Letter to the National Housing Strategy Team

October 20, 2016

National Housing Strategy Team
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)
700 Montreal Rd
Ottawa ON  K1A 0P7

 Dear Housing Strategy Team:

I am writing to you in response to your current consultation on housing in Canada.

I am the Member of the Legislative Assembly in British Columbia for the constituency of Vancouver-Hastings. I have been elected three times, and served more than 11 years in office. Vancouver-Hastings is one of the poorest constituencies in British Columbia. It has, in raw numbers, one of the largest urban aboriginal populations in BC. Affordable housing is a critical issue in my community.

Home ownership is simply not an option for the vast majority of my constituents who are not already in the housing market. There are many examples of modest homes on 33 foot lots increasing in value by upwards of 1000% over the past 20 years. Single family homes that were available for under $500,000 a decade ago are now selling in the $2 million range. We have a reality where home ownership is simply impossible for many citizens.

Of increasing concern is the lack of affordable and appropriate rental accommodation. Vacancy rates are currently under 1%. Rents have been escalating at unprecedented rates. Further, we are seeing a serious shortage of family-based homes. Person after person has told me about their search for a two or three-bedroom unit for them and their families in the $1500 – 1800 per month range. The story is too often the same, they cannot find a unit that meets their needs and when they do find something it is unaffordable, often in the $3000 range.

The challenges facing housing in British Columbia are numerous. We need to determine our priorities. It is my belief that the private development industry will continue to drive market housing. It is exceptionally lucrative, and has arguably been B.C.’s primary economic driver for more than a decade. The challenge for the public sector, led by the federal and provincial governments, with an active role for local governments, is to build non-market housing. This can include a wide range of housing supporting seniors, those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, youth and families.

A federal/provincial housing strategy aimed at meeting Canadians needs is essential. For example, the BC Non-Profit Housing Association has projected that we will need to build 3000 units per year for the next decade to get on top of the demand in our province. They also note, quite correctly, that we require a significant investment of $190 million to ensure the maintenance of, and required upgrades to, the existing 60,000 non-market units in B.C., many of which are aging.

Meeting these objectives needs to be the priority for a partnership between the federal and provincial governments moving forward. This partnership needs to be fully resourced. In addition, local government has a critical role, particularly around land and zoning supports. We will not address the housing issues in front of us without such a substantive and meaningful national housing strategy.

I am confident that there are many interests across Canada that can provide excellent input into the development of a successful national housing strategy. I would urge the federal government to engage those interests to ensure that all critical voices are at the table as the framework for such a strategy unfolds.

I also want to address one potential key area of a joint housing strategy: co-operative housing. Home ownership is simply not an option for many of my constituents, and many others across Metro Vancouver and around the B.C. It is unlikely to become a choice for them at any time in the foreseeable future. Yet, like many, they are looking for the security that home ownership affords. Co-operative housing is the most well-known and well-tested limited equity option that provides many of the benefits of ownership while remaining affordable. The trade-off is limited equity, but, for those who do not view housing strictly as a financial vehicle, but as a place to live, this is often an appealing choice.

The challenge is that co-operative housing in B.C., and elsewhere, has stagnated with the end of senior government support. It is alternatives like co-operatives and other non-market housing that need to be reaffirmed as a priority for government. I strongly urge the federal government to hold discussions with the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada to pursue strategies to grow the sector in a substantive fashion across our nation.

Fundamentally, we need to establish a real housing strategy for Canada, something that has been lacking for more than two decades. It needs to be created in partnership with senior levels of governments and with municipal buy-in. It must draw on the best advice of critical players in the non-profit, co-operative, financial, and other sectors. And it needs to be a strategy that is funded at levels that allow it to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the tens of thousands of Canadians who are desperate for secure, appropriate, and affordable housing.

It is time to act.

Thankyou.

Sincerely,

Shane Simpson, MLA
Vancouver-Hastings

CC: Jenny Kwan, MP Vancouver East.

 

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