Homeownership is a vanishing dream for many middle-class families.
Faced with stagnating incomes and soaring house prices, moderate-income earners are often left with not much choice.
It doesn’t have to be this way, says former Vancouver city councillor Peter Ladner, a firm believer in the social value of helping the middle class own homes.
According to Ladner, property-owning members of the middle class “strengthen neighbourhoods”.
“People who own tend to have more of a stake in the community,” Ladner told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “They’re more involved politically. They’re paying more taxes more directly. And they tend to be more active in schools and community centres and so on.”
The rich do a lot of these things too, he added. But the onetime mayoral candidate noted that the well-off don’t need help and can take care of themselves.
He also said that although the poor may be at the lower end of the income spectrum, they get more attention from various levels of government in terms of policy and subsidies. The middle class is generally left to its own devices.
In his capacity as a fellow with SFU’s Centre for Dialogue, Ladner led a 2011 coalition of community and business partners in an attempt to develop affordable homes for moderate-income households earning $35,000 to $80,000 a year.
Called HomesNow, the coalition adopted a nontraditional approach. It worked solely with municipalities in Metro Vancouver without relying on funding from senior levels of government. After encountering difficulties working with municipalities, however, HomesNow stopped pursuing the initiative in December 2012.
A June 26, 2013, coalition report about its experience is included in the agenda of Metro Vancouver’s housing committee for Friday (September 13). Ladner, a former vice-chair of the regional-district body, will address members of the committee at this meeting.
“I’m going to challenge them to come to grips with the gap between their policies, which say that this type of housing is important and has to be supported, and their practices, which are not that willing to put resources into making improvements,” Ladner said.
The coalition’s report, “The HomesNow Initiative: Affordable Home Ownership in Greater Vancouver”, identifies factors that led to the failure of the initiative.
“These include the competition for limited municipal funds, the unwillingness of municipalities to undertake this endeavour without senior government funding, and the lack of a political consensus regarding subsidizing housing for any but low income households and those most in need,” the document states.
As a former municipal politician, Ladner explained in the interview that he understands why it’s difficult to get civic politicians to support the idea of helping people who are not exactly poor.
“Politicians are reluctant to get involved here because they’re getting beyond the neediest members of society and into basically asking some groups of taxpayers to subsidize people who have reasonable means but not adequate to allow them to buy housing,” he said. “I understand how that is politically sensitive.”
The coalition’s report also talks about the political risks associated with affordable-housing efforts.
“Providing affordable home ownership is politically challenging because of the perception that low income households are undesirable to many neighbours and that middle income households are undeserving of public support,” the report notes. “Creating low income housing in established neighbourhoods often results in community resistance because of fears that social problems will come to the area through the new residents, while helping a few middle income households obtain housing could easily be seen as unfair to other middle and lower income families who are not receiving assistance.”
It also states that building the required “political will for affordable housing for moderate income households will require time and diligent effort by its proponents”.
According to Ladner, municipalities ultimately lose out if professionals who make up the middle class look elsewhere to find a home.
“A lot of those people would like to own, and when they can’t, their only option is to move away,” Ladner said. “And that has economic impacts.”