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.”