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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Urban land policy and the provision of housing in Canada, 1900-1985 Gordon, Michael Lynn Harvey


This thesis investigates one of the major factors in the supply and cost of housing, land. The hypothesis of this thesis is that a principal reason why Canada continues to have a housing problem is that government housing policy has treated land as a market commodity much like any other and has rarely examined, let alone challenged, the ramifications of this assumption in terms of its impact on the supply, quality and price of housing. The examination of the land component of urban housing is pursued by exploring the following research questions: How have Canadian government officials, politicians and reformers defined the urban land problem as it relates to housing and what land policies have been considered and implemented in relation to housing problems? The public, professional and academic discussion of these questions is pursued by a review of the professional and academic literature, municipal plans, technical reports and government studies and the debates on housing and urban land policy in the federal parliament. The thesis is divided into two parts. First, the philosophy of private landownership and the basic thrust of public land policy is examined. Most attention is given to the nature of property rights and their protection and enforcement by government as it is the most fundamental land policy. Also, the nature of urbanization and the intervention of government in urban development and housing since 1900 is reviewed. Second, an historical overview of land policy and the provision of housing is provided. This discussion is divided into four historical periods: 1900-1929, 1930-1939, 1940-1969, 1970-1985. The constraints on and opportunities for urban land policy are examined and the nature of land policy in each period is discussed. There have been, in general, five categories of land policies adopted since 1900: land use zoning, subdivision regulation, public infrastructure and servicing programmes, public land assembly programmes and unearned increment taxes. These policies have emphasized the treatment of land as a privately held market commodity. There is a conflict between the desires of private land owners to maximize the return on their land and the need of the broader community to obtain land for housing at prices which make affordable and physically adequate housing feasible. This conflict is at the crux of the urban land problem.

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