Affordable housing in Vancouver. Is there such a thing?
With 290-square-foot "micro lofts" in the Downtown Eastside going for $850 per month and dilapidated bungalows on the East Side fetching $1 million, the answer might seem predictable.
But affordable housing is an issue Mayor Gregor Robertson says will drive his agenda in 2012 and beyond as he attempts to keep people from fleeing the city for cheaper accommodation.
In an interview prior to taking a break for the holidays, Robertson identified affordable housing as his top issue to tackle in the new year. The mayor, however, is realistic about his mission. "It won't be easy to address," he said. "The [real estate] market does drive pricing and it's tough to envision a massive shift in market prices."
That's why, Robertson said, he launched an "affordability task force" and appointed former provincial cabinet minister and developer Olga Ilich to co-chair the task force with him.
The task force's mandate includes examining the causes of unaffordable housing in Vancouver, a review of city land assets to identify opportunities for affordable housing and examining financial models in other cities that promote affordable housing. "There's a wide array of property that the city controls or can rezone to get more affordable housing built," Robertson said. "It's a question of the financing tools and ensuring that the taxpayer asset is respected."
The mayor acknowledged the definition of affordability is relative but said the common calculation is that 30 per cent of a person's income should go towards housing.
That percentage applied to $65,000-the average annual income in the city- calculates to $19,500, which leaves $1,625 a month for housing.
That doesn't include income taxes or other deductions from a cheque. Property taxes, hydro and utility payments are also excluded in the calculation.
While some real estate watchers have pointed to foreign investment as a reason for high housing prices in the city, Robertson said he's not prepared to lobby for foreign ownership restrictions. "I don't support any urgent, drastic action to curtail offshore investment," he said. "Immigration is what built this city and we're hardly in a position to pull up the draw bridge now. That would be absurd, given our city's history."
But Robertson said the city needs to "take a good look at foreign ownership and investment and understand what impact it is having on specific types of housing" in Vancouver.
The mayor's affordability task force is expected to release an interim report by March 12, 2012. Public input will be sought through May and a deadline for a final report is June 30.
Lobbying for more latenight bus and SkyTrain service, job creation and focusing on attracting investment are other priorities the mayor identified for 2012.
The city will host "The Cities Summit" Feb. 1 to 2 at the Vancouver Convention Centre, where participants will include mayors, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, major corporations and "urban thought leaders."