Monday, November 21, 2016

Vancouver Gets Creative on Housing Crisis

His first campaign during the Vancouver mayoral election hinged on a deceptively simple idea: housing is a human right. In 2008, as he stumped through this city of some 600,000 people Gregor Robertson vowed to boost affordable housing and end homelessness.

Eight years later, Robertson is into his third term as mayor. Housing remains one of the top issues facing the city, but the battle has been recast. No longer is Robertson simply fighting to keep the city’s most vulnerable off the streets, he’s part of a global cadre of mayors squaring off against superheated housing markets to ensure that middle- and low-income earners have a place to call home.

The city’s struggle to inject affordability into a housing market that ranks as one of the world’s least affordable was laid bare last week, as Vancouver became the first jurisdiction in Canada to slap a tax on vacant homes.

“I wouldn’t have dreamed the crisis would get this intense, half a dozen years later,” Robertson told the Guardian in an interview at Vancouver’s city hall. “We’re dealing with global capital, national governments underinvesting in housing and provincial governments not doing enough. That leaves the cities dealing with chaos on our streets and people struggling to find a place to live.”

Housing in metro Vancouver, which includes the city of Vancouver and the greater region that surrounds it, now ranks among the least affordable in the world. In a city where the median household income in 2014 stood at about C$76,000 (US$56,000) a year, low interest rates and foreign capital – much of it from China – have pushed more than 90% of the city’s detached homes past C$1m (US$740,000) in value while homelessness has rocketed to record highs.

It’s a challenge echoed in cities around the world, from London to Sydney. But in Vancouver the pace of the transformation has been singular; one decade ago the percentage of million-dollar homes in the city stood at 19%. “We’re now in a different league,” said Robertson. “It’s been a big change, it’s pretty dramatic.” (...)

Mounting public anger and a chorus of concern emanating from the country’s banks forced a turnaround in recent months. In August, the province of British Columbia instituted a 15% tax on all home buyers in metro Vancouver who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents. Soon after, the federal government said it would close a tax loophole believed to be used by some speculators.

The city of Vancouver has proposed its own measures in recent months, from a 1% tax on vacant homes starting next year – after an attempt to do so last year was stymied by the provincial government – and a crackdown on short-term rentals, such as those done through Airbnb.

by Ashifa Kassam, The Guardian | Read more:
Image: Alamy