Editorial: Don’t Get Excited by $150m Funds for Affordable Housing in BC

Federal funding for “affordable housing” programs is laudable and welcomed, but won’t help the typical Vancouverite

July 4, 2016

Vancouver social housing Alexander Street
The Alexander Street Community provides 100 units of low-barrier permanent housing and 39 units of clinically supported transitional housing for those with physical or mental health challenges


“Federal government invests $150m in affordable housing for BC” read the headlines last week. (Here’s one such article by the CBC, and another by the Vancouver Sun, to name two of many.)

Well, yes, they are investing $150m in affordable housing. But no, they aren’t.

It really depends on what exactly you mean by the term "affordable housing." To me, that term should mean programs and initiatives that allow regular folk to afford to buy or rent homes in an expensive market such as Vancouver’s. The kind of programs that justify the CBC’s opening sentence of “The federal government has announced it will invest $150 million in affordable housing in British Columbia, as real estate prices in the province continue to skyrocket.” The kinds of programs that make a difference to an average person’s ability to actually buy or rent one of those skyrocketing-priced homes.

I’m thinking of government-subsidized rent-to-own programs, shared-ownership schemes, increased tax breaks for home buyers, capped-price rental housing, and so on.

But those are not the kinds of programs the federal government is funding here. It has investing:

  • $50.9 million toward repairs and improving efficiency of aging social-housing units;
  • $25.2 million toward the construction and repair of affordable-housing units for seniors,
  • $10.9 million in building and repair of shelters and transition houses for domestic-violence victims; and
  • $63 million in future projects, to be decided by the province, under the Investment in Affordable Housing agreement – a program designed to provide housing to people and families most in need.

All of which is fantastic news.

However, unless you are one of the people that qualify for housing under the above schemes, which most of us (thankfully) are not, then there’s no need to get excited about this investment – other than because of the good work it will do for those in need.

Because this funding will do absolutely nothing to help you buy or rent a home in our market. It won’t bring real estate prices down, it won’t help you with your down payment, it won’t help you with closing costs, it won’t give you tax relief.

So, while I congratulate the Liberal government on an excellent pledge of much-needed funding in essential areas of social housing, there should also have been some mention of how this government intends to help average first-time buyers get their foot on the first rung of the property ladder, or help regular growing families move up into larger homes.

In the meantime, to avoid these confusing media headlines, let’s stop calling these kinds of programs “affordable housing” – since this is far from being affordable housing for all.

Let’s call them “social housing” or “seniors’ housing” instead – and reserve the term “affordable housing” for schemes that help typical folk, well, afford housing.

Joannah Connolly has been editor and content manager of since May 2014. Joannah has appeared on major local TV outlets as a real estate commentator, and has moderated and spoken on several industry panels. During this time, she also spent two years hosting the Real Estate Therapist radio show on Roundhouse Radio 98.3FM. A dual Canadian-British citizen, Joannah has 20 years of journalism experience in Vancouver and London, with a prior background in construction, architecture and business media.
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