Why affordable housing is not being built – Chemainus Valley Courier

(This column is the first in a two-part series.)

The housing market in Kuchan is out of control. For the majority of people who do not already have a home, any hope of owning a home is now out of reach. Even finding a rental is increasingly difficult.

The standard sale price of a single-family home in Cowichan has more than doubled in the past five years, from $400,000 to $843,000. Meanwhile, the prices of condominiums increased from $301,000 to $626,000, and condos from $170,000 to $349,000. Wages didn’t last, not even close.

The picture with rental housing is equally bleak. The vacancy rate is now less than one percent, lower than Vancouver’s. More than four in 10 renters in the Cowichan area spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities, well above the standard affordability line.

So what is the solution?

Real estate developers and many of our political leaders tell us that this is just a display issue. If municipalities cut red tape and simplified approvals, they say, developers could flood the market with units, and prices would eventually fall.

But the evidence paints a different picture.

A recent report from the Federation of British Columbia Municipalities shows that we are building a record number of homes, well in line with population growth.

However, prices continue to rise.

In the past five years, no other county has seen more home construction than BC In our most expensive cities like Vancouver, Kelowna and Victoria, we are building homes at a rate faster than population growth.

The Federation of British Columbia Municipalities cites factors other than insufficient supply as the driver of the affordability crisis, including speculative investment causing market skew.

Their analysts tell us that the main problem is that the market is not providing the right supply. In other words, homes that average wage earners can afford.

We’re seeing this in North Cowichan, where the urban boom has resulted in the municipality issuing building permits for 1,230 units over the past four years, an increase of 120 percent or more than double what was issued during 2014-2017.

Despite all this new offering, fewer locals can’t buy or rent a home.

A recent housing needs assessment by North Cowichan found that 76 percent of local households cannot afford a new single-family home, 59 percent cannot afford a new home in the city and 45 percent cannot afford a new apartment. The numbers for the rental market are downright ugly.

At the same time, data from the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board indicates that the vast majority of home sales in the Cochan area are to people outside the community.

We are building new housing based on what this crazy market wants instead of what the locals actually need. This was not the way housing worked for the generations of our parents or grandparents.

How do we clean up this mess? It is clear that the upper echelons of government need to be bolder. But municipalities have an important role to play in making housing affordable for wage workers.

Stay tuned for Part Two of this series, which explores how North Cowichan can tackle the housing crisis.

(Rob Douglas is North Cowichan Municipal Councilor.)


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