Roundtable 13: Where and How We Live


Housing affordability and accessibility is a perennial topic of concern for all Vancouverites and was a major focus of the recent municipal election. The City continues to promote and adopt an expanding set of strategies related to supply, diversity of housing type, speculation, permitting and financing in order to increase the availability and affordability of a wide range of housing types. Yet secure access to housing continues to elude many Vancouver residents or workers.

  • What is a reasonable long-term goal for a housing strategy? How can expectations be managed or met?
  • What strategies are working or have worked elsewhere and where do the barriers lie?
  • Beyond housing, what other types of physical and social infrastructure are needed to support vibrant communities in a City for All?
  • What partnerships are needed and how can they be improved to bring this about?

Roundtable Discussion

The table was comprised of eight participants plus table lead Jacqueline Gijssen, and notetaker Joycelyn Guan, from a mixed group of organizations, including developers, housing societies, design professionals, advocacy organizations etc. Everyone at the table had some experience addressing the housing, livability and space affordability issues in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. The table discussed a variety of approaches to deal with the space crisis, or lack thereof. It was concluded that there is not one solution to this problem as it is a multifaceted issue. The table divided housing issues that arose into four main points of contention: Affordability, Suitable Space, Sustainable Space, Security of Tenure.

Buildings start with people.

Kahlil Ashanti

The discussion about affordability touched on a number of issues, firstly, that it is not limited to housing. Affordability is affecting all kinds of spaces including space for nonprofits, social enterprises, small businesses and for community groups that then affect livability. Additional issues were how to keep people in the city, diversity of neighbourhoods and potential conflict between green goals and affordability goals. Affordability needs to be embedded in all policy and regulations. The need for a common definition of affordability also came up.

We strive to be the Greenest City, but if we cannot solve affordability, who can live here?

Yijen Wen

The table also discussed zoning constraints, the need for more mixed use and how city goals can be too complicated, contradictory and siloed. The goals cannot be met on every project and can end up killing the project. For example, parking and arborist requirements are extremely expensive and a hindrance to affordable housing projects.

We won’t solve anything if we don’t embrace density.

Simon Davie

Key Findings

  • Key considerations for space including those for housing are: affordability, suitability of space (i.e. design and functionality), security of tenure, and long term operational sustainability.
  • Community and non-profit led projects are most successful at providing needed housing – government needs to trust community groups outside of government.
  • The real estate/land value issue is global. There needs to be a shift from focusing on the minutiae and look at the big picture (from the 10,000 foot level) to create effective solutions.
  • Need to consider the amount of time housing projects take in order to avoid displacement.
  • Need to evaluate processes, find out what is working and change them when they are not.
  • There is a need to better define affordability: long-term, high level, not tied to market.
  • Need to collaborate with communities to develop what will serve them best.


  • Prioritize affordability: changing regulations, removing barriers.
    • Change the dynamic to include affordability, suitability, sustainability, tenure.
    • Principles need to be built in, adhered to, lived and breathed by all city staff, all policies, all developments.
    • Regulations: keep what is valuable but shift the rest from restrictive to enabling.
  • Encourage or create socio-economic diversity within neighbourhoods.
    • Instead of NIMBY, shift it to everyone’s backyard.
  • Training: Capacity building (building the knowledge, skills and abilities) of folks involved in both decision making and delivery of affordable space is a critical need. There are organizations working in this area – partnerships are key and recommended.
  • Focus on the Big Picture
    • Change goals to reflect data collected i.e. what the community wants vs. what we think they need.
    • Change the goals to reflect the change in definition of home (investment), and the types of space needed to support livable, healthy communities. Keep with generational interests (not single family).
    • Need to change the current paradigm of commoditized land: with its singular focus on monetary value, ie. “Don’t base value on a “best use” or tax at “best use” that only uses $$ as its measure.

Related Initiatives

The Social Purpose Real Estate Collaborative is a group of funders and investors that helps mission-driven organizations (e.g. non-profits, social enterprises) with their real estate needs. SPRE fills a niche in the affordability in Vancouver discussions beyond housing. An article on there work can be found in the Summer 2019 edition of Input magazine, beginning on page 36.

Terra Housing specializes in developing social purpose real estate mainly for non-profit organizations. They advocate for housing development in this sector as NPOs have capacity and experience to develop housing, understand and represent community and have long term mission driven visions.

World of Walas is an urban (re)development company working in concept and design, development and construction, project management, property management, and access to innovations. In Vancouver, the focus is on affordable access to arts and cultural spaces.

The Agency for Cooperative Housing manages the federal government’s co-operative housing programs in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and PEI. They recognize the need for flexible adaptive housing where the users decide on their needs, not the planner and the need for a spectrum of housing based on community engagement.

The Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia is a philanthropic organization working to advance sustainable land use and real estate practices in British Columbia. REFBC is currently exploring issues such as how to meet the needs of a broader community, not just those represented in NPO societies, how to create engagement that doesn’t threaten communities and results in NIMBYism, and how to promote sustainable land use.

Aquilini Indigenous Development LP has partnered with the 3 host First Nations (Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh) to purchase and develop land in Vancouver and Burnaby to provide economic security with a goal to hold onto this land in perpetuity. Tsleil-Waututh Nation has developed a 100 years land use plan for reserve land in North Vancouver. The goal is to bring members back to the reserve as half the band live off reserve due to lack of housing. ;

Entre Nous Femmes Housing Society (ENF) manages 409 units of housing in Metro Vancouver with a focus on providing housing for single mothers.

The Urban Indigenous Peoples Advisory Committee advises Council and staff on enhancing access and inclusion for urban Indigenous Peoples to fully participate in City services and civic life. With regards to housing, UIPAC focuses on ghettoization, displacement, and advocates for understanding the needs of people in the community.

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