It’s perfectly clear to anyone paying attention that we have a housing crisis in Vancouver today — a crisis that has been with us for quite some time and is only continuing to get much worse. But the only thing more troubling than the crisis itself is the lack of leadership and complete absence of any really solutions offered by our mayor, Gregor Robertson.
Just the other day I heard him interviewed on CBC Radio. He was extolling the benefits of his two recently announced housing strategies — restrictions on rentals like Airbnb in that short-term rentals of less than 30 days are only legal in principal residences, and higher property taxes on vacant properties.
Both of these strategies will only increase supply by a very small amount and have a minor dampening effect on rental rates charged in Vancouver. We’re still going to be left with a situation where the vacancy rate is far too low and market rental costs far too high.
Rather than tweaking the market, the mayor should be taking measures to create non-market housing. For many years, developers were required to set aside 25 per cent of their development for non-market housing — which was tied to income, whereby the tenant paid no more than 30 per cent of his or her income in rent.
The mayor had this definition of affordable housing changed so that now a developer satisfies the requirement for affordable housing provided that the units in question are not sold but rented out at MARKET RENTS. One of the mayor’s fellow Vision Vancouver city councillors, Kerry Jang, recently indicated that if a suite is put on the rental market by a developer at market rates, it’s affordable as long as someone can afford to rent it!
This change has resulted in literally millions of dollars of development cost levies being waived by the city because the developer has complied with the requirement to provide affordable housing. No wonder developers are quite prepared to provide Gregor Robertson with the donations necessary to purchase the election outcome!
Today’s housing crisis will only ever be addressed when government requires developers to provide truly affordable housing — that is, housing rent geared to income. Until then it’s just more tweaking around the edges.