On Sunday June 3rd, I hosted a Housing Policy World Café with the title:  Let’s Talk Housing Supply: How do we get what we need?

The key questions we addressed were:

  •  what specific types of people are in housing need
  • what kind of housing do they need; what are the barriers they face, and what can the city do to lower those barriers?

Craig Jorgenson with Generation Squeeze and Stuart Smith with Abundant Housing provided information about the work being done in their respective organizations to raise awareness, and to generate workable solutions around the need for more housing.  Importantly, among the people in housing need that we clearly identified were:  young professionals, workers in the service and hospitality industries (especially young workers), seniors (especially single senior women), students, families with young children, and people needing mental health support.

‘Direct’ or ‘Primary’ rental housing was identified as the most needed type of conversion and development, with some discussion as well about co-housing, townhouses, co-ops, and social housing.  Size is an issue with many individuals and families living in units much smaller than they need or desire.

Barriers include lack of political will, strata restrictions on family size and age, delays in rezoning applications and building permits, NIMBYism, lack of limits on foreign ownership, and a serious shortage of publicly owned housing.

Suggestions for what the city can do to increase the supply of needed housing included:

  • Reduce the per square-foot cost of construction (e.g., through fee reductions and building code amendments)
  • Utilize more city owned land for purpose-built rental housing and public housing,
  • Continue with modular homes as a first step on the housing ladder for people who are experiencing homelessness
  • Use some school board-owned land for housing
  • Limit foreign ownership to 10%, and
  • Increase per-capita land ownership by citizens of Vancouver

There was also considerable discussion of different models of public housing around the world, including in Singapore, the Netherlands and Paris.

I thank the people who came last Sunday to share their ideas.  Discussions like these are very helpful in bringing attention to sometimes less well known aspects of a bigger issue and in sparking creative solutions both big and small.  I look forward to having many more conversations about housing in the weeks, months, and even years ahead.