Ending the housing crisis: from words to action
COPE will take bold measures to end the housing crisis, including establishing a Housing Authority to build public housing, introducing municipal rent control rents and using zoning powers to end the loss of existing low-income housing.
Housing unaffordability in Vancouver has reached a crisis level. More than half of Vancouver residents are renters – more than any other city in the province. Between 2008 and 2012, the average cost of rent in Vancouver increased by 15% while the overall number of affordable units has declined sharply. An increasing number of Vancouver renters spend half of their income or more on rent. With these record high housing costs, homelessness has been steadily climbing, reaching an all-time high in the spring of 2014. Some communities are being hit harder than others – seniors, indigenous, immigrants and racialized populations have disproportionately impacted by the current housing crisis.
COPE’s housing policies are grounded in the recognition that affordable, adequate and stable housing is a right, not a commodity. On our first day in office, COPE will declare a housing state of emergency and begin implementing our Housing Authority plan. Through the Housing Authority, the city will expand the construction of social and affordable housing construction, use old revenue tools while creating new ones, and find new ways to involve and pressure higher levels of government.
Through the implementation of municipal rent control, the establishment of a Housing Authority, a moratorium on condominium development in the DTES and by halting renovictions, a solution to the housing crisis is in sight. COPE will work to end not just homelessness, but all forms of precarious housing in our city.
How will COPE end the housing crisis?
Create a Vancouver Housing Authority
COPE will create a Vancouver Housing Authority (VHA) to solve the housing crisis in Vancouver. The VHA will build and maintain quality social, affordable, and market rental housing. It will operate with a clear definition of affordable housing (30% of household income) and will prioritize non-market housing. The VHA will treat housing as a public good and will be democratically governed by tenants to ensure decisions are made in the interests of renters. The VHA will also organize to aggressively lobby higher levels of government to demand funding for social and affordable housing.
The VHA will utilise multiple funding sources including tax increases for developers, a “luxury housing tax,” as well as revenue generated for the city through public market rental units. The levels of the luxury housing tax will be based on one’s financial means, with exemptions for seniors on fixed incomes and others who may be asset rich but cash poor.
Only 3% of housing in Vancouver is public housing. The proven international best practice for achieving a high percentage of public housing is for the city to build and maintain public housing through a municipal housing authority. Precedents as close as Whistler, BC exemplify how a housing authority can increase affordability in a tight housing market and advocate for and protect the interests of renters.
As a city where over 50% of residents are renters and the population is continually increasing, Vancouver needs to keep building affordable rental housing. COPE will approve at least double the floor area of new rental housing construction that has been allowed over the past six years and ensure. In these efforts, COPE will ensure that neighbourhoods never lose net units of low-income housing so that renters aren’t displaced from their communities.
By building more rental housing, COPE will set two hard goals for 2018: ensure that the median real rent paid by tenant households is lower in 2018 than in 2014 and ensure that the residential rental vacancy rate is at least 2%.
For more information, read our full report on the Vancouver Housing Authority and international precedents.
Tax Vacant Properties
Through a Landowner and Landlord registry, COPE will take thorough inventory of the housing stock and track vacancy rates. By monitoring vacancy, the registry will be used to incentivize property owners to rent out under-utilized properties at affordable rates. If owners choose to leave properties vacant, they can afford to pay a tax to contribute to the affordable housing fund to build and maintain public housing.
The Landowner and Landlord Registry will also monitor rent increases, track renovations to stop renovictions, and track health, safety, maintenance and tenancy disputes.
To end the housing crisis building new affordable and social housing is not enough. COPE also needs to protect and maintain the existing affordable housing stock by taking measures to stop renovictions and enforce housing maintenance standards.
COPE will use the powers of demolition and renovation permitting to ensure that landlords only carry out needed renovations that require vacancy without ending the tenancy. Furthermore, the City will advocate that the Provincial government amend the RTA to explicitly state that after any renovations, tenants must be granted the right of first refusal at the previous rent.
Rent control now!
Metro Vancouver is the most unaffordable urban center in North America, with rents rapidly increasing at a rate higher than inflation. The city has the power to control rents but hasn’t been using it.
Once elected, COPE will apply strict rent controls to all new large housing developments by using existing city powers for zoning and housing agreements. COPE will also create and implement a municipal rent control program to bring rents down across the city. All of this will be supported by a new, elected Rent Control Board that is independent from the real estate industry and includes tenant representation. In tandem with other municipalities, COPE will advocate for a change to provincial law that ties rent increases to the rental unit rather than an individual’s tenancy. COPE will also lobby for a province-wide rent freeze.
Protect the rights of low-income residents to remain in the Downtown Eastside
Because of municipal zoning decisions and gentrification, low-income housing stock is rapidly declining in the Downtown Eastside. According to the City of Vancouver, the percentage of private SROs renting at the $375 shelter rate fell to 27 per cent in 2011, from 39 per cent in 2009 and 67 per cent in 2007. At this rate, without further protection for the existing low-income housing stock and the construction of new social housing, the low-income DTES community will be displaced.
To stop the displacement of low-income residents, COPE will take specific measures to end gentrification in the Downtown Eastside by implementing an immediate moratorium on condo development, prohibiting the upscaling of SRO’s, designating enough land for 5000 units of social housing and replacing 4,000 units of privately-owned housing in the DTES with quality social housing over the next 10 years.COPE will also establish a process directed by democratically elected representatives of low-income DTES residents to approve or deny new business (restaurant, liquor, store) applications in the DTES to halt gentrification and displacement of low income residents.
Protect and support tenants
To protect and support tenants, COPE will create a Landowner and Landlord Registry database. This database, funded by registration and licensing fees, will provide a comprehensive list of all rental units, rents and rent increases and track all health, safety, maintenance, and tenancy disputes. COPE will also establish a rental housing ombudsperson, and support the establishment of tenant unions to empower renters and amplify their political voices.
As part of our platform to protect tenants, COPE will also protect squatters’ rights. All people have a right to adequate shelter, and penalizing squatters in a context of high homelessness and unaffordable housing is discriminatory. COPE will abandon all municipal by-laws that discriminate against squatters and homeless people, and provide health and safety supports to squatters in abandoned government-owned buildings and properties. COPE will also make the enforcement of provincial and federal squatting laws the lowest policing priority.
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