British Columbia

Vancouver needs 10,000 affordable housing units a year to address rental 'backlog,' report advises

A total of at least 10,000 rental homes. That’s how many units of non-market rental housing a Canadian think tank says need to be built every year to address Metro Vancouver’s ongoing affordability crisis.

There’s a mismatch between what’s being built and what renters need, says economist Mark Lee

Building 10,000 new units of public housing annually in Metro Vancouver would cost about $2.5 billion, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

A total of at least 10,000 rental homes.

That's how many units of non-market rental housing a Canadian think tank says need to be built every year to address Metro Vancouver's ongoing affordability crisis.

According to Marc Lee, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives who wrote a report on the matter, the problem in Vancouver isn't a lack of construction, it's a mismatch between what's being built and what's needed. 

"We've had a major building boom in recent years," he said. 

"But for some reason, we're not building the type of housing that we actually need to address the crisis."

Non-market rental housing, which included public housing and co-ops, is more affordable than the average for-profit, privately-developed home. 

"The emphasis has been on building condos," Lee told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On The Coast. 

"We've seen some efforts by municipal governments to try to move the needle on that … but the end result still ends up being apartments that are very expensive."

Municipalities across the Lower Mainland have brought rules and incentives to encourage developers to build rental units, as well as focusing on building more social housing. 

Lee argues the push for affordability needs to be more aggressive to make a difference. 

"We haven't come up with the numbers to get ahead of the curve," he said. 

'Think bigger'

About four to five per cent of housing in Metro Vancouver is some form of public housing, like social housing or co-ops, Lee said. 

He compared that to some cities in Europe where public housing is closer to 20 to 25 percent of the stock, or Vienna, the capital of Austria, where almost half of the total housing stock is public.

"We need to think a lot bigger," Lee said. 

The number of 10,000 units per year for Metro Vancouver comes from data compiled from various studies, Lee said, ranging from city reports to estimates from the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association.

"Generally, we find that we need about 5,000 new rental units per year just to stay level — so just to tread water, but not really to dig in and address the crisis," Lee said. 

"We need another 5,000 units per year to address the backlog."

It's a goal that would would cost about $2.5 billion annually, according to the report. Lee said much of that should come from the federal and provincial governments. 

"It's certainly not a small amount of money but in the context of B.C.'s total income, our GDP, it's 0.8 per cent," he said.

"It's an investment. There's an upfront cost, but you get a stream of rental income that comes over time."

Economist Marc Lee with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has produced a report which calls for 10,000 new units of non-market rental housing a year to ease the housing shortage. 9:19

With files from On The Coast

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