Homes, not Commodities
We all talk about the high cost of housing. And rightly so. Shelter is amongst the most basic of human needs. Without a suitable home, people cannot begin to satisfy their need for security, social belonging and self-actualization.
Municipalities are entrusted with ensuring that residents have appropriate housing. This isn’t just an aspiration. The Local Government Act stipulates that a every Official Community Plan must specify the approximate location, amount, type and density of residential development required to meet anticipated housing needs over a period of at least 5 years. Yet, ensuring a supply of suitable, stable and affordable housing is a challenging task, especially in West Vancouver. Any viable solution must address both supply and demand.
While housing is a necessity for all, it has also become an investment commodity for some. Real estate speculation has been a major contributor to our housing affordability crisis. Also, housing treated strictly as investment is often poorly maintained or left vacant, eroding neighbourhood character. Over one in ten houses in West Vancouver sit empty and neglected. If investment demand for housing is too high, it will be difficult to generate sufficient supply to improve affordability. I have taken a leading role in seeking innovative ways to fight against property speculation, both domestic and foreign, despite being restricted by limited municipal powers. It seems like these efforts may finally be paying off.
Adding the Right Housing
While addressing demand will help improve affordability, any long term affordability solution must also address supply. Local governments can exert significant control over what is built. The challenge is not just to create more supply, but also the right supply. As I have often stated, we need a variety of housing options in West Vancouver to meet the differing needs of our residents through the various phases of their lives. At the same time, we have no intention of turning the District into an urban centre, so we have to make sure the limited development opportunities serve the needs of those in our community. To do that, we need to encourage types of housing that are less vulnerable to speculation. For example, purpose-built rental buildings can provide lower cost homes. Municipally-owned lands can support non-profit housing at below-market rents, or ownership models with resale controls, catering to local workers that we all rely on. To protect older rental buildings, municipalities can now impose rental-only regulations to preserve what are often the most affordable homes in our community. Finally, municipalities can require developers to give priority to local buyers, as the District has done with our “Locals First” policy.
Successful communities don’t treat housing as an investment commodity. They do not approve developments just for the sake of building and generating fees and revenues. Successful communities recognize that housing is a basic need and do what is necessary to ensure that every resident, young and old, can find a decent and comfortable place to call home.
THIS COMMENT IS THE PERSONAL OPINION OF THE AUTHOR AND IS NOT MADE ON BEHALF OF ANY OTHER PERSON OR ENTITY.