Mayor Gregor Robertson: It's time for more collaboration on housing affordability

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      It seems with every passing day, there is a new story out about Vancouver's red-hot real estate market. As mayor, Vancouver's lack of affordable housing is one of the most complex challenges I've faced at City Hall.

      That's why I was pleased to hear Premier Christy Clark's recent comments on housing and the need to "attack affordability from all angles". I agree. The rapidly escalating housing prices in Vancouver are creating frustration for many hard-working, middle-income residents and families, and even more strife for those living paycheque to paycheque.

      I hear on a daily basis from people who are unable to find quality rental housing in what is effectively a zero-vacancy market, and who are not even within shouting distance of being able to buy in Vancouver. It's time that all levels of government—the city (and local governments throughout the region), the province, the federal government—engage with each other and take urgent action to provide affordable housing for people on a range of incomes.

      At Vancouver City Hall, we're doing everything we can to get new housing built that meets the needs of local residents. Our Rental 100 program has successfully enabled almost 4,000 new units of rental homes. We have inclusionary zoning requirements in new neighbourhood plans like the Downtown Eastside and the Cambie corridor.

      We are investing $61 million into affordable housing this year—the highest in our history. We've made some progress, but it's clear that without more active collaboration with the B.C. and federal governments we won't be able to moderate the severe impacts of an unbridled housing market.

      The first step is supply, and the single biggest step we can take to address the soaring housing costs in Metro Vancouver is to have the B.C. and federal governments generate thousands of new housing units that are affordable for lower- and middle-income taxpayers, such as co-ops and rental housing. Even a sharp correction in the housing market won’t enable opportunities for people to rent or buy without an increase in supply of housing geared to low and middle incomes.

      While the provincial government funds a number of social housing projects, as well as providing rent supplements, the federal government is increasingly absent from the housing sector. Years of cutbacks have put thousands of co-ops and social housing units at risk, and the lack of new investment is compounding Vancouver's—and the region's—affordability challenges.

      In an election year, we need to persuade all federal parties to commit to a serious push on housing: tax incentives to build rental dwellings, renewing and investing in co-op units, and rather than liquidating public lands, using them as an opportunity to maximize affordable housing.

      But supply is just one part of the equation. It is time to ensure that B.C. taxpayers see some benefit from the remarkable rise in residential land values in many parts of the province. The city is ready and willing to engage in a serious conversation with the province on housing, and to look at new tools to create a more level playing field in the housing market.

      What could these tools be? There are a number of options the province could pursue:

      • An increased property transfer tax on the most expensive residential properties, with the proceeds invested back into creating more affordable housing;

      • A tax to discourage the quick resale or “flipping” of new housing, which would reduce speculation—particularly for pre-sales—and help level the playing field for first-time buyers;

      • Give municipalities the power and data to track property ownership, with tools to ensure timely occupancy of vacant units.

      These steps would moderate the excesses of the Vancouver housing market, without unfairly punishing those who have built up home equity over many years. These policies would slow the surging prices that are forcing renters and prospective buyers to leave the city in search of more affordable housing. They would create a more even playing field for the younger generation that is struggling to afford to live in the city.

      Let's be clear: no single policy will provide a magic solution to housing affordability. That's why we need a range of tools that we carefully design and deploy. But the huge disconnect between local wages and rising housing prices requires all governments to adjust and respond urgently.

      Baby boomers and many people in my generation had the good fortune to enter the housing market at the beginning of a long, steady climb in housing prices. All governments now have a responsibility to ensure that the next generation can share in the benefits of our successful economy, and have the opportunity to live and thrive right here in B.C. Given the urgency of the situation, I'm hopeful that the B.C. and federal governments will sit down with the city, and work with us to on a new set of housing policies that enhance fairness and affordability for a range of incomes.

      It's time we take the prudent steps necessary to maintain a strong, stable housing market together. One that provides opportunity for both renters and new buyers, and financial security for those who are already in the market. Housing in Vancouver should be for people to live in, to raise a family, to retire—to be treated as a home, not as a speculative investment.

      Our housing market is drastically different from where it was 10 or 20 years ago. Let's recognize that times have changed and that we need a new conversation on housing—and meaningful government action to make sure we're providing housing opportunities for everyone, not just the very wealthy.

      Gregor Robertson is the mayor of Vancouver.

      Comments

      68 Comments

      Alexey

      Jun 3, 2015 at 10:24am

      That's smart. Preaching for "a tax on flippers" after flipping his own house.

      Froid

      Jun 3, 2015 at 10:42am

      Let's get Bob Rennie to head up some sort of action committee!

      Jiff

      Jun 3, 2015 at 11:37am

      Robertson's all like - "Whaaa? How did this happen?"

      Vancouver-esque

      Jun 3, 2015 at 11:50am

      It's a city that is hell bent and determined to be exclusively for the rich, and everyone else will be driven down the road to poverty. Cities around the world have the sense to put measures in place to stop foreign investment from destroying the locals' buying power, but not in greedy arrogant Vancouver where clawing away to get that Chinese money is the top priority. So you regular folk... pack your bags and get out. Take 40 buses from Chilliwack to get to work so you can make us our marshmallow chocolate and graham cracker topped frappuccino with caramel sprinkles.

      derp

      Jun 3, 2015 at 12:14pm

      i like gregor, but this is a fluff piece. there are too many people making too much money for any real change to happen. we need the provincial government to actually dig into ownership data, which they've outright refused to do.

      don't talk about pretending to do something. do something.

      Jon Q. Publik

      Jun 3, 2015 at 12:17pm

      Gregor really needs to stop tooting his own horn, the next election isn't for another three years and he is once again appearing to be rather tone deaf when it comes to the creation of actual solutions to a problem.

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      Jun 3, 2015 at 12:32pm

      I think Robertson flipped his wife, not his house. Flipping is just that, selling quickly to realize a fast profit. Thousands moan at the cost of single family homes in Vancouver, that's not Robertson's fault. 'Solid' citizens now howl that they are losing their older, heritage homes nto demolition, but I'll wager most of them know someone who was made an offer 'they couldn't refuse' on an older home on valuable land and sold it. Even in Chinatown, heritage lovers bemoan the loss of some their older buildings to redevelopment and condo conversions, but I'll wager again that it's members of the Chinese-Community who are selling these sites for redevelopment.

      Andrew S

      Jun 3, 2015 at 1:05pm

      I think this article represents a step in the right direction and I agree with what Greggor is saying. In my view the most effective step the City can take is to impose strict requirements for significantly more 2 and 3 bedroom units in all new developments. Increase mandatory proportion of rental units, and reduce parking stall requirements to decrease construction costs and promote non-car transportation. Municipal, Provincial and Federal participation for more co-ops will help. Additionally, mid-density housing needs to grow swiftly and preferentially: incentives for non-strata row housing and strata townhomes, not just along arterials. Rezone to allow duplexes across the entire city. These are the housing forms that will work for middle class and professional working families.

      CRAsucks

      Jun 3, 2015 at 1:15pm

      The problem is only complex if you include Real Estate developers for your advice. I don't agree the first step is "supply", that is talk from developers that want to make more housing that only Foreign Investors can afford. The first step is collecting data to find out why houses are being purchased that are far out of the range of the people living here. "Supply" is just an excuse for developers to cash in while the stock is hot. Local Supply and Demand does not explain the Vancouver situation. This article really ticks me off. Not once does he mention the real problem of restricting Foreign Real Estate Investment, all these ideas totally skirt the real issue. But ok, get a sound bite that looks like you are doing something, but at the same time shoveling millions to developers that will sell the result over seas.... next idea please, and maybe a new Mayor?

      bankrolled by development industry

      Jun 3, 2015 at 1:16pm

      Gregor Robertson's Vision spent over $3.4 million in 2014 on getting reelected. The lion's share came from developer contributions.

      Follow the money. Robertson is only doing the bidding of his masters. Vision's priority is to keep housing as expensive and unaffordable as possible, and to maximize corporate profits.