Penny Gurstein Speaks at Grandview-Woodlands Citizens’ Assembly

Penny Gurstein, co-Principal Investigator of the Housing Justice Project, spoke to the Grandview-Woodlands Citizens’ Assembly on December 15, providing her expertise on the topic of affordable housing.  As the Citizens’ Assembly focuses more on specific policy recommendations, the provision of affordable housing and preventing displacement are major priorities.

Penny’s remarks are summarized below:

Penny Gurstein, a professor with the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning, began by questioning some assumptions. She said density does not necessarily create affordability, especially in a property market like Vancouver’s. “This has become a mantra that we need to be looking at very, very carefully.”

Gurstein said Vancouver has advantages, such as a sympathetic lender in Vancity and a robust non-profit housing sector. But she noted that the key tool in Vancouver is the community amenity contribution. These are public benefits negotiated by the City of Vancouver and the developer of new projects, usually in return for increased density. Gurtstein said these are often used for other benefits [such as daycares and arts venues], and that a study by the Housing Justice project [] at UBC suggests that from 2010 to 2012 only a couple hundred units of affordable housing were created in this manner.

The municipality of Whistler, she said, has used its housing authority effectively to develop housing geared toward those who work in the resort, and there are other international models. Vancouver’s own move earlier this year create a housing authority, she added, may improve the municipality’s performance.

The real issue, she said, is high land costs, noting that the City of Vancouver holds a lot of land that it sometimes rents for a nominal value. Gurstein pointed also to the community land trust model, where escalating land values are essentially taken out of the equation in developing new housing.

When asked if enough attention is paid to small-scale affordable rental available in private residences, Gurstein said such landlords sometimes see themselves as social service providers, and that the federal government has at times provided tax incentives to create such rental housing, but they generally aren’t treated as others are in the provision of rental housing. Andrew Pask added that about three-quarters of Grandview-Woodland’s rental stock was purpose built, and 20 to 25 percent is available as secondary suites or condominiums that are being rented.

The full record of the proceedings from the December 15 Citizens’ Assembly meeting can be found here: Granview-Woodlands Citizens’ Assembly.