Everyone needs a home

Shortly the county will be engaging in a series of meetings to bring awareness to local housing issues similar to those plaguing most built-up centres across Canada.

We happened to catch Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on television the other day, going on at length about the Trudeau government championing housing. It may have been a slip of the tongue, but it came across like this is the only federal government ever to champion housing. That would not be true.

Throughout history housing programs have come and gone. From land lease arrangements to tri-partite schemes, housing has always been a challenge. The problem is now more acute based on astronomical prices, availability of serviced land and zoning rules that tend to favour single family residential. 

There is an argument to be made that provincial and federal governments of all stripes took their eye off the housing file decades ago. That inaction is showing up now in the form of short supply.

News this week about a terrible fire in Vancouver sheds some light on the state of housing. From on-scene reports it would appear the building was a mix of commercial, residential and a portion of the building rented by the room. This blend of uses and the disaster that occurred are instructive on why there needs to be regulation and a degree of red tape. 

There are crucial steps that building and fire officials must consider when approving new projects or renovation applications. It would be so easy to suspend such commonsense measures in favour of building up the housing inventory, but that would be reckless in the longer term. The trick is finding a healthy balance.

While the environmental elements of development are also important, far too often projects get bogged down in third-party assessments demanded by conservation authorities as an example. This tends to drive up costs unnecessarily and drag out the time involved.

Inflation pressures are poised to push interest rates higher, which is an unwelcome hit, but necessary if house prices are to settle and overall inflation to subside. Unfortunately, overlooked housing needs will require tremendous amounts of capital to bring properties to market which will also help bring prices into line. Ironically, inaction will see governments spending far more on interest than if they had kept up on the housing file over the last two or three decades.

We also note this week Wellington County Warden Kelly Linton getting some heat for raising the spectre of NIMBYs. That would be the “not in my backyard” crowd, whose members bear some resemblance to the CAVE people (citizens against virtually everything). 

Although such acronyms are uncomplimentary, many projects and proposals within neighbourhoods tend to draw negative reactions. People can be quite capable in articulating what they don’t want. With some luck and good will, hopefully the county series of meetings will net ideas on what housing styles and forms of tenancy communities will embrace rather than dispute.

In the midst of continued uncertainty, advocates for housing need to push forward. Everyone deserves access to a safe and secure place they can call home.