BC housing announcement mostly spin and little substance

Yesterday, Feb 12th 2016, the BC government announced that it would spend $355 million over the next 5 years to build up to 2000 “affordable” housing units. The government claimed that this was an “historic” announcement.

However, the money referred to in the announcement is not a new investment by the BC government, it is the expected revenue that will be gained from the Non-Profit Asset Transfer Program i.e. the sale of BC Housing buildings to non-profits in the coming years. This reinvestment was already announced in the 2015 BC housing Service Plan. At that time it amounted to $418 million spread out as follows: $35M for 2014/2015; $174M for 2015/16; $140M for 2016/17; and $69M for 2017/18. [1]

The press release further claims that since 2001, the Province has added more than 24,750 new units of affordable housing. However, most of this support in recent years has been focused in three areas: rental assistance supplements, new emergency shelter beds, and the purchase of existing SRO (single room occupancy) hotels. While shelter beds and maintaining SRO hotels are necessary, they do not create actual new low-income housing units.

Building up to 2000 “affordable” housing units over the next five years is not “historic.” In the 1980’s between the mid 1970s and early 1990s, BC built between 1000 and 1500 units of social housing a year. [2] Furthermore, “affordable” housing does not necessarily mean that people who are homeless or low income will be able to afford the housing. According to the new definition of social housing used in the City of Vancouver, only one third of social housing has to be available to single people whose income is under $36,500.

With rapid gentrification and high housing prices causing more homelessness in places like the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, Victoria, Maple Ridge, and Abbotsford, and with homeless people having half the life expectancy as others in Vancouver, BC needs a housing program that builds at least 10,000 units a year in order to meet the real need and end homelessness. $355 million over 5 years is a pittance compared to the dire need.

[1] BC housing Service Plan (2015): http://bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/2015/sp/pdf/agency/bch.pdf  (pg. 15)

[2] Unpacking the Housing Numbers How much new social housing is BC building? https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/2010/09/CCPA-BC-SPARC-Unpacking-Housing-Numbers.pdf)