Editorial: More housing availability options needed here

BC’s housing affordability conversation needs more voices if the province is to find a viable long-term solution to runaway real estate costs.

Recent entrants in that conversation include the BC Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) and the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

The chamber’s Policy and Positions Manual includes recommendations to improve building supply and rental stock by changing how community amenity contributions (CACs) and development cost charges (DCCs) are applied to new projects. The BCCC notes that the slush fund municipalities have created from the levies they wring from developers jumped to $720 million in 2010 from $100 million in 2000. In converting CACs from community planning vehicle to cash cow, municipalities have inflated development costs and eroded housing affordability and availability. The chamber also notes that builders are required to pay DCCs at a development’s permit stage. That adds more to upfront costs and makes development prohibitively expensive for smaller players, which again reduces housing options and availability.

The Sauder School of Business, meanwhile, points out in its Investing in Affordable Housing study that public investment alone won’t be up to the task of resolving the housing availability challenge. It explores several avenues of deepening the capital investment pool for housing, including harnessing funds from philanthropic sources and foundations such as the Vancouver Community Land Trust.

The Sauder study also recommends establishing tax incentives and community interest and other corporate structures to provide investors with reasonable returns on projects that increase housing stock.

Vancouver is not alone in struggling with the corrosive issue of low housing availability and runaway real estate prices. Solutions have been found elsewhere; the best require public- and private-sector energy and commitment. That combination has yet to be tried in a Vancouver, where extremely poor availability and affordability represent a major threat to the city’s social and economic health.