British Columbia

Housing affordability will be the 'only issue' in Vancouver municipal election

Is housing a human right or a commodity? That was the main question of a special CBC Vancouver forum to coincide with our podcast series SOLD!

Experts tackled issue of housing affordability in B.C.'s Lower Mainland

CBC Vancouver held a special forum on housing. (CBC)

Housing affordability will be the No. 1 issue in the upcoming fall municipal elections in Vancouver and across the Lower Mainland. That was the message delivered at a housing forum hosted by CBC in Richmond, B.C. 

"I think it's going to be the only issue," said Vancouver real estate developer Jon Stovell on Wednesday, answering a question from the Facebook audience.

The lack of affordable housing in B.C. has created a lot of anger and division between economic classes and age groups.

The City of Vancouver has created the empty homes tax, the first of its kind in the country.

It's also cracked down on Airbnb rentals to discourage property investors and speculators from keeping unoccupied homes or unavailable to locals.

But Josh Gordon, an assistant professor at SFU's School of Public Policy, suggested that several politicians might not be running again because they are worried they might be turfed out.

"Incumbent politicians usually get re-elected but there are a lot of incumbent politicians that might be concerned ... as we saw, Mayor Gregor Robertson didn't run again," Gordon said.

"And that's because of this anger over housing, and so clearly it's a central issue."

Stovel agreed, saying municipal politicians need support from federal and provincial governments to create more affordable housing. 

"It's a tough one. The razor-thin margins and the low voter turnout in municipal elections mean that municipal politicians are very nervous to make bold moves, and I can hardly blame them," he said. 

Defining housing

The main question posed at the housing forum, held in conjunction with CBC's new podcast on housing, SOLD!, was if housing is a human right or commodity.

UBC professor of economics Tsur Somerville said because housing could be considered a human right, it doesn't necessarily mean it should be freely handed out.

"There's often this confusion that human rights equals free and I don't think that necessarily has to be the case," said Sommerville. "Now for some people that may well be free because their incomes are so low, but it's not free equals a human right."

During the forum CBC also provided translations of the stream in Cantonese and Mandarin. 

卑詩省列治文市舉行 國語現場直播

卑詩省列治文市舉行 粵語現場直播

If you are interested in housing affordability, check out CBC's new podcast, SOLD! Host Stephen Quinn explores how foreign investment in real estate divides community, class and culture. Find it at CBC Podcasts or Apple Podcasts.