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The federal government is being urged to empower community members to buy affordable apartment buildings before corporate landlords can scoop them up.

A handful of protesters gathered outside a Vancouver real estate office Tuesday to call on Ottawa to do just that, chanting such things as “housing for humans — not for profit,” “housing is a right — fight, fight fight,” and holding signs to get their point across.

“Land trusts, co-ops, tenants, non-profits — make sure they have the first right of refusal. And then, these larger predatory landlords, then they can come in,” explained Monica Bhandari, chair of New West ACORN.

However, one housing expert suggests this approach could have a detrimental effect on the situation overall.

UBC Sauder School of Business professor Tom Davidoff says this might make building more housing difficult, during a time when more homes are needed.

“Where I have a problem with this protest is maybe this makes building market-rate apartments less attractive because if I know that when I go to sell the building, I can’t ask for top dollar from the market, I’ve got to go to community groups who are presumably going to be able to pay less, I’m probably a lot less interested in building the building,” he explained.

Other ACORN members staged similar demonstrations across Canada, also calling for a national fund to help community groups buy apartment buildings.

“I do think it’s a really good idea to have a federal fund. I think this is a really critical need, given the high cost of rental rates right now,” said Penny Gurstein, co-director, UBC Housing Research Collaborative.

Earlier this year, B.C. created a $500-million rental protection fund to help non-profits secure older rental buildings and expand them to house more people. The protesters want something similar for the whole country.

“But it’s ultimately a very small drop in a very, very large bucket. A large, multi-unit building might actually cost tens of millions to purchase. Add up a bunch of those, and you’re going to help people, but you’re not going to fix the foundational issues that are at play,” housing advocate Margareta Dovgal told CityNews.

Davidoff says protesters should focus on the vast amounts of land in Canada where apartments aren’t allowed to be built.

“Vancouver, to its credit today, is going to consider four or six units per residential lot — but that’s not enough. They should be out protesting asking for apartments everywhere if they’re really interested in making sure we address affordability,” he said.


Story by: City News