Vision Vancouver accused of "misleading" residents with use of term "affordable housing"

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      Linda MacAdam likes to keep the radio on at home for news.

      On August 19, the Vancouver woman heard a CKNW interview that knocked her over. In it, radio host Simi Sara asked city councillor Kerry Jang what the term affordable housing means.

      “Well, you know, affordable housing is something that somebody can afford,” Jang replied.

      It’s up to people to make “decisions as to what’s affordable to them”, the Vision Vancouver politician explained.

      “Generally, if you can’t afford to buy a home, you rent something,” Jang also said.

      For MacAdam, Jang’s reply was a revelation. According to the former president of the Dunbar Residents’ Association, Vision Vancouver has been throwing around the words affordable housing without really saying what it means.

      The ruling civic party has cited the creation of affordable housing as an “excuse” to justify the rezoning of neighbourhoods, she said.

      “I find that really disingenuous, at the very least,” MacAdam told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      She was so worked up after listening to the interview that she fired off an email to fellow Dunbar residents on the same day.

      “Now we have the truth, finally,” Mac­Adam told her neighbours. “Nothing to do with providing housing that even the average Vancouver income earner can afford, never mind the Starbucks barista. Under this definition, Chip Wilson’s multi million dollar mansion on Point Grey Road is ‘affordable housing’.”

      Jang was being interviewed by CKNW in connection with a rally held the day before by residents of Marpole. They were protesting a plan drafted by city hall for their community. The proposal includes changing the zoning classification of many single-family properties in order to bring in denser developments such as duplexes, townhouses, and apartments.

      Even though MacAdam said she is “appalled” by Vision Vancouver’s “misleading” use of the term, she still wondered if Jang was simply “caught unawares” by the question.

      But Jang meant what he said. In fact, the two-term councillor was amused when asked to comment on MacAdam’s reaction to his on-air definition.

      “What’s wrong with that?” Jang said with a chuckle, telling the Straight by phone that the concept of affordability is fleshed out in the long-term housing and homelessness plan adopted by council in 2011.

      He said that the plan, Vancouver’s Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2012-2021: A Home for Everyone, identified various housing options representing different levels of affordability. These ranged from shelters for the homeless to rentals and private homes.

      “Our goal is to provide a range of housing at different price points, and then you go to the one that you’re most comfortable with, what you can afford,” Jang said.

      Affordable housing does not come with a fixed price tag, according to the second-term councillor.

      “Some people value different things,” Jang said, “so it’s impossible to give a definition of affordability in terms of a dollar value, because some people may be willing to pay more for different features in a place.”

      A report by city staff on a rezoning application that was approved by council in February is an indicator of the thinking over at 12th and Cambie. The infill development involves the construction of market rental homes at the Beach Towers complex in the West End. Rent will be $1,125 to $1,310 for a studio, $1,390 to $2,600 for a one-bedroom, and $1,900 to $2,720 for a two-bedroom.

      “The rental units in this project will provide an affordable alternative to homeownership, particularly for two-bedroom units that are suitable for families with children,” staff wrote in the report. “Monthly costs of ownership are about 50 percent higher than the anticipated rents for studio and one-bedroom units and about 75 percent for two-bedroom units.”

      Jang noted in his interview with the Straight that some people may ask how market rentals in the city can even be considered affordable housing.

      Here’s Jang’s take on the question: “Well, it’s affordable for those who can’t afford to buy a home.”




      Sep 4, 2013 at 8:49am

      I can't think of any other word to describe him better than "asshole".


      Sep 4, 2013 at 9:02am

      "Affordable" is not a word I would use to describe housing in Vancouver.


      Sep 4, 2013 at 10:00am

      "Vision Vancouver accused of "misleading" residents..." < Have we picked up on a trend here yet?

      ReVisionIst History

      Sep 4, 2013 at 10:01am

      Metro Vancouver and CMHC both define "affordable housing" as that which costs less than 30% of household income. There should be no need for Kerry Jang to create a new definition that suits his own objectives. A Vision Vancouver "affordable housing" unit at Beach Towers at $2,700 a month would mean a gross household income of approximately $110,000. At that income level, a number of options are available to these households. Using programs like STIR and Rental 100 to create these types of "affordable" rental units is folly and Jang's amusement at the situation is insulting.


      Sep 4, 2013 at 10:01am

      Imagine a Councillor being so ignorant of the definition of "afforda ble housing"!
      Vision is basing significant finalcial and hosuing decisions on the term. No wonder they have lost the plot on "market" rental v's "affordable" rental as they hand our taxpayer $'s to development corporations.
      They call it Rental 100 (replacement for STIR), I call it Vision spin spin spin.


      Sep 4, 2013 at 10:11am

      The Glossary for the Metro Vancouver Affordable Housing Strategy document contains the following definition:

      Affordable Housing: Affordable housing is defined as housing that should not cost more than 30 per cent of a household’s gross income regardless of whether they are living in market or non-market housing.

      and yes, this is adopted policy. There are 7 Directors (all Vision members of City Council) from Vancouver who are on the Metro Vancouver board, including Councillor Jang.


      Sep 4, 2013 at 10:21am

      This is just one more reason why paying politicians or translink or bc ferries directors gobs of money is such a bad idea. They can't make good decisions about the effects their high prices have on most citizens because they don't live that reality. $91 a month for a 1 zone bus pass is outrageous! The cost of housing in the city, rental or purchase is punishing for most average income earners.

      I'm stuggling to pay rent

      Sep 4, 2013 at 10:26am

      for my 1 bedroom East Van apartment. I'd be much more "comfortable" paying rent on a place with working heat and no bedbugs, but I suppose this is "affordable" by Vancouver standards, if not a bargain!

      Bill McCreery

      Sep 4, 2013 at 10:49am

      "$1,390 (+/-$2.80/sf @ 490 sf) to $2,600 (+/-$3.50/sf @ 750 sf) for a one-bedroom" is "affordable"? The $1,390 suite will be a 490 sf shoebox, and there'll only be one of them in the project. 560 sf to 610 sf 1 bedroom condos in my building on Hornby are renting for $1,100 - $1,200 (+/-$2/sf). The average rents in Vancouver a year ago were $1.50 to $2/sf.

      It must also be kept in mind that these "affordable" rental projects are receiving taxpayer subsidies to the tune of $50,000 to $125,000 per unit.

      David Chudnovsky

      Sep 4, 2013 at 10:53am

      Previous responders have identified correctly the accepted definition of "affordable housing". It's 30% of household income - at all income levels.

      The current council also uses another sleight-of-hand by confusing "market rental" with "affordable". If you follow carefully their narrative, they increasingly point to an increase in the number of market rental units being built when asked about their affordable housing strategy. But the real question is: What are the rents being charged in those market units? And almost none are affordable for working class and middle class families, for seniors and for young people.

      The private market is the cause of the current housing affordability crisis not the solution. All levels of government - especially the federal and provincial, but also the municipal - need to explore non-market options, like the ones that were used from the 1940s to the 1990s to provide tens of thousands of affordable homes for generations of people.

      It's not that complicated, and it's certainly not particularly radical. In Canada for almost 50 years, and around the world, governments have come to understand that affordable housing in big metropolitan centres requires state intervention and support.