Two UBC experts suggest what is needed to start solving Vancouver’s housing crisis
Affordable housing is hitting headlines once again as Vancouver prepares for a municipal election. Penny Gurstein, professor and director of UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning, and Margot Young, professor in UBC’s Faculty of Law, are the co-principal investigators of the Housing Justice Project. They weigh in on what can be done to improve the situation.
Why is housing affordability such a big issue?
MY: The United Nations calls affordability one of the key criteria needed to realize the right to adequate housing. We have a housing crisis in Vancouver that reflects our failure to recognize that right. Wages – most acutely the minimum wage – aren’t high enough, particularly in the context of surging property values. That’s compounded by a staged withdrawal of senior levels of government from effective intervention in affordable and non-market housing provision. There simply aren’t enough units being built to keep up with the demand.
What needs to happen to improve the situation in Vancouver?
PG: We need the federal government to get back to recognizing housing as a major issue we need a national housing strategy. For the parts of Canada where the market’s really overheated, we need government incentives for more housing – especially rental – to address the gap in housing availability.
With the municipal election coming up, what are you hoping to hear from the candidates?
PG: I think everyone needs to be thinking more creatively. A lot of policies should be reviewed, like the Vancouver Housing Authority and the community amenity contributions. And for the housing approval process, I think the candidates should be talking about a comprehensive plan for the whole city – short-term and long-range planning.
One of the biggest challenges in planning now is that we don’t have enough good data to analyze housing strategies, especially at the local level. For example, with the debates around foreign ownership, we just don’t know what kind of an effect it has. We need more transparency in data.
I think there’s also a lot we can learn from other cities. Some people seem to think we need a homegrown solution, but really, there are a lot of cities with very similar situations to ours, testing out different approaches. Some of those might just be what we need here.
What gets left out of the conversation around affordable housing?
MY: Most discussions don’t represent the diversity of housing needs in Vancouver. Women, families, seniors, youth and indigenous peoples are affected by the housing crisis, but have very different needs. Housing policy must be complex enough to include everyone. And we need to tie it in with policy reform in the areas of income security, mental health services and taxes, to name a few.
We face tough issues in Vancouver. We are a sharply class-stratified city with clear geographical boundaries between affluence and poverty. More engaged civic dialogue is essential, but it has to rise above NIMBYism (not in my backyard) and get at the root of the problem and the need for change.
The Housing Justice Project is supported by the Wall Solutions Initiative.