Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Task Force on Housing Affordability avoided using Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) definition of “affordable housing” in their final report (“Bold Ideas for an Affordable City”), instead opting for a flexible and vague definition of housing affordability. In the glossary (page 40) of the task force’s final report, “affordable housing” is defined as housing that
can be provided by the City, government, non-profit, community and for-profit partners. It can be found or developed along the whole housing continuum, and include SROs, market rental and affordable home ownership. The degree of housing affordability results from the relationship between the cost of housing and household income. It is not a static concept, as housing costs and incomes change over time.
This definition stands in contrast to the widely accepted definition provided by CMHC, and widely accepted in Canada:
The cost of adequate shelter should not exceed 30% of household income. Housing which costs less than this is considered affordable. However, consumers, housing providers and advocacy organizations tend to use a broader definition of affordability.
While Vision Vancouver Mayor Robertson’s Task Force is arguing that it is not a “static concept”, the CMHC and others would argue that it is indeed a static and stable concept at this point in time. The point of the Task Force’s exercise was to address housing affordability for households at this point in time based on a current definition of what affordability is for households.
Arguing that affordability is not a static concept only opens the door for the real estate and development industry, as well as developer-backed political parties, to define what affordability is. Housing affordability is based on household income, which, yes does indeed change based on income level, but is static at 30% of household income. Furthermore, housing policy experts and analysts have argued that housing expenditures beyond 20% of household income for low-income households is excessive, and thus not affordable.
By refusing to define “affordability” consistent with the widely accepted CMHC standard, the task force’s final report is fundamentally flawed. And moreover, we are no closer to establishing an evaluative criteria for which progress towards greater affordability can be based. Again, we are witnessing a developer-dominated housing task force and municipal party catering to the development industry in another flamboyant exercise in political spectacle with the release of this report, which amounts to little more than regurgitated neoliberal policymaking at a time when we need a transformative, progressive political agenda.