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On housing, we need to get past labels

Don’t blame developers for the lack of affordable housing – look at the movements, policies, and councils that make it impossible to build more.

Just as with every major issue in the world today, the conversation around housing and how to make it affordable for coming generations has morphed into a battle of labels.

Whether it’s NIMBYs, or YIMBYs, or developers and “mega homes,” it seems some people are more interested in putting a label on the problem than actually dealing with it. These labels have done nothing to further housing affordability. In fact, some of them have led to home prices going up.

The latest addition to this trend is scapegoating of developers that has led to new taxes.

But we need to ask, is any of this helping to make homes affordable?

We don’t have to look far to see the impact they’ve had on policy. A recent example was in Vancouver, where NIMBYism stopped the construction of affordable homes.

The decision by Vancouver council to vote down a 21-townhouse rental project because some councillors believed it wasn’t affordable enough, goes against all the talk that had been coming from the councillors. It might not be affordable for everyone, but Vancouver massively lacks housing supply whether for rental or purchase. We need to be building housing options for every family type.

The reality is, if we want to actually make housing affordable, then we need to make more homes available to buyers; developers both large and small will have to build them. Too often they’re derided for what they do – building homes that we live in. Yes, they make a living from what they do – but don’t we all?

This isn’t to say the impacts of developments on existing neighbourhoods shouldn’t be looked at – but so should the positive impacts of building new homes.

The goal should be to make changes so we can build more housing, not simply vote them down. We need governments to look at policies that stifle rather than encourage construction.

When the construction industry slows it not only shrinks housing supply, but it also leaves the plumber, drywaller, electrician, painter and every other person tied to building homes without a job. These tradespeople who work day and night on construction projects aren’t the much-derided “developers.” They’re regular people working regular jobs to provide for their families.

Unfortunately, in recent years governments have gone beyond voting down proposals, to making it hard to even bring a proposal to the table. By implementing new taxes, slowing down approval times, and pushing to make the housing market soft – not only can’t more families move into an affordable home, but those tied to the housing industry are having a tough time getting by.

So let’s quit tossing around meaningless labels and get serious about the solutions we need to make housing affordable – and make sure people’s livelihoods aren’t hurt in the process.

The facts are we need to build more homes, development isn’t evil – and taxes don’t create affordability.

Puneet Sandhar is a lawyer and managing partner of Sanghera Sandhar Law Group based in Surrey, B.C and practices in the area of Real Estate Law and Land Development. She has and continues to serve on boards for numerous organizations including the Surrey Homeless and Housing Society, the Legal Services Society of BC, City of Surrey Board of Variance. She was awarded the Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for her volunteerism and work in the community.