What does the 2017 federal budget mean for housing in Vancouver?

The 2017 federal budget, released on March 22, contains a large section on what will be done to address housing issues in Canada. The section, labelled “building an inclusive national housing strategy” (page 132), largely focuses on affordable housing, addressing critical housing issues and supporting vulnerable citizens. The Ubyssey is delving into how this section of the budget and others will affect housing in Vancouver and perhaps students.

Preserving existing social housing

The steps taken are being geared towards helping affordable housing providers maintain their preexisting rent-geared-to-income units as previous agreements expire. In order to do this, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation will provide temporary funding to these providers as they transition to new operating models.

“One of the really big issues was helping social housing providers whose operating agreements are ending to help them sort of come up with the funds to design new operating agreements and pay for maintenance,” said Tsur Somerville, the director of the UBC Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate. “That’s important for helping to preserve the existing social housing stock.”

The impact that this would have on the rest of the housing market is less clear. Thomas Davidoff, an associate professor in the Sauder School of Business, said it is unclear how it would have affected housing if the existing social housing stock was not preserved and instead replaced with new buildings.

“Those luxury condos might be nicer homes that are rented to students, but on the other hand, if students are looking at basement suites, they have competition from the evictees from the social housing that became dilapidated. That’s why I say the balance effect is pretty small,” said Davidoff.


According to Davidoff, the one thing that might have more adequately addressed affordable housing was better transit, but unfortunately, this was not fully addressed in the budget. 

“If they could complete the Broadway [extension to UBC], that would be the single biggest thing for housing affordability because affordability is being within a good commute for a decent price in a decent unit. You really expand that if you go east because east Vancouver is of course much more affordable than the west side,” said Davidoff.

The federal budget, while allocating $20.1 billion to public transit over the next 11 years through bilateral agreements, will only extend the Broadway Skytrain to Alma.

Not much effect on students

While the budget might have a small positive effect on social housing, Somerville said that the budget would likely not affect rent prices in Vancouver.

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“I didn’t see a lot in [the budget] that had policies that were targeting market rental housing,” said Somerville. “I think that the money that was being spent was really targeting folks at the lower end of the income distribution and the people who were sort of most in need.”

Davidoff also noted that while some of the policies introduced in Vancouver such as the empty homes tax would likely be beneficial for students, the federal budget would likely not be significant in reducing market rental prices.

“Generally speaking, this budget was not a dramatic budget. A lot of the money had already been sort of mentioned, declared. The social housing commitment for the whole housing market is going to be very small potatoes,” said Davidoff. “I think the net impact for students … is pretty limited.”