Political leaders of every stripe are promising swathes of affordable housing – one day. We need it to happen now
Yesterday was National Housing Day, November 22, 2017, and the federal Liberal government pledged a historic $40 billion investment over 10 years to create affordable housing, offer financial support to low-income and vulnerable Canadians, repair and improve existing housing stock, and slash homelessness. (Check out our news story on the strategy.)
It’s the largest-ever investment in housing in Canadian history, promising much-needed homes and housing assistance to our citizens. The size of the investment seems to indicate a well-intentioned federal government that grasps the vastness and complexity of the housing problem in this country. However, it’s also a strategy that seems to require voters to re-elect the incumbent Liberal government when the next federal election rolls around in 2019, as much of the funding is not planned to flow until after that time. Because, of course, they have to “take time to get it right first time.”
It’s not just the Feds who are promising to deliver, at some distant point in the future, swathes of affordable, non-market and social housing. The BC NDP has pledged it will build 114,000 affordable homes, also over the next 10 years (alongside introducing other new measures such as closing lease loopholes to help renters). And while these promises are laudable, the question remains: when can we expect to see actual results – tangible, completed homes that people can move into? With permitting and building processes as painfully slow as they are, will any of this housing even be built within the NDP’s initial tenure?
BC Premier John Horgan and housing and municipal affairs minister Selina Robinson addressed the development industry on this topic at an Urban Development Institute event on November 16, and were asked precisely these tough questions by the audience. Ever the politicians, Horgan and Robinson made encouraging noises, and spoke at length about opening up dialogue with the industry, tackling these tough challenges, but also – like Trudeau and the Liberals – taking the time to get it right and not make changes with a “heavy fist.” So there were no concrete answers to the “exactly when?” and “exactly how?” questions asked.
Some guests were reasonably happy with their responses, and acknowledged that it does indeed take time to get these tricky problems right. Kevin Skipworth, partner/broker at Dexter Associates, told REW that he felt the message at least “seemed positive towards acting on the supply side and being careful on the demand side. But,” he added, “we will see…”
I know I was one of many who came away from that lunch feeling short-changed by the lack of one single concrete commitment from our provincial leaders. REW columnist, architect and urban planner Michael Geller also wrote a column about it in our sister paper the Vancouver Courier.
Geller writes, “As we left the room disappointed with the speeches, I announced I would devote this column to outlining what Robinson and the Premier should have told the audience. Since both acknowledged the province’s need to help developers and municipalities streamline project approval processes, they could have echoed a recent announcement by Liberal leadership candidate Mike De Jong. If elected, he promises to legislate faster municipal permitting times for those seeking to build new homes, while offering more funding to planning departments to fix a ‘logjam’ of 120,000 existing housing applications in and around Vancouver.” Geller also outlines a series of other solutions, any of which would have been welcome announcements.
Now is the turn of the City of Vancouver, which will be presenting its Housing Vancouver to council on November 29. Hopefully the city's ambitious goals for 72,000 new homes over the next 10 years and widespread densification of single-family neighbourhoods will turn into real house for those who need them, and in a timely manner.
Whether federal, provincial or municipal, it’s certainly time for all our leaders to put political differences aside and work together to actually build all this housing being promised to our chronically under-housed population.
A little less conversation, a little more action, please.