During this year’s federal elections we have been hearing again from BC’s pro-developer lobbyists. This time it’s the BC Rental Housing Coalition. The group is headed by the Urban Development Institute (UDI), BC’s largest developer coalition, as well as LandlordBC, the industry association representing owners and managers of rental housing in BC.
In the city of Vancouver, housing policy has been controlled by the UDI for a number of years. To take just one example, the UDI’s lobbying was instrumental in winning STIR in 2009 (Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing), the municipal policy that gives millions in tax breaks to developers.
Not surprisingly, the BC Rental Housing Coalition is only making one demand during the federal elections: new tax breaks for developers and landlords. According to their press release, British Columbia’s housing crisis can be solved by subsidizing market development. “We need the federal government to step up and provide meaningful tax incentives for the building of new purpose-built rental housing,” according to David Hutniak, CEO of LandlordBC.
For several years now, rental housing construction has acted as the engine of the real-estate profitability in Vancouver. And yet the UDI and LandlordBC pretend that rental housing can only be built through yet more tax cuts and market subsidies, ignoring the fact that rental construction is already one of the most active sectors of the housing economy. Conveniently ignored, too, is the fact that most condos built since the early 2000s are not owner-occupied but rented.
In addition to landlords and developers, the new Coalition also involves a number of other housing elites: academics, board members, and CEOs from BC’s non-profits, including the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, Aboriginal Housing Management Association, and the Co-op Housing Federation of BC.
Each of these groups has played an active role in deepening neoliberal housing policy in BC. For the last few years, the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA) has sided with the BC Liberals in pushing BC’s housing non-profits to accommodate government austerity. The BCNPHA has embraced the expiry of federal operating agreements and funding for housing co-ops as an “emerging opportunity” for public-private redevelopment schemes.
Tony Roy, the “CEO” of the BCNPHA, is a well known operative for Christy Clark and the BC Liberals. But among non-profits, the BCNPHA is not alone in taking sides with corporate power. Thom Armstrong and the Co-op Housing Federation of BC have stepped in to back housing privatization at the Athlete’s Village and, more recently, Heather Place.
The coalition also includes regional government bodies like the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation (MVHC). In Vancouver the MVHC is best known for its redevelopment of Heather Place. Amongst government bodies, it is arguably at the forefront of neoliberal housing policy in BC, where public assets are used as a means to generate profit for developers and austerity-stricken government programs. The MVHC has frequently argued that their schemes are justifiable because the federal government has not yet stepped in with new funding. Ironically, however, the BC Rental Housing Coalition does not call for new funding.
Another member of the Coalition is Vancity Credit Union, whose policy of financial subsidies for gentrifying condo developments has contributed to the housing crisis in Vancouver, in the Downtown Eastside in particular. Some coalition members, like Vancity, could potentially help solve the housing crisis, if they were to side with renters and the homeless. But instead they continue to align with developers and landlords.
So far in this year’s federal election the lobbying of the BC Rental Housing Coalition has been successful. None of the parties are calling for a program to tax the rich, fund new social housing, or intervene in the market to protect affordable rental. Yet all the major parties, including the Greens and the NDP, are calling for more tax cuts for private developers. The BC Rental Housing Coalition is a sharp reminder that today the rich are more organized than the people.