Market Housing is Not the Solution

Two social housing sites – the province’s Little Mountain and Metro Vancouver’s Heather Place – are about to be redeveloped. With today’s housing crisis, this should be good news. Both sites could easily accommodate an increase in the number of social housing units.  But the owners have no interest in addressing our homelessness crisis. Both levels of government are proposing redevelopment models that will add only market housing.

At Little Mountain, this will mean a multifold increase in the total number of housing units but not a single additional unit of social housing. This is because every additional unit will be market housing. At Heather Place the situation is even worse. Not only will the total number of social housing units be frozen, but existing modestly-priced rental units not earmarked as social housing will all be eliminated and replaced by high-end, market housing.

Both cases above show how social housing sites are being exploited by government and developers for speculative financial purposes.

In addition to losing the opportunity of creating more badly-needed social housing, these two redevelopments promote a false sense of addressing the housing crisis by delivering more market housing. But ‘market housing’ in today’s Vancouver is housing very few of us can afford. The market is unable to deliver affordable housing. It delivers instead only housing that demands a salary very few of us will ever earn.

Today’s homelessness crisis is a direct result of the complete abandonment of housing programs by all levels of government. Consider what we had and then look at today’s situation.

  • Immediately after the Second World War the federal government built thousands of new housing units for returning vets and their families.
  • Throughout much of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the federal and municipal governments worked in partnership to fund the development of hundreds of housing cooperatives.
  • Until the recent election of Vision Vancouver, City Council had a longstanding policy of requiring developers to set aside 20% of all new developments for social housing.

Today, the federal government and the City of Vancouver no longer take seriously their responsibility for social housing.

The ability to provide housing for everyone is not a function of the size or strength of an economy. Countries all over the world with economies smaller than ours do a far better job addressing homelessness. In the European Union, for example, government expenditures on housing, measured as a percentage of GDP, are far higher than in Canada.  As a result, homelessness is a mere fraction of what it is today in Vancouver.  They understand that the term market-driven solutions is an oxymoron.

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