Buying ourselves out of homes

Political will and housing affordability.

Dallas Rd, Marine Drive, Victoria, BC

How far are we willing to stretch the limits to housing affordability in our region? The high cost of property in the south island and the provincial and federal governments’ long, slow march of deregulation, lax taxation, low interest rates for buyers, and privileging of external property investors are combining to undermine any semblance of affordability.

Rental stock in Greater Victoria is overpriced and, seriously, at less than 0% vacancy right now.1 I don’t want to pay more than $1,000 per month for a one bedroom, let alone a basement one bedroom. Do you?

Federal funding of co-operative housing stock and management has been eliminated. Rent control. Sounds cool, what’s that?

And at last count, in Victoria, we had more than 1300 people without stable housing in February 2016.2

The tent city, erected fall 2015 on land owned by the province, behind the courthouse, has been the target of so much poor-bashing. Visible drug use, human waste and drug paraphernalia found on neighbouring properties, and an inability to blend into the sterile, polite, and tidy Victoria, have been cited as reason for it to be shut down — all evidence that our society is failing the poor, first through neglect and now by reinforcing barriers to housing, healthcare, and community.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading because there is so much information out there. The BC CCPA just released a housing affordability report responding to Vancouver’s extreme case of housing costs far outpacing average income. Victoria is well on its way.3 Vancouver and Victoria are not exceptional in the global context. Urban centres around the world are facing the impacts of removing protections of housing stock, including rentals, for their denizens in favour of speculative investment and short-term vacation rentals. The newly elected mayor of London, UK, has made some extreme demands of the city’s housing authority and builders associations to radically undo the previous eight years of uncontrolled development and investment fuelled by international money.4

What has possessed us as a culture to buy wholeheartedly into the belief that the ownership of a single-family home or condominium is the life goal of most value? Is it linked to settler romanticism; this idea of wide open spaces for the taking, where every man has the ultimate control over his little plot of heaven? As the CCPA report notes, it’s important to manage costs of home ownership and maintain more equitable access to land and control. It’s also just as important to control the cost of rent, restore the support of co-operative housing, and challenge the notion that self-contained houses are the best. Federal, provincial, and municipal policies must encourage zoning for multi-household rental builds and conversions in a way that they currently do not.

The lack of housing is, in many ways, a public health crisis. Housing has been shown to be linked to health. The Capital Regional District announced its Housing First strategy last year; if everyone has a home, then other determinants of health are more likely to improve. In Los Angeles, health funding is being used to house chronically homeless people. Housing policy must consider people living in poverty, and it must also consider people who are neither rich or poor.5

It takes the sustained political will of municipal, provincial and federal governments to undo the damage of decades of deregulation And it takes the commitment of voters – including home owners and property owners – to elect governments with a view to the greater good. article ending Interrobang flourish

  1. A unit is considered vacant if it is unoccupied and available for immediate rental. If the demand for rentals exceeds vacancies, there is a 0% or less vacancy rate. For more information, see:
  2. More than a number: Greater Victoria point in time count summary report, April 26, 2016, Marika Albert, Tanya Penna, Flora Pagan, Bernie Pauly:
  3. Getting serious about affordable housing: towards a plan for Metro Vancouver, May 2016, Marc Lee:
  4. Sadiq Khan warns ‘greedy’ developers as he outlines housing plan: London’s mayor criticises Boris Johnson and says he wants more than half of homes on some new developments to be affordable, May 16, 2016, Robert Booth:
  5. A bold bet in LA: using healthcare funds to find housing for the homeless, May 13, 2016, Usha Lee McFarling: