On April 29th, 2014, the Coalition of Electors released a 98 page report on Housing Authorities from across the world. The entire report is available online here: https://cope.bc.ca/housing.pdf.
The City of Vancouver currently faces a widely recognized affordable housing crisis and market failure. The goal of this discussion paper is to look at cities around the world which have faced similar crises, but which have stood up and taken control of their fate by establishing housing authorities. Case study cities were selected on the basis of shared parameters with Vancouver, including tight-housing market, geography, population size, and policy context. We look at cities from North America, Asia, and Europe. There are programs and initiatives that we can borrow from or translate, and there are also lessons to learn from challenges or failures in certain areas.
Only 3% of housing units in the city of Vancouver are publicly-owned. The city of Vancouver public housing corporation owns only 397 units.
By contrast, the Whistler Housing Authority has built 1,900 units of affordable housing since 1997, with a clear social mandate to house over 75% of city residents. Half the units are rental, and half are purchased – with appreciation fixed to inflation. In addition, the vast majority of Whistler Olympic Village remains non-market housing.
The Surrey City Development Corporation, created in 2007, is also owned by the municipality and generates dividends for the city through property development. However, it includes no affordable housing mandate and has no community oversight.
The New York City Housing Authority owns 2,600 mostly highly density buildings that house 400,000 tenants. Buildings are located centrally near amenities and transit, and are maintained at levels superior to much of the private rental market. The NYHA also demonstrates powerful lobbying and tenant activism.
Toronto Community Housing owns 2,200 buildings, housing 165,000 tenants, prioritizing women with children, new Canadians, and low-income households. TCH has been at the cutting edge of participatory budgeting and democratic governance with tenant oversight.
Hong Kong’s private housing market is similarly unaffordable compared to Vancouver. However, The Hong Kong Housing Authority owns an astonishing 48% of the city’s housing stock. Housing costs in this public housing are low, greatly ameliorating the lives of many residents.
In Singapore, 83% of housing is public housing, built by the government. Much of it is bought by residents using social insurance, and home value appreciates in a government-controlled manner.
Stockholm contains 30% public housing. Over the past 20 years, administration has been downloaded to the municipality, so there is much to learn from the city’s current practices. Maintenance, rents, and tenant participation and negotiated with the powerful 700,000-strong Swedish Union of Tenants.
The municipality is Vienna’s largest landlord, directly owning over 220,000 units. In total 60% of residents live in public housing. Housing is built to a high level of design quality.
After careful review of the alternative case studies, we support COPE’s recommendation of the creation of a centralized city-run housing agency in Vancouver. We believe that a municipal housing agency (HA) will be the most effective avenue for alleviating the affordable housing crisis in Vancouver and meeting the needs of low and moderate income residents. There are lessons to learn from the global case studies we review in this report:
1) Build housing: The Housing Authority will have developer powers to construct housing, including social housing, public rental housing, as well as regular market housing to generate revenues, and achieve significant market share to break the existing monopoly power that private developers wield.
2) Prioritize social housing for those most in need: Replace substandard privately-owned hotels, and prioritize social housing units for Indigenous People, migrants, women, trans people, seniors, youth, people with mental health and physical disabilities including HIV/AIDs, and vulnerable low-income people who are disproportionately at risk of homelessness and hidden homelessness.
3) Clear and Consistent Definitions: The Housing Authority should operate under clear and consistent definitions of affordable, market, and social housing. Affordable housing should be defined as 30% of household income and should be targeted to lower-income households, and less in rapidly gentrifying neighbourhoods.
4) Quality: Ensure high quality of design, maintenance, and front-line service. In line with the New York model, public housing should be constructed and maintained at levels comparable to, or better than, the private market. Follow Vienna’s practice of high environmental design.
5) Monitoring: The Housing Authority should administer a landowner and landlord registry to keep inventory on all types of housing in the city and take measures to protect the city’s affordable housing stock.
6) Housing as Public Good: Public housing provision should be accessible to a large cross-section of the population. This will increase public buy-in and reduce stigmatization, as in Hong Kong, Singapore, Stockholm, and Vienna.
7) Democratic governance: Ensure resident participation in Housing Authority decision-making, independent from real estate interests. Enable a tenant union inspired by the Swedish Union of Tenants .
8) Lobbying: Organize locally and nationally to aggressively lobby all levels of government to fund social and affordable housing. Lobbying efforts can enhanced by using new revenue sources to leverage matching funds, and supported by tenant boards or unions.
9) Land: Control of city land-banks should be centralized under the Housing Authority. This is also an opportunity for the Housing Authority to be at the forefront of building relations of solidarity and urban land sovereignty with Indigenous people, communities and Nations.
10) Funding Mechanisms: We have identified a series of potential funding mechanisms, including building new revenue-generating properties, as well as clear direction of development contributions, land-lease revenues and other commercial taxes, and progressive property taxes. into producing city-owned public housing assets.