The political and economic context for affordable housing in British Columbia has changed dramatically since the Second World War and especially over the past 30 years. Municipal policy frameworks have historically operated under the assumption that affordable housing would be the off-shoot of a private development or development funded by a senior level of government. However, this approach has not been effective in providing affordable housing within the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD).
History of Affordable Housing in BC
After the Second World War, the Canadian government worked hard to ensure that returning veterans and their families would have access to housing. When the “baby boom” immediately followed the war, federal policies were expanded to provide housing for everyone. In 1945, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) was established with the mandate to implement the National Housing Act (NHA), the general purpose being to enhance the housing sector in the national economy.
Yet, funding for affordable housing has been limited at both the federal level and the provincial level for several years. By the 1970’s, the need for more rental housing was identified; however, federal involvement with affordable housing was severely curtailed. Following budget cuts in 1993, responsibility for housing policy was transferred from the federal government to provincial, municipal, and local governments.
The Province of British Columbia has been involved with affordable housing since at least 1967, when the BC Housing Management Commission was created to manage 8,000 units of public housing. The Commission also assisted in large, redevelopment projects. In 1994, Homes BC was created for the purpose of financing social housing, which resulted in the construction of 3,800 homes before the demise of the organization in 2002.
Housing in the Cowichan Region
Without federal or provincial incentives, private developers have focused on developing single-family dwellings, which are the fastest way for capital investments to be recovered. Relying on the private housing market to meet affordable housing needs has resulted in a market dominated by single-family dwellings. In fact, within the Cowichan region as a whole, the ratio of single-family dwellings to total housing is 73%. Within the unincorporated areas, it is significantly higher: up to 94%. Single-family dwellings represent the most expensive form of housing –– in terms of both land and finances.
Past decades have seen housing prices in our region gradually escalate, and particularly, the last decade has seen even greater increases. In the past two years, housing prices in the Cowichan region have increased 18%! We know that escalating housing prices make affordability a concern for residents across the income spectrum. For people with lower incomes, affordable housing is a basic issue of health and quality of life. The high cost of housing and the unavailability of affordable forms of housing touches every community within the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) – working people, seniors, families, and the business community. Over half of renting households in the CVRD spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Housing affordability ultimately affects our local economy and our quality of life.
Housing affordability also increases the number of homeless people – many of whom are working yet face barriers due to high housing prices. The Cowichan Valley Regional District’s Community Report for Summer Point-in-Time Homeless Count & Housing Needs Survey documented that the numbers of homeless people in the CVRD has increased over 50% since the 2014 regional count.
From Crisis Comes Opportunity
In response to the housing crisis, the federal government recently announced a National Housing Strategy” A Place to Call Home, which will invest $40 billion over 10 years to address the housing crisis in Canada.
At the same time, the BC government announced Homes for BC – A 30-Point Plan for Housing Affordability in British Columbia, which also includes a 10-year investment plan in the amount of $6.6 billion to build 114,000 affordable homes. It is anticipated that this plan will fill gaps in the market, including homes for growing families, seniors, students, as well as options for women and children fleeing violence. The plan includes provisions for more than 14,0000 rental units for skilled workers and other people in the middle-income bracket who are working but struggling to find affordable housing.
In response to recent federal and provincial initiatives, and to distinguish itself from other jurisdictions in Canada which will be in competition for housing funds, the CVRD Board identified the opportunity to have a small fund available to provide seed funding for local projects in the form of the Cowichan Housing Association Affordable Housing Financial Contribution Service. This seed funding is anticipated to leverage larger grants and other forms of support for affordable housing projects in the Cowichan region.
Choose our Future
The electors of the Cowichan region have the opportunity to support the Cowichan Housing Association Affordable Housing Financial Contribution Service as it will be a referendum question held together with local government elections on October 20, 2018. The CVRD encourages you to learn more about the proposed service so you can make an informed vote. Join us at the following public information events to listen to a presentation and ask questions:
- DUNCAN – Wednesday, Sept. 26 from 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm – Duncan United Church, 246 Ingram St.
- THETIS ISLAND – Tuesday, October 2 from 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm – Forbes Hall, 292 North Cove Road
- MILL BAY – Tuesday, October 9 from 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm – Mill Bay Community League Hall, 1035 Shawnigan Mill Bay Road
Learn more about the Cowichan Housing Association and what they do.