British Columbia

Will Canada's first national housing strategy make a difference in B.C.?

Two B.C. housing experts say they are cautiously optimistic about Canada's first ever national housing strategy, but are unsure if it will make a dent in the province's housing crisis.

'Our work is to figure out where it can go in the city,' says Vancouver mayor

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces his government's 10-year National Housing Strategy at a housing development in Toronto on Nov. 22, 2017. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Two B.C. housing experts say Canada's first ever national housing strategy is a step in the right direction, but may not make a dent in the province's acute affordability crisis.

The federal government has outlined the details of its ten-year plan, which includes the introduction of a housing benefit for low-income families.

"Housing rights are human rights, everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to call home," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while announcing the plan Wednesday in Toronto.

The Liberal's plan comes with a $40 billion price tag to be shared by the federal government, and the provinces and territories.

While it's still unclear how much of the of the money will be directed towards B.C., Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson expects the city to get it's per-capita share.

"Our work is to figure out where it can go in the city. We've set a target of 72,000 affordable homes over the next 10 years," said Robertson.

New-found optimism

Penny Gursteen, the director of the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia, noted the plan aims to cut homelessness by 50 per cent, which she described as ambitious. But Gursteen said the fact there even is a strategy gives her optimism.

"This provides the opportunity for the province to actually start negotiating with the federal government on different aspects ... I think it's important to have that framework in order to start really looking at what needs to be done," said Gursteen.

Gursteen said the federal plan addresses just one segment of the Lower Mainland's crisis — those below the poverty line and the most disadvantaged in the housing market.

She said the plan doesn't address the bigger issue, which stems from the large gap in B.C. between salaries and housing prices.

'A very interesting position'

Gursteen also said the government's decision to base the strategy around basic human rights has opened it up to a new level of criticism. 

"This is a very interesting position. They have said, 'Look this is the way housing needs to be addressed, as a human right' ... So that really puts the onus on government to deliver that," said Gursteen.

Thom Armstrong, executive director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C., said a dent can be made in the province's crisis by investing in public-sector community housing.

"The [private sector] ... tends to think of housing more as an investment rather than the delivery of homes for people," said Armstrong.

Co-op housing

Armstrong said there are around 20,000 co-op members living in Canada, with about 4,000 in B.C.

A portion of the $40 billion dollars will fund co-ops that previously faced losing their federal subsidies.

Both Gursteen and Armstrong agreed the previous Conservative federal government focused on developing policies that encouraged home ownership and didn't focus on supporting non-profit housing as a viable sector.

With files from On the Coast and Jon Hernandez