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Why we have a rental crisis

A Langley City public meeting on "demovictions" hears the solution lies with provincial and federal governments
A panel discussion on 'demovictions' heard the current shortage of affordable housing is the result of the elimination of government programs that encouraged rental and co-op housing construction. L to R: David Hutniak

A Langley City panel discussion on "demovictions" was told the current shortage of affordable rental housing is the result of the elimination of government programs that encouraged construction of multiple-unit rentals and co-ops.

"Canada used to have the best housing policies in the whole world," said Dr. Penny Gurstein, director of the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning.

"They all ended."

Gurstein, David Hutniak, CEO of LandlordBC and Marilyn Fischer, chair of Triple A (Affordable, Accessible, Appropriate) Senior Housing, took part in the one-hour forum, the second in a series of "Metro Conversations" organized by Langley City councillor Nathan Pachal, with counterparts from three other Lower Mainland communities.

About two dozen people attended the Tuesday night meeting at the Douglas Park Recreation Centre, which focused on the loss of older rental housing and the displacement of tenants when the buildings are demolished.

"This is an urgent problem," Fischer said.

"The properties decay, then they are demolished and you have 'demovictions.’”

Hutniak, whose organization has 3,300 members in B.C., said LandlordBC predicted the elimination of housing incentives would create problems as older rentals were demolished without new projects being built to replace them.

"It pains us to be right," Hutniak said.

He told the meeting the private sector has the resources to build the needed rentals, given proper incentives.

"There's a lot of money on the sidelines," Hutniak said.

It appears incentives could be revived, the forum heard.

"There are some glimmers of hope," said Gurstein, who noted the new federal government is working on a new national housing strategy.

In the absence of senior government programs, cities and towns have limited powers to encourage construction of affordable housing, the panelists said.

Among the options, municipalities could direct some of the fees they charge developers to fund low-cost housing, like Vancouver has.

That approach was not unanimously supported by panel members, with Hutniak expressing doubt.

"It's an additional cost at the end of the day," Hutniak said.

Other possibilities that were discussed included a voluntary program, similar to one operated by the Whistler Housing Authority, where businesses helped to build low-cost rental and ownership projects to address a critical shortage of affordable accommodation for people who work in the resort community. Another suggestion included repurposing shut-down motels for housing, like Victoria has.

Gurstein said government policies are skewed to encourage home ownership, and that needs to be re-thought.

"There are people who are going to live their whole lives as renters," Gurstein said.

Hutniak said municipalities "got caught up in the hype" about multiple-unit condominiums and forgot about purpose-built rentals.

The Metro Conversations series was organized by Pachal, with Kiersten Duncan from the City of Maple Ridge, Mathew Bond from the District of North Vancouver and Patrick Johnstone of New Westminster.

Bond and Johnstone attended the Langley meeting, but Duncan was unable to attend due to illness.

Following the meeting, Pachal said under current regulations — that only require two months notice when a rental building gets torn down — there isn't much tenants can do about a "demoviction."

"That will take a change in provincial legislation (to address)" Pachal said.

The next meeting in the series is tentatively scheduled for North Vancouver in May.

The series can be followed on Twitter at #MetroConversations.

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