Let me just interrupt the chest thumping by Mayor Gregor Robertson for a moment. In the first six months of this year Vancouver issued permits for $1.1 billion in construction, the highest amount since 2007. That, the city news release says, created 6,000 “new” jobs.
But I have a couple of questions. For starters: How much of all those permits and all that dough was or is for affordable housing? Because, as you know, that was Robertson’s main commitment a year ago when he started his second term.
While development consultant Bob Ransford says the city deserves to “wave the flag” as a result of those numbers, he also says virtually “none of it will be affordable housing.” And by “affordable” he means housing for the likes of those featured on the front page of the Vancouver Sun earlier this week, folks who have university educations and some work experience but are bailing out for Alberta where jobs are more plentiful, the pay is better and the housing is definitely cheaper.
So I put that question to the mayor’s office and heard back from a City of Vancouver corporate communications staffer.
Curiously enough, and even though the mayor has struck a task force on affordable housing, the term has apparently not been defined. Here’s what that corporate communications staffer said in an email: “I spoke with staff in development services who indicate this isn’t as straightforward as it seems. There is no definition of “affordable housing” (nor are projects coded as such).”
So you have to wonder: If you are not measuring it, how can you manage it? How can you set targets and then try to meet them? Why would you set a strategic goal, in this case significantly improving the availability of affordable housing, and then ignore it and just report on that old stuff about how many dollars are being poured into construction of all sorts?
The excuse given here, that there is no definition of affordable housing, left a couple of former city hall insiders puzzled, including former director of planning Brent Toderian.
Affordability is complicated to be sure, but you need look no further for descriptions of who and what the city has in mind than the report to council on the Housing Affordability Task Force.
And one other point while we are measuring things. The news release says 6,000 “construction and spin-off” jobs were “created.” Which brings me to my second question: Are those 6,000 new jobs over and above what existed in the comparable period the year before when there were $768.7 million in permits? Which is to say: Are there 6,000 people working this year who were not working last year?
It turns out, according to corporate communications, that is not the case. There are in fact closer to 1,500 new jobs. And while that’s better than a kick in the head, it is at least more accurate.
Details are provided about the square footage of commercial and industrial construction and reference is made of streamlining the process for single-family home construction permits.
That home construction will bring no comfort to the cohort of people who are unable to live and work in this city. I look at my own neighbourhood where new houses are popping up like mushrooms after a rain.
From my window I can see what was a $2- million dollar tear-down, a lot that has since been subdivided and where two $2-million dollar houses are being constructed.
And finally, as anyone in the business will tell you, those numbers that show a significant up turn in construction are actually a lagging indicator.
Many if not all of those projects have been in the pipeline for years and, even with the softening real estate market, were too far along to stop.
Let’s see what the next six months brings. Meanwhile: more construction, cool; more jobs, great. But how about that affordable housing?