British Columbia

Affordable housing providers look at public-private partnerships to solve B.C. housing crisis

Partnerships between non-profit housing providers, developers and municipalities was the focus of an affordable housing conference that kicked off in Vancouver on Sunday.

B.C. Housing CEO says there has been a dearth of new rental housing built in the past 30 years

The 25th Housing Central Conference is taking place in Richmond, B.C., until Tuesday. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Partnerships between non-profit housing providers, developers and municipalities were the focus of an affordable housing conference that kicked off in Vancouver on Sunday. 

The 25th annual Housing Central conference, which takes place in Richmond until Nov. 21, welcomed more than 1,200 delegates to explore solutions to the province's housing crisis. 

The conference feature keynote speakers like Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and New York Times bestselling author Johann Hari.

The conference was put together by the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, Co-op Housing Federation of B.C. and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association

"We're showing governments that we can work together on solving this problem," said Kishone Roy, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association.

"Now we need government to start partnering with each other and with us if we're going to tackle this affordable housing crisis."

Lack of rental housing

Roy said B.C.'s housing and homelessness crisis has been driven in large part by the fact that there's been little rental housing built in the province in the last 30 years. 

He emphasized that affordable housing isn't just an issue in Metro Vancouver, where more than 50 per cent of the population are renters.

Spoken word poet Shane Koyczan was one of the keynote speakers at the conference. (Daniel Beauparlant/CBC)

His organization is advocating for 114,000 new rental units across the province. 

"If we don't do that we're going to continue to see homelessness continue to escalate at massive levels," Roy said.

Examining different options

Marnie Plant attended one of the sessions at the conference. 

Plant said she was inspired by the panel, which included a non-profit housing society like hers, a real estate developer and a municipality. 

Plant pointed to programs like the City of Vancouver's Rental 100 initiative, which was highlighted during the session, as potential opportunities.

Marnie Plant said she was inspired by the session she went to on building partnerships to create affordable housing. (Daniel Beauparlant/CBC)

The program aims to increase the amount of purpose-built rental housing through various means, including by leveraging development costs builders have to pay. 

She said her organization has partnered with other non-profits in the past, but had yet to partner with a developer.

"Our organization will be doing more building in the future and we're happy to look at different models on how to do it," she said. 

Years-long wait for projects

Conference organizer Roy said he was equally hopeful that the housing crisis could improve in B.C.

He pointed out temporary modular housing projects like those in Vancouver as signs of short-term improvement.

And he said the federal and provincial governments have begun to listen and open their coffers to build more housing. Still, Roy said it could take years for those projects to come to fruition.  

"I think things are probably going to get worse before they get better," Roy said.

With files from Johann Nertomb