A housing acquisition fund would help non-profits across the country provide enough affordable apartments to make a difference in the housing crisis, says the federal NDP.
New Democratic Party housing critic Jenny Kwan was in Nanaimo on April 13 to tour a newly opened seniors independent living facility on Labieux Road and call on the federal government to take action to address the national housing crunch.
Kwan, MP for Vancouver East, was in Nanaimo last summer to hold consultation about housing, and has since toured across the country having similar conversations.
“It doesn’t matter what part of the country you’re in, there is a housing crisis in cities large or small,” she said.
One of the solutions she’s calling for is a national housing acquisition fund so that non-profit agencies, co-ops and land trusts can purchase rental buildings when they come on the market.
The Labieux building was used as an example. The former seniors’ facility close to Diver Lake isn’t up to modern standards for accessibility, for example, and had been vacant. The non-profit agency Connective – formerly the Nanaimo John Howard Society – started leasing the building this month and renting out suites as seniors independent living, and B.C. Housing has committed to assist with some costs.
“Across the country there’s going to be facilities like this that were built in a certain era, and then the standards changed and now they’re no longer fit for purpose…” said John Horn, executive director of Connective. “It’s a way of looking at housing. It takes a long time to build things. What can we do in the interim? … Let’s do some things that provide options for folks, and if they’re not as affordable as we’d like, well, let’s not have the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Tenants are paying less than market rent for apartments in Nanaimo, but still upward of 60 per cent of their income, well over the threshold for affordable housing.
Kwan imagines the possibility of a federal fund so that non-profits can purchase instead of lease these sorts of buildings, then pass along the savings to tenants. She said non-profits across the country have indicated to her that they would be interested in providing affordable housing if they have the financial means.
Horn suggested non-profits have the capacity to be able to do more on housing.
“The affordable housing side of things is a lot more manageable than some of the supportive housing projects where there’s a strong staffing component…” Horn said. “When it comes to operating buildings like this where there’s a light staffing piece and there’s independent folks living, then we can manage those kind of buildings quite readily, it’s just the financial aspects of it.”
Kwan said the NDP is calling for a moratorium on real estate investment trusts acquiring affordable housing, saying that “we need to end the profiteering of housing” and think about housing as a basic human right.
Mayor Leonard Krog also participated in the tour last week and said it’s crucial to continue to draw attention to the national housing crisis. He said even though Nanaimo is building housing faster than some comparable communities, vacancy rates are still “incredibly low.”
“And God help you if you are the victim of a real estate trust who buys the building and uses whatever means they can within the law to get you punted onto the street. You’re not going to find alternate accommodation,” he said.
Marion Brown, one of the tenants of the Connective building, said it’s the third place she’s lived already in 2023, and has been fantastic over the first couple of weeks.
“My room is really lovely and my bed’s super comfortable, it’s one of those adjustable beds, and cable vision, I haven’t had cable vision in years,” she said. “And my own washroom. Gosh, when you have your own washroom you take it for granted.”
Lisa Marie Barron, Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP, said the housing crisis is hurting people in so many ways. She hears about women who can’t flee domestic abuse, low-income families that are getting children taken away because they can’t house them properly, seniors who are living precariously, and people who are working full-time and still can’t afford accommodations.
Barron said in this year’s federal budget there’s barely a mention of affordable housing and Kwan said the feds need to “get back into housing” in a meaningful way.
“The housing crisis [will continue] to escalate until we stop and say the market is not going to take care of things and we are going to do things differently and we’re going to put people before profits,” she said. “When you do that, you can, I believe, address the housing crisis.”Follow @nanaimobulletin