BSCPI Purchasing Power: How can procurement support housing affordability?

Mar 24th, 2023

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) brings together local governments and institutions to develop and grow social procurement policies and practices. BCSPI is supported by Buy Social Canada, Scale Collaborative, and Vancouver Island Construction Association.

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) recently hosted an event in the second annual “Purchasing Power” series titled “How can procurement support housing affordability?”

We spoke with community leaders, Marla Zucht, General Manager of the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA), and Elizabeth Ballantyne, a PhD Candidate at University of British Columbia. Our conversation focused on the importance of non-market housing, organizational buy-in and creativity to support affordable housing initiatives.

Here are the key takeaways and best practice tips:

1. Municipalities can procure non-market housing

It’s a big shift but municipalities can set up development corporations and create the housing themselves.

The Whistler Housing Authority (WHA) is run by the municipality and has a development arm which uses municipal land to develop homes for ownership and rental for employee residents.

Rather than creating their own development corporation, BCSPI Member Town of Gibsons has partnered with key organizations including BC Housing and the Sunshine Coast Affordable Housing Society, a local non-profit, to develop affordable housing for both market and non-market options. Their projects include a three-unit mixed income development and a 40-unit supportive housing complex.

If municipalities don’t choose to be so involved in development, there are still other levers. In addition to the WHA, The Resort Municipality of Whistler set up a municipal by-law to leverage the social impact of new developments as they saw what was happening in other resort communities like Aspen, Colorado. The by-law requires that new developments support affordable housing goals in one of three ways:

  • Provide housing on site
  • Provide housing off site
  • Contribute cash in lieu to WHA

Other options for purchasers include adding Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) on construction and infrastructure projects and implementing social procurement policies to increase community capital and create more affordability in other ways.

2. Why non-market housing matters

CMHC has made an aspiration that “by 2030, everyone in Canada has a home that they can afford and that meets their needs.”

Most often, when people talk about affordable housing, those lower prices are still linked to, and affected by, changes in the housing market. As the market changes, housing that started out as ‘affordable’ doesn’t stay that way.

That’s where non-market or price-restricted housing comes into play. Non-market housing is not tied to Bank of Canada interest rates, supply and demand, or other fluctuating metrics. Either the land and/or the mortgage are owned and managed by governments or non-profits, like the Whistler Housing Authority. It can come in the form of rental units or for ownership housing. It is designed to be truly affordable, in perpetuity.

Elizabeth Ballantyne emphasized that there is a “persistent low-visibility of non-market housing in political conversations” as a viable and proven option to support housing affordability.

3. Break down silos

“Housing is a policy orphan” – Elizabeth Ballantyne

In her research, Elizabeth points out that it is still rare to find dedicated government departments or ministries for housing, and it is difficult to predict which department it will fall under. All this, despite the fact that housing affordability is one of the top issues identified by communities across Canada, and has been acknowledged as a social determinant of health.

This is where social procurement can play a role in supporting housing affordability measures, because social procurement encourages organizations to break out of silos and think across sectors to add social and environmental outcomes into existing purchasing.

We need to take advantage of the interconnected opportunities to tackle housing affordability, and procurement is one of them.

4. Shift your understanding of best value

“Move away from ROIs in favour of stability” – Marla Zucht

Whistler Housing Authority, in providing non-market housing, offers tenants and owners “a nest… not a nest egg.” For owners and the developers, investing in non-market housing requires all parties to change their understanding of best value for land or units.

In Whistler, this sometimes means the Municipality sells land for far less than it is worth or contributes it directly to the WHA to be developed into non-market housing.

For all parties, instead of affordable housing providing equity for one family or household, non-market affordable housing is meant to stay affordable for community members throughout time, even as it changes hands.

Two concrete actions you can take now:

  1. Elizabeth Ballantyne: Become familiar with your municipal affordable housing policy and think about where there might be opportunities for greater alignment with values and goals in social procurement. Focus on quality, upkeep, affordability, and human impact.
  2. Marla Zucht: Be a vocal advocate and champion for affordable housing and speak up at public hearings.

Watch the full recording to learn more:

Please contact Rob Fisher at rfisher@scalecollaborative.ca to find out more about becoming a BCSPI member, and sign up for the BCSPI newsletter to stay up to date on procurement news, events and offerings.

We hope we’ll see you at the next Purchasing Power event on April 13, 2023: “How can procurement reduce hazardous chemicals?

For your reference and continued learning, here are the resources and links shared during the event:

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