In an opinion piece last week, “The problems of the vanlifers are the canary for a housing dilemma in Squamish,” [published Jan. 14], Canon Donald Lawton pointed out that real estate in Squamish today appears to be “simply an extension of West Vancouver, a residential estate for high-income professionals.”
Unfortunately, I think Lawton is correct. Our rental vacancy rate has been below 1% since 2015. Our largest industry has a chronic labour shortage because hospitality workers can’t afford to live here. In 2016 — the last year with data — 36% of renters were spending more than 30% of their income on housing, as were 22% of homeowners. It’s not a leap to imagine that these numbers have worsened over the last four years, particularly in the face of COVID-19.
As Lawton pointed out, Canada has a rich history of public housing — but it’s a history that is hiding just beyond the grasp of recent memory, having been gradually dismantled in parallel with a rapid rise in the financialization of real estate. What was once a human right is now an investment game and large, predatory real estate developers are extracting value from our community and others across Canada.
We will not solve our affordable housing problem by allowing the construction of an additional “market” supply — $400,000 apartments, $700,000 condos, and million-plus dollar single-family homes. We’ll only accelerate gentrification.
But gentrification isn’t inevitable.
Whistler has had a municipally owned housing authority since 1998. In 2016, it provided housing for 82% of the community’s workforce; it has nearly $90-million of assets and earns $500,000 profit annually, and it supports both rentals and affordable homeownership.
The District initiated work with M’akola Development Services to research creating a municipal housing organization in 2017. M’akola’s website lists that project as just “25% complete” today; and the minutes from the last update to council in July 2020 do not suggest that this is a priority.
A housing authority is just one possible tool and I think we’d be best served by a variety of solutions, including openness to non-traditional forms of residence as Lawton suggested. What is clear is that our current trajectory is one that will continue to fundamentally change the demographic makeup of our town and leave us without a service workforce. If the mayor is committed to the community she spoke of in her letter last week, our government needs to make inclusive and affordable housing a much higher priority.