“UNIONS DO GOOD STUFF ALL THE TIME. And building our new headquarters this way proves it again,” says BCGEU (B.C. Government and Service Emplolyees Union) member Tom Power.
The union plans to include at least 150 affordable housing units as part of a two-building headquarters complex it plans to build in Burnaby, B.C. The buildings will also be home to an affordable childcare centre.
The project reflects the larger vision captured in the union’s Affordable BC action plan to deal with the housing crisis in B.C.. The union says it is a conscious throwback to the fundamental union principle of “building for human need, not for profit.”
More than the law requires
The union says its initial goal is to make at least 50 percent of the 300 housing units affordable, but with the understanding that it will do all it can to get to 100 percent. This is much higher than the 20 percent required by the city council for all new developments.
The BCGEU’s definition of affordable housing also goes much further than the municipality’s designation.
Burnaby City Council considers a property to be affordable if its rent is 20 percent lower than the median according to the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation. This still isn’t very affordable: rents in Burnaby are among the highest in Canada.
The BCGEU says its units will only be deemed affordable if a regular union member can afford to live in them on a working class wage.
“What we’re going to do is any profit we make on this project we’re going to pour back into making more of the units affordable,” explained BCGEU treasurer Paul Finch. “If there’s profit after that, we’re going to look at making them more affordable, more deeply affordable. So that’s the model. (We’re) super proud of it.”
An affordable BC is possible
The union’s Affordable BC plan boldly asserts “An affordable BC is possible.”
The plan says the housing crisis can only be solved through “bold action to tackle loose regulation in the housing market that has allowed speculators and banks to reap immense profits on the backs of British Columbians”. It calls for:
changes to the tax system to force rich speculators who have made a killing out of booming property prices to pay their fair share.
an increased target of 50 percent affordable housing for all developments across the province
stricter regulation of property investors to clamp down on activities that exploit residential properties as financial assets rather than as places to live.
The plan also calls for expanded efforts to combat poverty, build new transit infrastructure, and provide access to universal childcare.
An ever-growing crisis
Vancouver is ground zero for the province’s housing affordability crisis. The price for a detached house in Vancouver in 2020 was $1.47 million on average—close to a 700 percent increase over what it was 19 years earlier. Wages and salaries have just barely increased 50 percent in the same time.
The website rentals.ca reports that the average monthly rent in BC rose by $211 between 2020 and 2021—from $1,609 in 2020 to $1,820 at the beginning of 2021.
The NDP provincial government has introduced taxes aimed at property speculators and pledged to build 114,000 housing units over a 10-year period.
However, housing advocates point out that the pace of construction is falling behind the government’s target. And even if the targets are met, the fact that so little social housing was built for 30 years means that the existing plan won’t deliver a quick fix.
- 30 -