B.C. housing providers push for election spending promises

By Sam Cooper, The Province

A broad coalition of housing providers in B.C. is pushing for spending promises in the current federal election to address an affordability crisis squeezing the middle class.

At a Province editorial board meeting Tuesday, coalition members including non-profit, co-op housing and B.C. landlord associations, argued that federal spending for social housing has fallen behind for more than 20 years.

The result is B.C.’s government has mostly directed funding it receives from Ottawa to creating social housing, much of it in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, while the creation of new rental options for middle-class workers have been almost ignored.

There has been little incentive for builders to invest in market rental options, said Landlord B.C. CEO David Hutniak, while condo developers have dominated Vancouver’s market for decades.

The supply of condo units is sometimes rented out, but they are expensive compared to purpose-built rentals and can quickly be pulled off the market or left vacant.

The result is an incredibly tight and expensive rental market in Vancouver. In some ways, the wealthiest and poorest citizens are served by Vancouver’s property market, coalition members said, while the majority of middle-class workers, low-income workers, and seniors are getting crushed by market forces.

“We need more vacancies and then rents will come down,” Hutniak said. “It’s all supply and demand.”

Coalition members say all levels of government can assist with rental-unit creation in B.C., but re-establishing a strong federal role would move the needle the most.

Among a range of suggested policies, members would like to see low interest loans to stimulate subsidized rental building creation, capital gains tax breaks to encourage private rental unit construction, and tax credits to encourage investors to maintain existing rental housing rather than tearing stock down to build condos.

Overall, a federal commitment to increase affordable housing funding is the first priority, they said.

Thom Armstrong, executive director of the Co-Operative Housing Federation of B.C., said he thinks most voters understand the importance of housing middle class workers in an increasingly unaffordable city, but voters might react to the idea of subsidizing rental housing.

“People need to remember the biggest housing subsidy in Canada is the capital gains exemption homeowners get when they sell,” Armstrong said. “I think we need to get off this idea that home ownership is the Holy Grail. We need more options.”

Making the case for more federal funding for social housing, Tony Roy, executive director of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, said Vancouver’s affordability crisis is pushing a larger percentage of the population down the housing scale and into the streets.

“Every time you end up with someone homeless, it ends up costing the taxpayer more in other ways, like hospital bills and police interactions,” Roy said.

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