It is great to see the Times Colonist draw attention to housing unaffordability problems in the Islander section (“What now?” March 19). However, the articles assume that this problem results primarily from inadequate federal and provincial housing subsidies.
In fact, subsidized housing can only serve a minor portion of total affordable-housing needs. Our research indicates that the best solution to this problem is to reduce impediments to compact-housing development in walkable urban neighbourhoods.
According to Capital Regional District projections, to meet future demands, our region must add more than 2,200 housing units annually, about half of which should be priced for moderate- and lower-income families. New housing is being built in some areas: Downtown Victoria has more than 3,000 high-rise units under development, and suburban areas such as the West Shore and Saanich add several hundred single-family houses annually.
However, these won’t meet many lower-income families’ needs. Some people are unsuited to downtown living; both high-rise and suburban single-family housing are costly to build; and suburban households bear high transportation costs. For many lower-income families, the most affordable housing is a low-rise (two- to six-storey) townhouse or apartment with unbundled parking (parking rented separately from housing units) located in a walkable neighbourhood.
Our region is not building such housing due to neighbourhood opposition. Residents often oppose affordable infill, particularly rental apartment buildings, and demand more parking than lower-income households need, which drives up costs.
Living in a walkable urban neighbourhood provides many direct and indirect benefits. Walking is healthy and creates a friendly and safe community. Living close to services saves travel time and money, and improves residents’ employment prospects.
Affordable infill creates more diverse and vibrant neighbourhoods, and increases local business activity and tax revenues. Urban living reduces automobile use compared with that for families located in more sprawled locations, which reduces regional traffic congestion, accidents and pollutions.
If you live in a walkable urban neighbourhood, you already enjoy these benefits. Now, please share them with others. It’s only fair, and creates a better community. Many infill development opponents might some day want such housing for themselves or loved ones.
Real-world examples illustrate how opposition to infill reduces affordable housing. In 2003, a developer proposed the Bohemia and Castana, a pair of four-storey mixed-use buildings with 71 residential units, a third of which were to be moderate-price rentals, in Cook Street Village. Local residents criticized the buildings for being too tall and bulky, so the city rejected the proposal. Instead, the developer constructed a three-storey building with 51 units, none of which were rentals.
In a city with nearly 50,000 houses, 20 fewer moderate-priced apartments might seem insignificant, but this indicates that community resistance typically reduces housing development by a third compared with what builders would provide, and the lowest-priced units are the most likely to be eliminated because they are the least profitable. Reducing affordable infill forces lower-income families to bear excessive housing costs or live in less-accessible areas where they must drive more, spend more on transportation and increase regional traffic problems.
High housing prices are no accident; they result from restrictions on infill development. These policies favour older and wealthier residents, who gain from rising housing prices, to the detriment of younger and lower-income residents, who are forced to spend more than they can afford on housing and transportation. Allowing more affordable infill improves younger families’ economic opportunities.
If you care about fairness and opportunity, it is time to say “yes in my backyard” to affordable infill housing.
Ericka Amador and Todd Litman are members of Cities for Everyone (citiesforeveryone.org), a new grassroots organization supporting affordable housing and transportation in the capital region.