The city of Vancouver's new housing affordability plan promises to greatly increase the pool of rental homes. It's about time we did something to deal with an approaching housing crisis.
Vancouver’s new housing affordability plan has some interesting – and to many, very radical – ideas that may seem way out there among adamant free-enterprisers, who seem to make up the majority of developers and homeowners in this city.
The plan says the city should radically kick up housing density around transportation nodes (in row houses or stacked townhouses instead of highrises); create a housing authority that would lease out city land for housing and oversee the system; and, most of all, provide desperately needed rental housing in a city where ownership is king.
It’s because of that lust to own your own home (which is partly a fallacy, because you don’t really own your home, your lender does) in a region that has finite land resources for housing that we’ve become one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live.
Unlike most older cities in North America and Europe where people rent for generations, Vancouver doesn’t really have a rental culture. Here it’s ownership, ownership, ownership, which means if you're a renter, you're somehow deficient and so deserve to be gouged and continually shuffled around from home to home.
This holy grail of home ownership – a house – starts around a million dollars in Vancouver, which is ridiculous. No ordinary person can afford that.
But real rental buildings haven’t been built in the city since the 1970s. At least a third of rentals, and probably more, in the pool are tiny new condos, purchased by investors to rent out, usually at very high rates because of high land and development costs.
So the plan essentially tries to restore a traditional balance between ownership and rental in Vancouver – and presumably, it may be followed by inner suburbs.
The two best parts of this plan are the creation of a housing authority to oversee rentals – sort of a version of the European council house system, it seems – and the conversion of city land for the various forms of rental housing under long-term leases.
I’ve long advocated this kind of balance in Vancouver. I think it’s desperately needed as the population ages. Older people prefer to rent or downsize than own a full-fledged home – and more people move here.
But I do have a couple of fears.
We’ve seen these sort of homes convert into expensive leasehold condos – around False Creek, for example – and the pressure will be on to also do that with higher-end rental units.
I’m also a little leery of a municipal bureaucracy being a landlord, if indeed that is the way things shape up in a decade or so. Like most people, I’ve heard the stories about such authorities attempting to govern the lives of renters.
Of course, in many cases that would be much better than the system we have now, where individual and tightfisted landlords can make life hell for their renters.
But I think those concerns can be mitigated by some intelligent management. So, by all means, let’s put this plan into action.
Let’s set up Landlord Vancouver.