Letters to the Editor
By V Adams
Jonathan Tinney, the City’s Director of Sustainable Planning and Community Development suggests that increasing the housing supply will solve Victoria’s housing affordability crisis. A closer look at the facts reveals something different.
The Capital Region Housing Gap Analysis and Data Book (published by the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria in 2015) reveals a disconnect between the income of residents and the cost of available housing.
Of the Capital region’s total number of dwelling units, only 13.7 percent are affordable for 50 percent of its households—a problem that building homes can’t solve. The study clearly reveals a housing oversupply reserved for higher-income households.
Throwing more supply at Victoria’s housing affordability problem will not eliminate the housing crisis. We need supply that directly targets the needs of households based on their incomes. Currently, too many tenants spend more than 30% of their monthly income on shelter costs, while facing a vacancy rate of 0.5%, and increasing rents.
The housing problem, therefore, is not solved by building more homes. The issue is the housing being supplied—and the high-income demographic being targeted. Livable, walkable neigbhourhoods, rich in reasonably priced, aging apartment rental stock and older homes, are now prime targets for redevelopment and displacement. But, the City chooses to respond to wealthy buyers seeking newer, higher-priced condo units, many times beyond the means of an average-income resident.
Victoria now hosts many downtown multi-storey condo towers and increasing low-rise infill densification of neighbourhoods. This reflects the rapid commercializing of residential housing (Airbnb short-term rentals.) And, the speculative investment trend in condo units boosts supply without addressing the real housing needs of students, working individuals, families and fixed-income pensioners.
When homes become a primary investment vehicle instead of a necessary means to provide full-time shelter, increasing supply isn’t enough to counteract affordability reflected in the housing market’s decoupling from the local labour market. Mr. Tinney’s efforts and those of Council, further enable, if not exacerbate the affordability issue.
Redevelopment and deregulation (to reduce unit sizes and parking requirements, or to increase density and promote the development of garden and secondary suites) is designed to reward developers, real estate agents, home-owners with lucrative short-term rental businesses that serve tourists, while ignoring the long-term housing needs of tenants. How can this solve the housing crisis?
To put it another way, when redevelopment is pushing Kia-owner budgets out of the city to make way for the Maserati and Porsche car-buyers with unlimited budgets, it’s easy to see the affordability challenge for the majority of Victoria’s households.
When tourists are considered more valuable than long-term tenants, there’s a problem. When the city has five times as many short-term vacation rentals as it has long-term rental units, there’s a problem.
Victoria is being turned into an exclusive, segregated theme park for tourists at the expense of local hospitality and retail employees, students, or modest-income seniors who can no longer afford to live here. Seven percent of the city’s residential stock remains unoccupied. Is this a symptom of a housing shortage? Or is it a sign that inequality is unraveling our social fabric, and our ability to sustain a vital and thriving economy?
Unrestrained markets and unlimited growth are not the answer, even if economists promote the story and urban planners adopt it. “Trickle-down economics” is a false narrative.
Witness: the 2008 Great Recession. Thousands lost their homes, while “one percent”, the world’s richest corporations and individuals, reaped the rewards. That residents should wait for the “trickle down” rewards of today’s housing (built for high-income tenants or luxury property owners) in the frail hope that one day this housing will become affordable for moderate income households is magical thinking, if not a cruel joke.