Housing crisis

Trevor Hancock: Social housing crisis stems from 1993 federal cuts

Social housing is not just a problem for people on low incomes but a concern for all of us

Last week I featured Livable Victoria, of which I am a member.

We are an informal, non-partisan group of people who share a passion for making our region a more sustainable, vibrant, healthy and inclusive place to live.

Our goal is to “create a city that respects the ecological limits of our planet while promoting human health and well-being”, which has been the focus of my work for much of the past 40 years.

This week, I will begin to explore our “Big Five Ideas” in more detail, from the perspective of human well-being and its realization within the ecological limits of the Earth.

These ideas are meant to provide a balanced and holistic perspective and to be implemented together. We want to create a city-region that puts the health of the planet and the well-being of everyone who lives there at the center of decision-making about the built environment.

The first of the five big ideas is to scale up and facilitate the rapid development of social housing in the region, the provision of which is essential to ensure the health and well-being of all.

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness notes that “the term ‘social housing’ refers specifically to housing subsidized by a level of government. This is only housing for ordinary people whose income is insufficient to afford housing at market price.

I addressed this issue in my April 10 column “Accelerating Non-Profit Housing Development Is Good for Your Health” and I won’t repeat here what I said then.

But it is important to understand that the social housing crisis is the result of the cancellation of the federal social housing program in 1993 and the transfer of responsibility to the provinces in the early 1990s, as well as the inability of revenues to keep pace with rising housing costs.

Nicole Chaland, a local housing and homelessness researcher and member of Livable Victoria, uses data from a 2015 paper that shows social housing has risen from a range of seven to 20% of all housing built each year between 1972 and 1994 to one to two per year. hundred after 1996.

As a result, she notes, “Canada now has one of the most privatized housing markets of the 38 OECD member countries. Only 3.5% of the Canadian housing stock is protected from market influences.

The good news is that federal and provincial governments have finally begun to act on the issue of social housing, affordability and homelessness, after decades of ignoring the issues. But local governments have only a limited capacity to respond to the policy failures of higher levels of government.

Nevertheless, the CRD’s Housing First program and its Affordable Housing Strategy are beginning to tackle the problem locally.

In partnership with federal and provincial governments, Housing First works “to end chronic homelessness and generate new rental housing options…by moving those at risk into long-term, tenants and accompanied to allow recovery and integration into society. .

So far, the construction of more than 1,000 units is being planned, in progress or completed; of these, 20% are provincial income assistance units, 31% are affordable and 49% are near-market rental units.

We believe this process could be strengthened if municipalities remove barriers to social housing and encourage and speed up approval processes through measures such as pre-zoning, allowing higher density levels, waiving housing fees, planning and the granting of tax relief.

Other useful steps may include using existing public land and acquiring new land for social housing; creating dedicated municipal staff positions to facilitate the development of social housing; provide greater flexibility in the zoning of land use for social housing, such as allocations for living and working space; and expand the range of accepted considerations for design guidelines, allowing social benefits, community safety, and cultural characteristics to offset other design goals.

Social housing, an important component of the affordable housing spectrum, is not just a problem for low-income people, but a concern for all of us.

As the CRD notes, “affordable housing is the key to a strong economy and a healthy region”.

In fact, a CMHC report last month found that British Columbia needs more than half a million new affordable homes by 2030. So next week I’ll be looking at our suggestions for building more affordable and sustainable housing.


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior researcher in the School of Public Health and Social Policy at the University of Victoria.

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