Housing, homelessness, and poverty are top of mind for voters in British Columbia as they prepare for local elections this fall. 

According to a new survey done by Research Co. for BC Non-Profit Housing Association, the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC, and the Aboriginal Housing Management Association, these are the dominant issues for B.C. residents regardless of where in the province they live. 

In fact, housing, homelessness and poverty as the number one issue transcends all demographics, ages, and genders in the infamously pricey province, according to the survey. A total of 39% of British Columbians rate housing, homelessness, and poverty as their number-one concern. That is more than double the closest second place issue, healthcare, at 18%.

According to a press release from BC Non-Profit Housing Association, the findings are grounded in the increasingly severe lack of housing affordability in B.C., where approximately 23,000 people experienced homelessness in 2019, and 20% of renters spend over half of their income on housing and utilities.

housingAerial view of Burnaby Mountain during a vibrant sunny summer sunset. Taken in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

“These results and the importance of this as an issue should send a clear message to all incumbents and candidates seeking municipal office this fall that they need to bring a real commitment and real ideas to the table,” said Mario Canseco of Research Co. “The need is great, and the research shows that voters will be prioritizing candidates that will commit to taking concrete action to address local housing needs.”

An overwhelming majority of those surveyed say we need more affordable homes; 77% support contributing public land to non-profit and co-op housing developments for new affordable homes. Meanwhile, 67% support waiving development cost-charges for non-profit and co-op housing developments and 66% support delegating approvals of non-profit and co-op housing developments that are consistent with official community plans to staff.

Those surveyed recognize the needs of marginalized communities in the affordable housing space. Of those surveyed, 68% support including affordable housing targets to meet the unique needs of Indigenous people in housing needs reports. “Indigenous housing plays a critical role in strengthening our communities, supporting individuals and families, and creating a sense of belonging and well-being,” said Margaret Pfoh, Aboriginal Housing Management Association CEO. “Advancing reconciliation requires all communities to ensure that decision making on housing considers the needs of Indigenous people and the reality that adequate housing is a basic human right. In these challenging times, municipal leaders must think about the long-term.”

In addition to ranking housing as a top issue, British Columbians also have preferred solutions for how local governments can tackle the challenge. People overwhelmingly support taking action to address the housing crisis by cutting red tape and making better use of public land, as well as removing barriers to allow for a diversity of housing options to meet people’s needs. Of those surveyed, 73% support streamlining municipal permitting and rezoning processes to fast-track development of rental housing, with a specific focus on affordable rental housing.

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“While blame for our current housing crisis is often laid at the provincial and federal governments, local governments aren’t bystanders -- they have an essential role to play in addressing the housing crisis by shaping local land use and driving the zoning decisions that can tangibly affect housing starts,” said Thom Armstrong, CEO, Co-operative Housing Federation of BC.

For this reason, it's important for BC.. residents -- particularly those concerned about housing affordability -- to head to the polls this fall.

“With upcoming civic elections, voters should remember that municipalities shape the future of communities and the type of housing options that will be available decades into the future,” said Jill Atkey, CEO of BC Non-Profit Housing Association. “While the challenges are clear, there are also solutions. British Columbia’s non-profit housing sector has the solutions and expertise to be an essential partner for local governments to help solve the housing crisis.”

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