CMHC measure of ‘core need’ to guide City of Vancouver’s new definition of social housing

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      The City of Vancouver is coming up with a new definition of social housing that will mean it’s adequate, suitable, and affordable.

      Council has directed staff to find an alternative to the current designation that was adapted during the time of then mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver caucus.

      With this Vision legacy, entire residential projects that are mostly market rentals that can be occupied by wealthy tenants are now called social housing.

      The new classification will be guided by a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation standard called “core housing need”.

      Core housing need evaluates the acceptability of the housing conditions, and not the incomes of Canadian households.

      The federal agency explains online that core housing need “integrates standards for dwelling adequacy, suitability and affordability into a single measure of the housing conditions of Canadian households”.

      “If a household falls below one or more of these three standards and it would have to spend 30% or more of its total before-tax income to pay the median rent of alternative local housing that is acceptable (meets all three standards), it is classified as being in core housing need,” according to CMHC.

      Housing is deemed adequate if it does not require major repairs.

      It is suitable if the residence has enough bedrooms for the size of the household.

      Housing is affordable if the household spends less than 30 percent of its before-tax income for its shelter costs, which include utilities and other fees.

      In a meeting Tuesday (June 2), council approved a motion by Pete Fry to review the definition of social housing that was made by the previous Vision Vancouver administration.

      City planners were not given a deadline to report back to council on this matter.

      With Mayor Kennedy Stewart absent, the meeting was chaired by Fry’s Green Party of Vancouver colleague Adriane Carr.

      Before Fry’s motion was adapted, Green councillor Michael Wiebe recognized Carr’s efforts to make the city honest about its housing record.

      “We need to keep it real,” Wiebe said.

      Carr was a member of council when Vision revised the traditional definition of social housing in 2015.

      Carr voted against designating whole developments as social housing if 30 percent of these units are dedicated to tenants whose earnings fall below the yearly Housing Income Limits set by B.C. Housing, and the rest of the 70 percent are for renters who can afford market rates at whatever level the market can bear.

      According to B.C. Housing, HILs are “intended to reflect the minimum income required to afford appropriate accommodation in the private market”.

      In Vancouver, the HILs for 2019 range from $51,500 for residents of one bedroom units to $83,500 for those in four-bedroom accomodations.

      Melissa De Genova was also a member of council in 2015 when Vision adapted a new definition of social housing.

      Like Carr, De Genova voted against the Vision designation, and both are members of the current council.

      Fry and now councillor Jean Swanson were community activists at the time when Vision redefined social housing, which at the time simply meant housing for people who are not wealthy.

      It was Swanson who introduced an amendment to Fry’s motion to incorporate the concept of core housing need into a new definition of social housing.

      “I hope it just makes it clearer how much social husing is actually for people who are in need,” Swanson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      Swanson related that she recently watched a city hall video of the 2015 council meeting wherein she spoke against Vision’s definition of social housing, calling it Orwellian.

      After five years, Swanson finds the event rather amusing. “It’s pretty funny,” she said.