In order to get the attention of the federal government, the nonprofit housing sector has to start local.
That's the message keynote speaker Michael Shapcott will discuss on Monday at the 20th Annual Non-Profit Housing Conference held at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel in Richmond.
"We shouldn't go to governments first, but start at the community level," said Shapcott, who is the director of Affordable Housing and Social Innovation at the Wellesley Institute in Toronto. "That's been one of the main problems of the nonprofit sector. It approaches the government without precise and clear ideas. It has to do a better job in identifying successes and setting priorities."
Shapcott has worked with community and municipal officials in several Canadian cities to develop local housing plans and his speech in Richmond will kick off the three-day conference bringing together members in the housing sector.
"The primary purpose is to provide an opportunity for people to network and connect, and learn from each other," said BC Non-Profit Housing Association executive director Karen Stone, of the more than 700 people expected to attend.
Besides celebrating its 20th anniversary, the conference marks a shift in how the non-profit sector does business, looking at how it will enter the new decade in building more housing units and sustaining existing, older ones.
It also provides an opportunity to rally the sector into action and to more aggressively address the government with the country's needs. Shapcott said emphasize the community level first, then the province will get on board.
He cites Alberta, particularly Calgary, as the most successful in Canada where the government partnered with cities and the private sector to build from the community up.
In Richmond, Shapcott pointed out the importance of roundtable housing discussions and an active municipal government in promoting density. Although one of the problems has been appeasing residents who oppose the development of townhouse complexes and apartment buildings, Shapcott insists these voices are the minority.
"Generally, when I approach a community, these not-in-my-backyard voices are the minority, but they're loud," he said. "So we need to encourage others to speak up through bringing everyone together in a roundtable discussion."
Shapcott also discussed the need for mixed social and economic housing to promote healthier, inclusive communities - an idea that has also elicited NIMBY attitudes from some Richmond residents. To circumvent this, he has seen other cities make an official declaration to remove any discriminatory barriers to urban developers.
"There are creative ways to build affordable housing so that it blends in with the neighbourhood," said Stone. "Initiatives like density bonuses in Richmond are good solutions."
In the next 20 years, the BCNPA predicts an additional 150,000 to 200,000 rental housing units need to be built throughout the province, with 50,000 to 60,000 units for people in core housing need, according to Stone.
Whereas the City of Langford on the island, addressed its affordable housing problem by requiring one in 10 new houses to be sold at 60 per cent of its market value for households with an income of less than $60,000 a year, BCNPA has identified Richmond's need lies in rental units.
"Langford addressed one aspect of the housing continuum," said Stone. "But trends have demonstrated, which is the case with Richmond, that people just can't afford ownership right now, so, as we move into the next decade, we have to look at increasing rental housing units."
While Shapcott and Stone are optimistic that the conference will encourage the non-profit sector to be more aggressive and specific in its approach, they also know that they can't rely on government funding, as in the past 15 years, Canada still remains the only country in the developed world without a national housing strategy.
"The dismantling of the housing plan was based on the an ideological agenda," said Shapcott. "We need that connecting mechanism. There's a direct correlation between the erosion of federal and provincial initiatives and the increase of street homelessness. And the future is destined to get bleaker if we go the way we're going."