Affordable housing shortfall claim challenged

Housing is affordable—it’s just “not sexy” to say so.

Housing is affordable—it’s just “not sexy” to say so,  a member of a research organization told a crowd of Kelowna developers Wednesday afternoon. 

Ryan Berlin, with the Urban Futures Institute,  presented Urban Development Initiative members with evidence aimed at weakening B.C.’s public image as the most unaffordable market in Canada. 

Amid the data offered up was that 37 per cent of renter households in the Lower Mainland make $50,000, and the bottom of the barrel purchasing options for 2010 were in the area of $213,000. 

Should renters want to become owners, he explained, they could do so even if they may have to drive vast distances to their jobs. 

“The vast majority of homeowners in Canada can afford to live in their homes and there’s no indication of a housing bubble,” he said, pointing out the common ratio of housing costs to wages is also a skewed measure. 

Berlin said the bulk of Canadians are spending less than  30 per cent of their earnings—it’s closer to 16 per cent—on housing, and that’s well within the expectation of affordable. 

While one audience member pointed out that statistics are rarely rolled together in Berlin’s fashion, he said the goal wasn’t to debase other research but rather look at different ways of dealing with inequities. 

“We try to define affordability too simply,” he said. 

“We need to think about measures in different ways. 

“We shouldn’t be saying, can tenants afford the best. We should be saying can they afford something achievable?”

Once that’s squared away, then the real issues with affordability can be addressed, he argued.  

“I think if we want more affordable housing we need to come up with a way to get people in good jobs so they can afford higher rents or to buy,” he said. 

“It’s not about subsidizing units, it’s easier to build housing units… we need to look at diversifying and building the economy over the next 20 years.”

That argument, he said, may be especially pertinent in Kelowna, which has repeatedly earned the dubious distinction of being one of the most unaffordable housing markets in Canada. 

“Nobody is saying Kelowna is the powerhouse of the B.C. economy,” he said.