Vancouver nonprofit proposes RRSP-, RESP-like registered savings plans for affordable housing

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      Real estate has made millionaires out of many people, at least on paper.

      Even on the less ritzy East Side of Vancouver, a typical detached home was worth $1,546,700 in January 2021.

      The appreciation of property values has contributed to a widening gap in wealth. This, in turn, breeds elitism among some.

      As a housing advocate, Edgardo Sabile is keenly aware of such snobbery.

      According to the acting president of the nonprofit One Housing Society, some property owners view mass-housing models such as cooperatives and public housing “like a ghetto”.

      “Some people think that only poor people live there,” Sabile told the Straight in a phone interview. “It’s not true.”

      Sabile said that lawyers and doctors also live in housing cooperatives because they like the sense of community found in these places, where people know each other.

      He speaks from personal experience. He and his wife and their two children live at the Killarney Gardens Housing Co-operative, a multicultural housing co-op in East Vancouver.

      “In our co-op, we got engineers; we have professionals,” said Sabile, a night manager at a Vancouver hotel.

      Sabile’s family pay market rate at Killarney Garden. Some of their neighbours pay subsidized-housing fees.

      In public-housing developments, such as those owned by the Metro Vancouver regional government, a number of residents also pay market-level rents.

      One Housing Society is formally known as the Fil Co-operative One Housing Society. The housing nonprofit is an offshoot of the One Filipino Co-operative of B.C., a credit cooperative. Both are pioneering organizations in the province’s Filipino Canadian community.

      On January 29 this year, the two groups wrote to a B.C.-based panel created by the provincial and federal governments in 2019.

      One Housing Society and One Filipino Co-operative of B.C. submitted a letter as their contribution to the second phase of public consultation by the Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply and Affordability.

      The panel, led by ICBC chair and former B.C. NDP MLA Joy MacPhail, is scheduled to make housing-policy recommendations to the two levels of government this spring.

      In their letter, the two community organizations made two proposals.

      One is the creation of a Registered Family Home Savings Plan (RFHSP).

      An RFHSP could help “lower to middle income level Canadian families…accumulate a fund specifically dedicated to the purchase of an affordable housing where the homebuyer and his/her family will live, thrive, and contribute to the local economy and social fabric”.

      Moreover, the savings plan can be “modeled after some or all relevant features (for example, cumulative roll-over of ceiling amount, non-taxability of interest or other earnings, unless withdrawn for another non-housing purpose) of the Registered Retirement Savings Plan”, or RRSP.

      The second proposal is also a type of savings plan but designed for new housing co-ops and housing nonprofits.

      It is called a Registered Members’ Fund for Affordable Housing. An RMFAH will encourage groups to save for a down payment for their affordable-housing project.

      According to the letter, middle-class people organized into housing cooperatives or nonprofit housing societies have the “potential to pool their financial resources into a housing fund that will strengthen their eligibility for government and financial institution financing of their affordable housing project”.

      “In addition, to incentivize initiatives such as this, we propose for the government to endow this registered fund features such as a grant contribution as well as tax shelter (similar to the Registered Education Savings Plan),” or RESP, the two community associations wrote to the panel.

      NDP MLA Mable Elmore welcomes One Housing Society and One Filipino Co-operative of B.C.'s input into housing-policy dialogue.

      One Housing Society’s Sabile signed the letter along with Roel Gumboc and Jojo Palencia, president and general manager, respectively, of One Filipino Co-operative of B.C.

      B.C. NDP MLA Mable Elmore represents Vancouver-Kensington in Victoria. She is also the only member of the provincial legislature with Filipino ancestry.

      Elmore said that she is impressed with the submission made by the two organizations.

      “They made a couple of very concrete and clear policy recommendations, which will contribute to the dialogue on the complex area around housing supply and affordability,” Elmore told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Last summer, the expert panel on housing released an interim report about what it heard during the first phase of its public consultation.

      One theme that emerged was “diversity” in housing.

      Diversity, as the panel heard, has three aspects. One involves a mix of housing tenures that does not favour ownership over rental, or vice versa.

      The second is diversity in housing types, with an emphasis on lower- to middle-income levels.

      The third is the “need to diversify the delivery of housing allowing more organisations (i.e. non-profits, social REITs [real estate investment trust], co-operatives, etc.) to participate in the supply of housing”.

      The B.C. NDP government has pledged to invest $7 billion in affordable housing over 10 years. In 2018, it announced a plan to work with partners in delivering 114,000 affordable homes over a decade.

      On the part of the federal government, Ottawa has launched a national housing strategy. It involves a 10-year, $55-billion plan to build 125,000 new affordable housing units, repair 300,000 existing ones, and reduce chronic homelessness by 50 percent.

      According to Elmore, groups such as Sabile’s One Housing Society would make a “good partner” for the provincial and federal levels of government.