Affordable Housing: What Can We Do?

Housing Action Strategy

According to Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull, Ottawa Hospital Chief of Staff, Co-founder of the Ottawa Inner-City Health Program, and President of the Canadian Medical Association, affordable housing is a key strategy for reducing health care costs and many other challenges in the poorer areas of our cities.  He tells us that all levels of government: municipal, provincial, and federal, are contributing to the problem and have a role in the solution. We need to direct our letter writing and our lobbying and action efforts at all three levels.  Turnbull suggests that the Federal Government won’t come to the table with solutions unless the provinces demand it.

Here are the talking points that the Vancouver Unitarian Church used for its monthly letter-writing campaigns.

History of the Problem

Vancouver’s housing was affordable into the 1990s, using World Bank and UN measures.  But, in 1998 the mayors of Canada’s biggest cities declared homelessness a “national disaster”.  In 2007 the UN declared homelessness in Canada a “national emergency”.

What happened?

  • Federal Government cancelled CMHC Co-op Housing Programmes, 1993
  • Ottawa transferred social housing programmes to provinces and territories, 1996
  • Income gap in Canada between renters and owners widened.
  • After the .com crash in  2000, speculative international investment moved to land.
  • B.C. government policy shifted subsidies from building non-market housing to direct tenant/landlord subsidies, 2001
  • Federal tax laws (1980s) discriminate against purpose-built rental construction, but the demand for rental units continues.
  • Tearing down old buildings which contained suites and replacing them with condominiums is more profitable than building rental units.
  • City of Vancouver has no policy to require affordable rental units as a part of new construction  in  the city.
  • Non-indexed welfare rates, low minimum wages
  • Economic downturn and consequent rising unemployment.
  • Post-Olympic increase in available rental units occurred in recently renovated, expensive units, not in affordable ones.

We need affordable housing NOW.  Affordable housing requires affordable land.  Provincial and Federal governments need to use taxpayers’ money to build non-market, affordable housing on taxpayer-owned land, as is done in every other G8 country.

Who Has an Affordable Housing Problem?


In  2018, Vancouver was number three on the list of unaffordable housing city of 406 world markets.  The homeless people of Vancouver’s streets and shelters are the most distressing symptom of a much larger affordable housing crisis that affects nearly half of Vancouver’s citizens: those whose annual before-tax household income is below Vancouver’s median of $32,612.

Who are they?

►Young workers

►Hospital and clerical workers

►Transportation, service and retail workers

►Entry-level firefighters, police, paramedics, nurses and teachers

►Single-income and single-parent families with moderate wages.

Two income families on minimum wages

►Retirees who rent

►Those who rely solely on fixed incomes:

  • disability pensions
  • old age pensions
  • income assistance
  • employment insurance

So what’s their problem?

All of us with moderate and low incomes, including family, friends, neighbours, are forced to make choices. You have to forget about some items on this list. The lower your income, the more items get crossed off:

  • a decent place to live
  • nutritious food
  • saving for emergencies
  • clothing, school fees and higher education for your children
  • a car for your job

According to BC Housing and Canada Mortgage and Housing, you are forced to make these bad choices if you are spending more than 30% of your before-tax household income on shelter.


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