Elliot Rossiter: More supply alone won’t stop BC’s housing crisis

Opinion: When it comes to thinking about our housing supply, the questions “for whom” and “by whom” are much more important in many ways than “how much.”

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Prime Minister David Eby’s recent announcement of upcoming legislation to remove supply-side barriers to build more housing in the province has been met with skepticism in some quarters for its failure to substantially address the challenges they face. low-income renters, the homeless, and other groups disproportionately affected by the housing crisis.

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When Eby was explicitly asked how the plan would address homelessness, his response was guided by the logic of the leak. By building homes for wealthier residents to occupy, there will be less demand on existing units that might otherwise be occupied by low-income households, which is supposed to be a win-win.

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But the logic of filtering suffers from both empirical and moral problems.

There is no consistent evidence that adding new supply alleviates the burdens on low-income households as a general principle in housing markets. Reading the research literature on filtering yields both examples and counterexamples regarding this principle.

The rational response is to suspend our judgment about the leak rather than affirm that it will necessarily take place. In the context of Metro Vancouver, there is reason to doubt that the leak will occur at all or in a short enough time horizon to constitute a significant amelioration of the housing crisis.

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A much more realistic look at the evidence reveals that displacement processes, such as renovations and demolitions, are significantly eroding our supply of genuinely affordable rental units.

A popular study by Steve Pomeroy grades that we are losing 15 affordable units on the housing market for every new affordable housing unit built. According to 2021 census data, Pomeroy has updated this study to further confirm that the rate of erosion in this supply will make it impossible to meet the National Housing Strategy targets of maintaining or even expanding the net affordable rental stock if this loss continues.

For the new offer to be truly beneficial, we need to stop the massive loss of these units through stronger protections for tenants that prevent displacement and higher limits on investors, such as restricting the activity of real estate investment funds. (REIT) and other speculative investments. funds in the housing market.

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We should also be discussing how to significantly increase our off-market housing supply, which would directly produce affordable units, rather than pin our hope on market processes that have a poor track record of delivering affordability.

But even if the filtering were to take place somehow in the future, it would still represent a problematic reversal of moral priorities to rely on this logic when thinking about how we respond to the housing crisis.

What is the housing crisis? This is a term we use frequently and was invoked several times in the Eby report. But we must pause and reflect further on what we mean by this term.

Indeed, the meaning one gives to this term may depend in part on one’s social location: a homeowner with multiple investment properties, an age-old yearning for more land-oriented forms of missing mid-development land, and a renter of low income displaced to the street. by renovation will likely give different answers to the question of what the housing crisis means based on their lived experience.

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A truly progressive housing policy will first focus on those who are hurt the most in our housing crisis: those who experience displacement, homelessness, and other forms of housing insecurity.

But relying primarily on the logic of filtering is ultimately a regressive policy. This logic suggests that the direct benefits for high- and middle-income households will be indirect benefits for lower-income households, ultimately prioritizing the interests of the former over the latter. It focuses our housing supply on first satisfying the desires of those with wealth and then leaving what remains as leftovers for others.

This logic structures the supply of housing in such a way that it focuses the interests of the rich and marginalizes the interests of the poor: it reproduces the injustices of what urban planner Jay Pitter it means as “dominant density” by deepening inequalities in the design of urban space.

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Instead, our focus should be on democratizing our housing supply and not just building more houses; we should explore how those who have experienced different forms of marginalization can be active co-creators in our housing systems and not just afterthoughts. When it comes to thinking about our housing supply, the questions “for whom” and “by whom” are much more important in many ways than “how much.”

A critic might reply that Eby’s proposals are better than other political alternatives on offer and should simply be supported for the sake of political expediency. But this is a failure of the political imagination: we can and must do much more to increase our supply of off-market housing and protect vulnerable renters.

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While the prime minister clearly cares deeply about these things amid the human costs of the housing crisis, last week’s announcement was a missed opportunity to present a much more progressive housing policy that offers hope. to those who experience the greatest amount of housing insecurity. in our province.

But luckily, there is still time for new legislation looming in the Housing Supply Law, which is designed to increase the province’s housing supply by setting and meeting targets in municipalities, to chart a better path. to follow through the large-scale expansion of non-residential housing. -market housing and greater protection for households at risk of displacement.

Dr. Elliot Rossiter is a faculty member in the Department of Philosophy at Douglas College.where she is working on a multi-year project on fair housing supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Letters to the editor should be sent to [email protected]. The editor of the editorial pages is Hardip Johal, who can be reached at [email protected].

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