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B.C. Affordable Housing Plan Barely Passes For Band-Aid Solution

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Hate to be one of those folk that B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman believes has nothing better to do than get up and whine every day, but the B.C. government's affordable housing plan announced last week falls short.

Sorry, someone had to say it.

Don't get me wrong, it sounds impressive: 68 projects, 2,897 units, $516 million (an average of $178,115 per unit) until you grasp the full extent of what's rapidly turning into a full-fledged housing crisis.

In 2010, B.C.'s apartment vacancy rate was 3.1 per cent and -- despite adding 6,049 units to the province's rental stock since then -- it's now 1.3 per cent.

The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Metro Vancouver has risen by 26 per cent in the same period to $1,450 per month, in Victoria and Kelowna by 19 per cent to $1,188 and $1,066 respectively.

Sixty-eight projects don't go very far when divvied up among the regions and competing interest groups.

There's another angle from which to judge the plan.

According to this week's Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's rental market report, "During the first six months of the year, over 14,000 new homes (of all types) were completed in urban B.C."

The zinger?

In the preceding 12 months, 33,000 new households were formed in the province.

By the time the government's 2,897 units see the light of day, they'll have been eclipsed by new demand.

The plan doesn't even merit being called a Band-Aid solution.

There's another issue with last week's announcement.

Here's how the government put it in September: "A mix of new housing will be developed to meet the needs of a wide variety of people in communities throughout the province."

Sixty-eight projects don't go very far when divvied up among the regions and competing interest groups.

Here's how the projects break out regionally: from Whistler to Chilliwack 22 projects with 1,441 units, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands (18 projects/774 units) including 510 units in the Capital Regional District, the Coast (8/172), Thompson-Okanagan (9/256), Kootenay (5/86 units), Cariboo (2/68) and the North (2/31 units).

So far so good, nice regional balance.

However, not all of the 68 projects are created equal.

Start spreading those units between the various targeted groups and they don't go very far, particularly if you're under 65.

In its September announcement, the government set out a plan "to meet the needs of a wide variety of people...including low-to-moderate-income renters, seniors, youth, students, adults with developmental disabilities, Aboriginal people and women and children."

First the pure plays, as best as they can be grouped from B.C. Housing's website.

Seniors including those living with disabilities come out on top with 1,319 units, First Nations (432 units), low-income households and families (385), low-income individuals (187), adults with developmental disabilities or head injuries (87), people living with disabilities (72), two women's shelters (69) and low-and-moderate-income single mothers (40).

Leaving roughly 300 units in mixed-projects to be fought over by low-income adults, single parent families, families and seniors.

There's also $2 million for employee rental housing at Whistler (27 units with space for 100 beds).

Here's how it looks for one region when you drill down further into the numbers.

Of the 19 projects approved for Metro Vancouver, 869 of the units are targeted for seniors, 235 of those likely for Asian-Canadians, based on descriptions of four of the projects.

A further 116 units are for low to moderate income households, single mothers and children (109), low-income individuals in the Downtown East Side (21) and mixed-projects for singles, seniors and families (107).

Low-income families and adults may want to try their luck in the Capital Regional District where 191 of the 510 units are targeted for low to moderate-income families and another 144 units for low-income adults.

There's no question that affordable housing for seniors is desperately needed, but then so is affordable housing for students, people living with disabilities, low-income families, single parents and those just entering the workforce.

When B.C. Hydro spends $470 million on a temporary Site C work camp for 1,600 workers (an average of $293,750 per unit) - albeit with amenities and housekeeping - chances are the government can find the means to turn what it calls "an historic investment" into an affordable housing plan up to the task at hand.

It's why the government is going to need to open the cookie jar again, and soon.

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