OPINION: The Squamish rental black hole

A few weeks ago researchers published a photo of a black hole larger than our solar system from which nothing, not even light, can escape.

But anybody who is interested in an abyss much closer to home should check out the affordable housing crisis in the Lower Mainland and beyond.

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During last October’s municipal election campaign, Kennedy Stewart, who is now the mayor of Vancouver, said “I’m tired of seeing our friends and family leave the city that they grew up in. It’s ruining Vancouver and it has to stop.” Despite the approval of over 2,000 social housing units for the city’s poorest residents, low-cost rentals for minimum-wage-level workers are still a scarce commodity.

To help close the gap, this past February the federal government disclosed plans to develop three new affordable housing projects in Vancouver, including 600 modular-housing units that can be strategically located where they are needed. 

And the Squamish Nation recently announced a proposal to launch a 3,000 unit purpose-built development at the foot of the Burrard Street Bridge.                                                                                                     

Meanwhile, officials in New Westminster figure they’ve chased down the problem by designating certain neighbourhoods under their jurisdiction as rental-only zones. Subsequently, several disgruntled owners have filed lawsuits against the Royal City.

They say the new bylaw takes away their original right to sell their apartments at any time.                                                                                                                                              

The city is also considering a policy of making affordable rentals mandatory in new developments by the middle of this year.

Under that inclusionary directive a certain number of units have to be designated as nonmarket or below-market housing. But some observers claim New Westminster is too intent on saddling the private sector with its housing agenda, instead of publicly financing more reasonably priced accommodations.                                                                                                                              

Closer to home, Sea to Sky Community Services offers 16 apartments at Centrepoint and 54 apartments at Riverstones at below-market rates. The townhouses at Castle Rock and 30 of the Riverstones apartments that are set aside for seniors 55+ and for adults with disabilities are rented out at a rate that is determined by household income and household size.                                                                                                                                  

Looking ahead, the District of Squamish has been granted $7.6 million from the BC Community Housing Fund for the design and construction of a development on Buckley Avenue. That site will provide housing for low-to-moderate income households in a new five-storey apartment building with 76 units, including 12 studios, 48 one-bedroom units, and 16 two-bedroom units.

If we consider the bigger picture, governments at every level should think about incentivizing the creation of affordable rentals.

For starters, why not offer sizeable federal and provincial income tax reductions to property owners if they are willing to provide below market rate solutions? And granting generous municipal tax concessions to obliging landlords who buy into an affordable rental strategy would also be a step in the right direction.                                                                                                                                        

Everything considered, rescuing communities from the grips of the unaffordable rentals event horizon will require a concerted effort by all stakeholders. Whether the powers-that-be can meet the challenge has yet to be determined.

 

 

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