Governments and nonprofits urged buying more land rather than building more housing units

“The City of Vancouver has added more housing units per capita than any city in North America over the past 30 years, yet home prices have risen faster in Vancouver than any other city in North America.” . – Patrick Condon

Article content

Housing advocates are expected to urge government officials to put more effort into acquiring affordable housing land rather than simply building affordable housing units during a three-day conference that begins Monday.


Article content

BC Housing Minister David Eby and his federal counterpart Ahmed Hussen will participate in the conference, organized by the three most powerful affordable housing organizations in the province: the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, the Federation BC Housing Co-op and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association.

Co-op Housing Federation of BC Executive Director Thom Armstrong said the province’s $ 7 billion plan to create 114,000 units of affordable housing by 2028 is “the most comprehensive in the country.”

But he said the soaring value of the land is the biggest impediment to affordability, and so Armstrong plans to pressure Eby to create a land trust.

“This equity fund would allow the community housing sector to buy properties, move them into the cooperative or non-profit sectors and allow them to become permanently affordable units rather than become someone’s real estate asset.”


Article content

Patrick Condon, president of UBC's urban planning program.
Patrick Condon, president of UBC’s urban planning program. PNG

UBC’s urban planning program chair Patrick Condon said the belief among governments that increasing the housing stock will increase affordability is wrong.

“The City of Vancouver has added more housing units per capita than any city in North America over the past 30 years, yet home prices have risen faster in Vancouver than in any other city in North America.” , said.

“In theory, adding new housing supply should lower prices, but the empirical evidence does not support this.”

Armstrong said that having access to an equity fund could help curb speculation in rental properties that were built during the 1970s and now need major repairs or remodeling.

“Real estate mutual funds, pension funds and real estate investors are rapidly acquiring the oldest stocks of specially built rental homes in British Columbia, with affordable rents being the first casualty,” said Armstrong. “So for every affordable rental unit we build, we are losing three purpose-built rental properties.”


Article content

Condon said the rezoning leads to speculators immediately buying the surrounding land. He said the city could curb that by using its community services contribution program to impose an 80 percent tax on increased land values.

“That means the owner gets some benefits from the land survey, but not all. It allows the city to spend money from community amenities on affordable housing, ”Condon explained.

“Unfortunately, the federal and provincial governments seem to have no idea that this device is available.”

The newly appointed federal minister, Hussen, is planning “a major housing-related announcement” in Vancouver within an hour of his appearance at the conference.

Armstrong hopes the announcement is really “big.”


Article content

“BC has not received its fair share of federal funds. The programs designed in Ottawa work quite well in Ontario and Quebec, but we have had problems here, ”he said. “We need a more flexible commitment from the feds to realize the full intent of those programs.”

Condon has less hope of that happening. He said governments have done little to curb land speculation.

“Provincial and federal housing initiatives are focused on increasing supply, on the one hand, and also providing some support for first-time home buyers to enter the market,” Condon said.

“But that has the negative consequence that new buyers become one more player in the field of people seeking land for urban development, and they end up being another contributor to the inflationary spiral in urban land prices.”

The City of Vancouver reported that 1,326 social and supportive housing units were approved last year. Leaders of the affordable housing conference want that schedule to accelerate, but they don’t expect it to happen before the next provincial budget is presented in February.

[email protected]



Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civilized discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to moderate before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications – you will now receive an email if you receive a response to your comment, there is an update from a comment thread you follow, or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Principles for more information and details on how to adjust your E-mail settings.

Leave a Comment