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We need public development of non-market rental stock and social/supportive housing, including temporary modular housing. Our greatest housing need is for rental stock for low-to moderate-income households that is unprofitable for private-sector developers.  We need to change the assumption that private-sector developers should take the lead on building the housing that we need for people and community.  


Housing is for community not developers. Let’s look at the Little Mountain Housing site. Ten years ago the residents were removed and the buildings demolished on what was Vancouver’s first social housing site (built in 1954). The 15 acre site continues to be vacant. The community is calling on the government to #Take Back the Mountain (sign their petition) into public hands and “to build the kind of housing that people need and deserve in Vancouver.”


The City is taking a more planned approach toward approving new affordable housing (2018 Housing Strategy), including financial incentives for developers to build rental housing instead of condos. However, the construction of affordable housing is inadequate for the current needs let alone the anticipated future needs. There’s a case to be made for a more public planning model, including public land assembly, project financing and rental housing development for the large build-out we need.


How do we define “social housing” and “affordability”?  Recent Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative (CCPA) research considers affordability by looking at the hourly wage that would be required to afford an apartment and allocating no more than 30 per cent of pre-tax earnings to be spent on rent. In Metro Vancouver, a household needs a wage of $26.72 per hour to afford a one-bedroom and $35.43 per hour for a two-bedroom apartment. A person in a minimum wage job, on disability or social assistance cannot afford the current rents. 


We need a building program where priority is given to households in extreme housing

need. We need a range of housing options that work for people with different incomes and at different stages in their lives that include larger, family-sized units. The top 3 needs for public housing investment include the following:

  • Housing people who are homeless

  • Non-market rental housing that is locked in as affordable

  • Housing for seniors.


We can pay for this! CCPA has crunched the numbers.  We can move forward with a build-out program that would see the construction of 10,000 new units of non-market rentals, public housing and co-op housing per year. As an example, City Council just approved the first projects under the Moderate Income Rental Housing Pilot Program, which they approved in November 2017 to create more affordable housing. The pilot allows for up to 20 buildings where at least 20 per cent of the residential units must be set aside for "moderate income households," defined as households earning between $30,000 and $80,000 per year. It’s a start! 


Read the CCPA report, “Planning for a build-out of affordable rental housing in Metro Vancouver”.

 
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We need social housing and welfare rates enough to cover basic rent in the city. There are 2,223 homeless people in Vancouver, up only 2.2% but there are more seniors, women and those who had housing now in the homeless count. It takes political will and all levels of government to address the problem. Read more in the just released  The Vancouver Homeless Count 2019 


In 2015, Medicine Hat declared it had ended chronic homelessness. The program continues to be successful. "Our definition of ending homelessness never did include the idea that it would never exist again, and that people would never fall back into that state of homelessness," said Jaime Rogers, the manager of homeless and housing at the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society. ​"We still need emergency shelters and we absolutely have people in our community that still experience homelessness. However, anyone who experiences being homeless is for a period that is "brief and short-lived," she said. 


The Mayor of Medicine Hat calls on provinces and Ottawa to provide the funding, but then to allow municipalities to implement strategies that makes the most sense wherever they're at. He says that their homeless strategy is saving taxpayers money in  terms of declining costs of crime, health care and child welfare services. 


Housing is for community not developers. On November 30, a rally was held at what was the Little Mountain Housing site. Ten years ago the residents were removed and the buildings demolished on what was Vancouver’s first social housing site (built in 1954). The 15 acre site continues to be vacant. A rally spokesperson says, “It was a successful social housing community. Many, many thousands of people grew up and lived their lives there. The buildings could have been renovated.”  The spokesperson adds, “It’s clear that the redevelopment of Little Mountain has been a failure. We are calling on the government to #Take Back the Mountain,’ to take the Little Mountain site into public hands and to build the kind of housing that people need and deserve in Vancouver.”


Read the  Vancouver Homeless Count 2019 Report 

Learn more about the Homeless Action Strategy in Alberta 

 
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STILL FROM MENSAKAS YOUTUBE VIDEO FOR ITS FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN. IMAGE: RIDERSXDERECHOS BCN/YOUTUBE

This recent article in VICE provides a great overview on how the digital economy can be re-oriented to promote worker co-ops, and other forms of social enterprise.  In particular, we have to consider people-based alternatives to the exploitative trends in the 'gig economy'. 

Worker co-ops are a model of worker ownership that can be a real alternative to transnational capitalism. Employee ownership, with one-member one-vote, emphasises the importance of the work, the worker, and the workplace; while it downplays the return to be paid to outside investors.  Growing tech companies now prosper by squeezing workers; Amazon, UBER, Facebook, and others create two classes - the very rich and the precarious poor. 

Many software and technology firms are worker owned at the start but 'sell out' as they grow.  However, some are committed to a co-op model long term. This is likely the future for co-ops in the Internet Age.  One in BC is Affinity Bridge.  In addition, one of the Affinity Bridge principals, Robin Puga, hosts Each For All on Vancouver Co-op Radio

In Montreal, an option to UBER has been created, called EVA; it is a novel hybrid of a worker and consumer co-op.  EVA now has over 18,000 members.  In BC MODO the car co-op is a great consumer co-op with a good core technology platform. 

Open-source software may give local projects the means to create their own apps and build their own successful co-op business, adapted to our device driven reality.  Such projects have a potential privacy side benefit if the user's personal data is not being aggregated and sold to the Big Data marketing machine.    

 

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What actions can we take to make poverty an issue in the next provincial election? How can we ensure there is coordination of the CleanBC Plan and the poverty reduction strategy? These, and other questions are being asked by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) of its’ members. CCEC and our members,  Raise the Rates and the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks are part of this discussion. 

After a decade of advocacy work by the BCPRC and other groups, the BC Government released TogetherBC, their first poverty reduction strategy. It addressed some needs for children and families in poverty through the Child Opportunity Benefit, and a continued commitment to building a quality, affordable child care system in BC.

However, there are still huge gaps. The BCPRC has identified priorities that are not addressed in TogetherBC. They include “better access to good food for families, enhanced investments in affordable transportation, and improved income security, including assistance rates.” The coalition is asking the government to address housing, child care, education, employment, health, transportation, access to justice and food security. Learn more and sign their open letter to the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. 

Another related initiative is the BC Governments’ Clean BC Plan.  There is a public consultation process underway through the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy to develop a clean growth strategy. The BCPRC is working to ensure there is coordination between the poverty reduction strategy and the clean growth strategy. There are three papers for consideration: clean transportation; clean, efficient buildings; and a clean growth program for industry. Unfortunately, BCPRC says that none of the proposed initiatives apply a “poverty/equity lens” to ensure accessibility to low income people. Read their submission for a Clean Growth Strategy where they outline recommendations for housing affordability, transportation, and education and training for good jobs. 

You can be involved and provide your feedback about the following topics:

Poverty is an election issue. We encourage our members to get involved. 

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) is an alliance of over 400 organizations in BC that have come together to raise awareness about poverty and inequality, and improve the health and well-being of all British Columbians.

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October 21, 2019 is Election Day in Canada. On that day, eligible voters exercise their right to vote for one of the candidates in their riding to represent them in the federal House of Commons.

First Call, the child and youth advocate organization created a toolkit to support individuals and community groups in their advocacy for legislation, policy and practice that benefit children and youth and their families.

Click here to see the kit online and to download. 

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BC ACORN's new study: "Barriers to Digital Equality in Canada” shows how home internet is used for vital life activities and at the same time remains unaffordable.  Read the report then send a message to your MP, the Prime Minister, and the Minister responsible that all people in Canada need to access affordable internet.

High speed Internet access has become increasingly important for participation in essential facets of life, from job searching, homework to accessing government services and seeking information.  However, in Canada, thousands of low income families cannot afford high speed internet at home.  Cost is a major barrier to digital equity.  In a recent survey of ACORN members, over 35% of the 500 respondents had to make sacrifices such as food, clothing or transit, to afford the internet. Further, only 76% of respondents with household incomes below $10,000 have home internet access.

This "digital divide" excludes low-income individuals and families from what the United Nations now considers to be a human right, comparable with freedom of speech.

ACORN Canada is leading the fight for affordable home access to high speed internet for all residents of Canada!

Take Action Today.  Click here for more information and to Add Your Voice to support the campaign.

Click here to access the full report.     

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The Canadian Government is investing up to $184 million to construct affordable housing on city-owned sites. There are plans for up to 1,100 units across Vancouver to be funded through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The first funded projct, Pierview Homes, is a 140-unit co-operative housing development  in the River District of southeast Vancouver.  Learn more about this initiative in the full article  here.

Another recent announcement is the First Time Home Buyer Incentive which launches Sept. 2. This Incentive helps qualified first-time homebuyers reduce their monthly mortgage carrying costs without adding to their financial burdens. Learn more about the program here.

Be sure to call CCEC and talk with our mortgage experts about your options. 

The Federal Government says that every Canadian deserves to have a safe and affordable place to call home. With this in mind, in 2017 they launched the National Housing Strategy and aim to cut homelessness in half.

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BC has a high rate of foreign ownership. Why? Wealthy people in unstable regimes want to buy here; we have a history of 'selling passports or residency' to wealthy families; and our current tax system subsidizes foreign ownership. The tax called the Speculation and Vacancy Tax (SVT) is aimed at limiting speculation, not necessarily taxing “speculators”.

Read this article for more information  The Speculation and Vacancy Tax: An Explainer Josh Gordon School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University March 4, 2019.  A few points from the article are noted here.

CRA  allows a wealthy person to access all of the social services and public amenities as the high-earning local individual, but not pay income taxes. They can file as a non-tax resident, even if their family resides here. This is the so called “satellite family” situation. Gordon, in his article, states that we can address this issue in the tax system by imposing a property surtax on families who have most of their income earned abroad. The speculation component of the SVT seeks to address a tax avoidance problem. 

However, there are many exemptions and foreign owners and satellite families are able to avoid a speculation tax liability if they rent out their properties to an arms-length tenant, in whole or in part. The  SVT aims to encourage unused housing units into the rental market with vacancy taxes. For many,  housing sitting empty, especially as speculative investments, in the midst of a housing crisis is unacceptable.

So, “Why don’t we just ban foreign ownership already?” Some have urged banning foreign ownership as an alternative to the SVT. With the foreign buyer tax, currently at 20%, purchases by foreign buyers are already down substantially at only 2-3 percent of total purchases last year in affected areas. 

The housing crisis is not an easy problem to solve. Learn more by reading this article about the SVT - Speculation and Vacancy Tax and it's intent and aims.  Tell us what you think. 

Read this article for more information  The Speculation and Vacancy Tax: An Explainer Josh Gordon School of Public Policy, Simon Fraser University March 4, 2019.​

 

 

 

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Rent increases, renovictions, gentrification and unaffordability is a key issue we hear from those who have completed our member survey. CCEC is sponsoring Push at the 2019 DOXA Festival. The issue is not about gentrification, it’s a different kind of monster: Housing as a financial asset, a place to park money. The film looks at housing prices skyrocketing in cities worldwide. Longtime residents are pushed out. Not even nurses, policemen and firefighters can afford to live in the cities that they are supposed to protect. Push investigates why we can’t afford to live in our own cities anymore. Housing is a fundamental human right, a precondition to a safe and healthy life. But in cities all around the world having a place to live is becoming more and more difficult. Who are the players and what are the factors that make housing one of today’s most pressing world issues?  Click here to read more about the film. 

May 4 12:00nn Vancity Theatre: part of the Justice Forum and includes a post-film discussion.

May 10 6:00pm SFU

Buy Tickets here

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In the City of Vancouver, 44 per cent of tenants do not have affordable rent.  The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines affordable housing as shelter that costs less than 30 per cent of before-tax household income. ACORN BC says,” One in five households in Metro Vancouver spend half of their income or more on shelter”.

One year ago, the City of Vancouver said that $3,702 rent was “affordable” housing for a 3 bedroom and $1,903 for a one bedroom; and in East Vancouver a three bedroom rent of $3,365 was affordable.  

Rental housing is scarce.  A single mother is quoted on a CBC release saying, "Everything that was in my price range was kind of dumpy and just not suitable for my daughters and I." At a recent neighbourhood conversation held in Little Mountain Riley Park, community members commented on the lack of rental housing in the area citing that most housing is owned.  There are approximately 1.5 million renters in British Columbia today. Vacancy rates in BC are some of the lowest in the country, averaging 1.3% and in some communities, such as Vancouver and Kelowna, the vacancy rate has fallen below 0.9%.

Affordable housing is an issue in BC and more so in Vancouver. In April 2018, Premier John Horgan appointed a Rental Housing Task Force to advise on how to improve security and fairness for renters and rental housing providers in BC. https://engage.gov.bc.ca/rentalhousingtaskforce/   Their task was to receive submissions from interested parties, review the information and offer advice to the BC government on how it can “ensure safe, secure and affordable rental housing in BC”

Reading through the submissions that are available on line and comments provided by our members, you will see common threads.  A few comments are:

  • Councilor Jean Swanson says rents will keep rising unless vacancy control and rent freezes are implemented.
  • The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition says, “We are calling for stronger tenant protections including tying rent control to the unit as a central recommendation within an effective poverty reduction plan”. They add, “Without rent control tied to the unit, many of the government’s policy changes will not have the beneficial impact expected or hoped for”.  For example, the social assistance rate increases in the past year have been eaten up by increases in the cost of (SRO) rental housing.  Stronger tenant protections, and building affordable social and rental housing is needed.
  • The Office of the Seniors Advocate says, “The most vulnerable are the 20% per cent of seniors who are both low income and renters. The median income for BC seniors is $26,000 a year, who spend 35% of their income on housing, leaving them with $16,900 a year ($1400/month) to meet all other expenses. But, half of BC seniors who rent have a gross income of $21,000 ($1530 per month) or less. These seniors make tough choices on what bills to pay or prescriptions need to be filled (the deductible for Pharmacare was recently eliminated for those on low income but the co-payment remains). Many necessities including: assistance with housekeeping, grocery shopping, shoveling the sidewalk, a walker, eyeglasses and hearing aids, all have fees that add up and cannot be paid with their monthly income.
  • ACORN Members’ Top Three Priorities are Lack of affordable housing; Rent control loopholes; and Renovictions and demovictions.
  • Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says, “There is a grave risk that all the improvements and gains experienced for low-income people due to minimum wage increases, welfare rate increases, child care fee reductions and more will be wiped out by rent increases”.

At the same time, Canada recognizes housing as a human right.  So, what did the BC Government learn through the Rental Task Force and what is next?  While they have a Report with recommendations released in the fall 2018, let’s look at what the latest BC Budget included:

  • Funding for 200 Modular housing units but Councilor (and CCEC Member). Jean Swanson, who introduced the city’s motion calling for 600 more modular homes, recently estimated there’s a need for 2,500 units in Vancouver.
  • Establishing a province wide rent bank, which provides low-interest loans to renters who need immediate, short-term relief to prevent unnecessary evictions.
  • Providing additional benefits to seniors living independently in rental accommodation, through the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program, by an average of $930 per year,

There is also a groundswell of community members rallying and creating options to deal with the lack of affordable housing and coming up with various options.  For example, CCEC Member, the Galiano Community Loan Fund.  While they are not working specifically on the rental housing situation, they are providing funds to support housing on the Island and their story is worth mentioning. The fund was created by Galiano Islanders who have come together as lenders to support borrowers in the community who need access to affordable housing on the Island (and other needs).  Over the past 8 years, the fund has provided loan guarantees of approximately $100,000.  To date, they have not had one loan that has not been or is not being fully repaid.  Anita Braha, President for the Fund says, “Most, if not all of those loan guarantee decisions were made by the Board.  We know each other.  We are neighbours, friends, we may work together, we may volunteer together.  In most cases, the loans have a large component of character behind them”. 

Their model has been successful.  Anita says, “There seems to be a lot of interest in what I will call impact financing; that is, money raised and used to benefit people and communities”.  They have been contacted by various firms interested in community investment programs, seeking to better understand their fund and to get advice on this type of initiative. The Federal Government also recognizes the benefit of the social finance ecosystem and marketplace by investing $50million into an investment readiness stream  (Lauren Dobell, VCIB, Nov. 25/18)

Yes, housing and especially the lack of affordable rental housing is an issue.  Cities throughout B.C. have been too reliant on housing such as secondary suites to fill the rental stock.  We need to put more emphasis and reorient our thinking towards secure, long-term rental housing.

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