estate Association estimated it takes a family income of at least $114,000 to finance the average $456,000 BC home, but most families have total income of less than half that.

Unless average working people – the people who keep the city working – can have access to quality housing, Vancouver cannot succeed. But the NPA’s first act in office was to strip mid-range market housing out of the Southeast False Creek’s Olympic Village, turning it into a future enclave of the super-rich.

Here’s what Vancouver could do:

  • Encourage good quality market housing within existing zoning along arterials without the underground parking, driving down the cost per unit for residents with good access to transit. This could produce thousands of units in three-story projects where we now have only one or two-story buildings with retail at street level.
  • Slash the turnaround time for approvals and permits by pre-qualifying architects and developers who promise to do speedy, quality work. That will reduce financing costs and allow further cost reductions.
  • Create a new city organization to work with the private and non-profit sector, including credit unions, to identify opportunities and bring the housing on stream, letting the private sector build and sell while the public sector facilitates and, perhaps, works to keep costs down longer-term.

How can we keep these units reasonably price in the future? Here’s what former city planner Larry Beasley had to say at a recent city conference:

“I’m convinced that we have to create a third housing sector: not just the market housing sector and the non-market housing sector, but what I call the ‘semi-market’ housing sector, like the Europeans are doing in the face of unprecedented housing crunches in all of their cities.

“Like it or not we are joining what is often called the ‘alpha’ cities of the world – and these are the places with huge pressure on their land and on their housing markets. And we have to offer at least some opportunity for people to have better quality and location with their housing at affordable prices, in exchange for those people not using that housing as an investment vehicle or a pension plan.

“In Madrid, for example, the government builds some housing, sells it to people, and then, if the owners want to sell it, they have to sell it back to the government at a pre-established rate, without the huge growth in value. And for some people who will forgo the investment side of things and want just great housing, this is a wonderful model. Not only that, but when government sells it to the next person the housing gets more and more affordable. What’s also great about it is that government investment is recouped right away. So it’s not like you throw that money and never see it again — because you are selling that housing to people but at a lower cost, more related to the actual cost of producing that housing.

“I would dare say – and I know this is politically tough – but I would dare say we should use the great wealth in the city’s property endowment fund, in part to create a revolving fund for middle-income housing. We wouldn’t lose a penny.”

Read the full text of Beasley’s comments to the Dream Vancouver conference here.