Mayor’s Task Force avoids widely accepted definition of ‘affordability’

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Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Task Force on housing affordability avoided using Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) definition of “affordable housing” in its recently-released final report. The report, entitled “Bold Ideas for an Affordable City,” instead opts for a flexible and vague definition of housing affordability.

In the glossary (page 40) of the task force’s final report, “affordable housing” is defined as housing that:

can be provided by the City, government, non-profit, community and for-profit partners. It can be found or developed along the whole housing continuum, and include SROs, market rental and affordable home ownership. The degree of housing affordability results from the relationship between the cost of housing and household income. It is not a static concept, as housing costs and incomes change over time.

This definition stands in contrast to the widely accepted definition provided by the CMHC:

The cost of adequate shelter should not exceed 30% of household income. Housing which costs less than this is considered affordable. However, consumers, housing providers and advocacy organizations tend to use a broader definition of affordability.

The Mayor’s Task Force is attempting to argue that affordability is not a “static concept,” as quoted in the above glossary excerpt. Housing affordability is based on household income, which, yes does indeed change based on income level over time. But none of this changes the fact that the dominant definition of affordability is static at 30% of household income.

Housing policy experts and analysts have in fact argued that housing expenditures beyond 20% of household income for low-income households is excessive and unaffordable. By opportunistically claiming that affordability is not a static concept, the Task Force is only opening the door for the real estate and development industry, as well as developer-backed political parties, to define affordability in their own interests.

By refusing to make “affordability” consistent with the widely accepted CMHC standard, the task force’s final report is fundamentally flawed. We are no closer to establishing an evaluative criteria upon which progress towards greater affordability can be based. Again, we are witnessing a developer-dominated housing task force and municipal party catering to the development industry in another lavish exercise in political spectacle with the release of this report, which amounts to little more than regurgitated neoliberal policymaking at a time when we need a transformative, progressive political agenda.