I have written about why non-market housing is the solution to the crisis in Vancouver, and offered ideas on how we might pay for it.
My drive to do something real about the problem — not the “handwringing” many candidates for Vancouver office seem wont to do — is provoked by my growing sense of alarm over the immensity of the housing crisis and my fear that few candidates seem willing to offer hard choices for fear of losing voter support.
I must also admit that being forced from the electoral field of combat by my recent stroke has liberated me from the considerations common to any candidate, permitting me to discuss solutions from the toolkit of the political right (cutting other spending) and the political left (raising taxes) without first considering my own political goals (winning).
In the end I think our housing crisis is so severe that it will require a solution that goes beyond traditional partisan lines, where we collectively agree that a business-as-usual approach will no longer suffice and that withdrawing into our ideological redoubts for the pleasure of lobbing salvos against those who hold opposing political views is an indulgence we can’t afford.
Here is why. It will probably cost more than $1 billion a year to solve this problem — $1 billion spent each year for the next 10 to 20 years.
To come up with that kind of money we will have to reconsider existing expenditures and find new revenue sources.
Some of this money will come from provincial or federal sources, we hope. Certainly Vancouver has the strongest claim to it, given the gravity of our problem.
But if history is any guide, we shouldn’t count on it. Politicians at higher levels of government like to spread money around in as many districts as possible, and we can expect more of the same. So it’s fair to say that if we are serious about solving the problem we better roll up our sleeves. We are largely on our own.
Facts are facts. The Vancouver housing market is completely broken and the “fixes” being proposed by some candidates won’t make a dent in the problem.
According to a recent report, it would take the average young Vancouver family more than 20 years of setting aside 10 per cent of their gross income to save enough money for just the down payment on a Vancouver home. And how can they save 10 per cent of gross income when they have to spend 50 per cent of net income on skyrocketing rents?
No wonder a recent survey indicated that more than 60 per cent of Vancouver millennials are considering moving away for fear of staying house poor forever.
So we must reluctantly conclude that barring a 200-per-cent housing price collapse (which has never happened) or a 200-per-cent increase in average wages (which will never happen) we need a new housing “non-market” for the 50 per cent of Vancouver wage earners that the housing market does not and cannot serve. That’s more than 100,000 people and their families who would need about 100,000 affordable non-market units — provided by co-ops, land trusts and non-profit housing corporations.
They need them right now. But if we start today, and there is an electoral revolution Oct. 20, we might get them in 10 years — if we have the money.
The city is coming around to this point of view. In its recent Housing Reset proposal the city set a target of 72,000 new affordable units to be constructed over the next 10 years and proposed to direct $2 billion in city resources to this end.
That sounds like a lot of money until you compute how many units that gets you when the cost of land and construction now works out to about $1,000 per square foot.
So $2 billion gets you two million square feet of housing, or only about 2,000 units. If we assume the cost of construction will be recovered through rents, we can increase that number to maybe 4,000 units.
Four thousand units is more than a drop in the bucket, but less than a sizeable dent in the problem. How does the city plan to get the other 68,000 units needed called for under its plan? The documents are unclear. We are led to surmise that an unspecified allocation of Community Amenity Contributions (CAC) and Development Cost Levies (DCL) from developers, coupled with relaxations of parking requirements and density bonuses, will generate the other 95 per cent of much needed affordable housing. It won’t. Not even close.
Call me skeptical. Especially since the city’s efforts to get new rental units built produced well under a thousand units in 2017. To induce the construction of this modest amount the city had to forgo many millions in Community Amenity Contributions and Development Cost Levies. And in the end, most of those units were not even affordable to families of average means!
All this leads me to suggest that Vancouver’s proposal to allow city-wide duplexing with secondary suites and the mayor’s own “what the hell” Hail Mary pass proposal to rezone the entire city for apartment density won’t help improve affordability.
Why not? Surely more supply will lower cost, right?
Probably not. Take a look at ads for Vancouver homes. Houses now, no matter the type — high-density apartments, townhouses or single family homes — sell for similar prices, between $900 and $1,200 per square foot. Even these variations are not primarily a consequence of density, but rather of location, with west side homes more expensive per square foot no matter the house type. So higher density does not produce lower cost.
And it won’t help to blame the developers for price gouging when adding density. They are not the ones reaping the rewards. It is the landowners.
Whenever the city increases allowable density (absent a corresponding increase in development taxes), the only thing that happens is the price of land goes up. Land is now priced not “per acre,” but “per square foot buildable.” If you double the allowable number of built square feet on a parcel, all that does is double the price of the land. Neither the developer nor the home purchaser benefits. Only landowners do.
Outgoing mayor Robertson created no end of chaos when he tied his proposal to allow citywide apartment densities to the city staff proposal to allow duplexes across the city. The staff report argued intelligently that land price inflation would be modest if duplexing was allowed, as the scale of buildings would be kept in keeping with existing structures. A desire to restrain land price inflation motivated their concern. This would decidedly not be the case if the mayor’s proposal held sway.
Precedents suggest that a tripling of allowable density, as the mayor proposes, would triple land prices while not reducing housing costs one bit, and lead to the demolition of any heritage house that may be on the parcel.
What to do? If adding all this supply won’t work, what will?
Fortunately the same precedents that teach us the ways that the operation of the land market frustrates our attempts to produce affordable housing also gives us a clue as to how the same failed housing market might generate enough money to finance affordable non-market housing. It has to do with using taxing tools to lower the speculative pressures on land as we grow a fund to finance non-market housing.
Sadly this screed is already too long, so details will have to wait for next week’s installment.
On Politics: Democrats Continue to Gain as More Midterm Races Are Finalized
Good Wednesday morning. Here are some of the stories making news in Washington and politics today.
• What seemed like a mixed midterm result for the G.O.P. has turned more grim as Democrats continue to pick up seats in the House and narrow the Republican hold on the Senate. Read about the stronger Democratic gains.
• President Trump is considering firing Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security who has long been a target of the president’s displeasure, according to three people close to him. Read about the staff shake-up.
• There were conflicting reports on Tuesday on whether Mira Ricardel, a deputy national security adviser, had been fired. But there is no question that the first lady, Melania Trump, no longer wants her at the White House.
• Mr. Trump issued a blistering personal attack against President Emmanuel Macron of France, and sought to defend his decision not to visit a cemetery of American soldiers while in France because of rain. Read more on his comments.
• With a recount underway in the Florida governor’s race, Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee, is back on the campaign trail a week after conceding the election. Though the outcome is unlikely to change, Mr. Gillum has made it clear he is not going away.
• Representative Kyrsten Sinema’s victory marked the first time a Democrat has been elected to the Senate from Arizona since 1988. Read more about Ms. Sinema, and here are six takeaways from her historic race.
• On an otherwise bleak election night for North Dakota Democrats, Ruth Buffalo became the first Native American Democrat elected to the state legislature, unseating the architect of the very law tribes had feared would disenfranchise them.
• As freshman orientation for new members of Congress began, Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez led activists in a protest in Nancy Pelosi’s office. The move is an early notice to Democratic leaders that the new House may be divided.
• Despite a dismal election last week, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California looks set to become House minority leader. Read more about Mr. McCarthy — and his chances of securing the new role.
• For weeks before the midterms, Mr. Trump warned ominously about the threat from a caravan of migrants streaming toward the United States border. But only a week after the election, he has dropped the issue almost entirely.
• An independent bipartisan commission concluded in a sharply critical report that strained forces and budget shortfalls have cast doubt on the Pentagon’s strategy to confront global threats, in a challenge to Mr. Trump’s commitment to support a strong military.
• Mr. Trump’s trade war is stoking an internal fight among his top economic advisers, with officials sparring over the White House’s approach to dealing with China and other trading partners. Here’s more on the feuding.
Today’s On Politics briefing was compiled by Margaret Kramer in New York.
Check back later for On Politics With Lisa Lerer, a nightly newsletter exploring the people, issues and ideas reshaping the political world.
Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at email@example.com.
Brexit deal: Tory ministers meet to decide fate of agreement – Politics live
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The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Putting on Ayers
Today in 5 Lines
President Donald Trump is reportedly considering replacements for several senior-level administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Chief of Staff John Kelly. One name being floated as Kelly’s replacement is Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s current chief of staff.
CNN filed a lawsuit against Trump and several White House aides, after the administration suspended CNN journalist Jim Acosta’s press pass last week.
Trump named Neomi Rao, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, to fill the seat vacated by Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Hate crimes in America increased by 17 percent last year, even while overall violent crime fell very slightly, according to newly released data from the FBI.
At least 44 people are dead, and more than 200 people are still missing, as the Camp Fire—now the most destructive fire in California history—continues to blaze through the northern part of the state.
Today on The Atlantic
This Is a Problem: President Trump appointed Matthew Whitaker to replace former Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week. The move is unconstitutional, argues former deputy assistant attorney general John Yoo.
‘A New Kind of Centrism’: Even though they had some high-profile losses, progressives still see last week’s midterms as a victory for progressive thinking. (Elaine Godfrey)
Young and Blue: The House of Representatives is an “unfriendly environment for rising talent,” reports Elaina Plott. Why is it so hard for young Democrats to get leadership roles there?
Doomed Policies: President Trump reportedly plans to fire Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen for weak enforcement of his immigration policies. But Nielsen isn’t the reason why they’re failing, writes David A. Graham.
Becoming Michelle Obama: The former first lady’s new memoir is a strikingly intimate look at life as a political spouse. (Hannah Giorgis)
What We’re Reading
Oops: A poorly designed ballot might have swayed the midterm elections in Florida. Here’s how. (Dana Chisnell and Whitney Quesenbery, The Washington Post)
Bigger Than They Thought: With all the votes counted, the Democrats had a larger win this year than Republicans did in 2010. (Matthew Yglesias, Vox)
A New American Revolution: Revolutions have always shaped American society, starting in 1776. In 2018, the left has tried to stage a new revolution—one modern America doesn’t need, argues Victor Davis Hanson. (The National Review)
Mapping Fire: California’s wildfires are still raging. Keep track of them. (Lauren Tierney, Laris Karklis, and Tim Meko, The Washington Post)
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