Whether you think of it as a crisis, a bubble or simply the new normal, lack of access to affordable housing is one of the issues that’s most often raised when I talk to people in our community.
Young people are giving up on the dream of owning their own home. Seniors are worried about staying in houses they’ve lived in for decades. Parents are struggling to accommodate their growing families. Employers are challenged to attract employees wary of an unaffordable housing market.
In fact, the majority of the more than 1,000 people who responded to my most recent annual community survey identified affordable housing as a top priority for our community.
For a long time we’ve pushed in Parliament for a national housing strategy; for the funding and federal leadership required to make affordable housing a right and a reality by addressing both the demand and supply sides of the problem. As our community grows, demand for housing grows with it. But meeting that demand requires not only an increase in housing overall, but also finding the right mix of new construction types, from condos to below-market rental units, and better use of existing stock.
Getting there will require rethinking policies at all levels of government. Local governments can update bylaws to enable more secondary suites, housing cooperatives, and other means of making better use of existing land. At the provincial level, the NDP government closed the fixed term lease loophole which allowed landlords to stick tenants with massive rent hikes. At the federal level, smarter tax incentives can harness private capital for affordable housing in the regions and market segments with the greatest need, as happened a generation ago with the rise of Multiple Unit Residential Buildings.
And, of course, getting there will take money. While the federal Liberal government has made plenty of announcements about affordable housing, there’s too often a delay in the distribution of real dollars until after the next federal election, which fails to address the seriousness of the issue. For example, the Canada Housing Benefits, which the Liberals state will provide an average rent subsidy of $2,500 annually won’t begin until April 2020.
However, the new BC government recently struck a deal with Ottawa to invest nearly one billion dollars in the BC government’s commitment to creating 114,000 new, affordable homes over the next ten years. This includes affordable rental housing and housing for women and children fleeing abusive relationships. Evidently, getting there requires planning and communication among all levels of government.
Housing is a right. We cannot let that fact become a platitude. Canadians deserve greater housing affordability and all levels of government need to work together to guarantee it.
Murray Rankin is member of parliament for the Victoria riding.