Low-cost housing emerging as critical election issue

The issue of affordable market housing, or low-cost housing — largely ignored in the 2005 campaign — will undoubtedly be a key issue in the upcoming civic election. The housing crunch is putting the problem front and centre, along with the solutions at hand.

The May 12 Province had this shock headline: “How he got his Whistler condo for $172,000.”

Inside, we learn that the People’s Republic of Whistler took the plunge to protect housing stock for its core employees – police, teachers, nurses, café operators and many more – over a decade ago. Since 1997, the resort municipality’s Whistler Housing Authority, has created affordable housing for 4,500 people, making up about 75 percent of the community workforce.

When Jim Green was Vision Vancouver’s candidate for mayor, a key announcement on affordable housing made few waves. Green pledged, according to the Vision platform, to improve affordable housing: “Vision Vancouver has worked hard to make rental housing more affordable through the legalization of secondary suites across the city. To continue this work, we will provide incentives to build infill housing, reduce red tape, and streamline new small-scale housing developments.”

Green’s campaign commitments, no longer available on the Vision website, included a comprehensive program to generate low-cost market housing in addition to adding to social housing stock.

But one of the first acts of Sam Sullivan’s NPA council was to gut the commitment to affordable housing in the Southeast False Creek Olympic Village on the grounds it was too costly. As Vision councillors later demonstrated, the NPA gave up on housing for working and middle class families and a major profit on the project as well. The EcoDensity fiasco has provided a second act of the NPA housing farce, outraging the community leaders whose support we need to make real gains.

As Vision’s mayoralty candidates tune up their housing policies, the issue is heading to centre stage. David Eby recounts his discussions with Vision mayoral candidate Al De Genova here. Should the city use the city’s Property Endowment Fund to assist in its efforts? Al says no, Gregor Robertson thinks it might be a plan. Raymond Louie, who spearheaded the work on Southeast False Creek has spoken out on the need for affordable housing, but not the role of the fund.

But why rule any strategy in or out at this point? The experience of Whistler indicates there are solutions at hand, and many cities in Europe have gone even further than Whistler.

full range of tested and viable policy options.Those interested in just how far we could go should check out this new Affordable Housing Toolkit from SmartGrowth BC for a list of tested and viable policy options.

The only thing standing between Vancouver and affordable housing is political will. And we know that won’t come from the NPA.