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

Joannah Connolly
July 4, 2016


“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
Joannah Connolly is editorial director of Glacier Real Estate, Glacier Media's real estate division. Joannah writes and curates real estate news for Glacier Media's local newspaper websites, including the Vancouver Courier, North Shore News, Burnaby Now, Tri-City News and others. She also oversees editorial content in Real Estate Weekly Homes, West Coast Condo, Western Investor and Glacier's special real estate publications. A dual Canadian-British citizen, Joannah has 22 years of journalism and editing experience in Vancouver and London, with a background in construction, architecture, healthcare and business media. Joannah has appeared on major local TV outlets as a real estate commentator, has moderated and spoken on various industry panels, and spent two years hosting the Real Estate Therapist radio show on Roundhouse Radio.