As Canadians head to the polls to elect a new government later this month, it’s no surprise that housing affordability is a key campaign issue for all parties. As markets across the country continue to experience levels of activity not seen before, multiple polls place housing among the top areas of public concern.
And the parties have taken notice, making promises to make homeownership more achievable for Canadians. But are they focusing on what’s really needed to make a difference.
Here in BC, the topics of flipping houses – specifically shadow flipping, where a property is sold multiple times before completion inflating the sale price – and foreign ownership have long been blamed for the rising cost of homes.
And while these issues have rightfully been and continue to be examined (the Liberals are proposing further crackdowns on foreign ownership and measures to hinder homeowners from flipping properties) they are but small fish in a big pond that is the BC housing market.
Where additional time and attention needs to be placed is on the creation of a National Housing Strategy that makes increasing supply a top priority. To ensure the new government is acting in the best interest of British Columbians, we need to be asking candidates and future government to think more holistically about housing affordability.
In a country where Ontario and Quebec are often heavy influencers of federal politics, this time around BC voters may find themselves wielding far more influence. BC has a high number of swing ridings across the province, which is sure to make us a major deciding factor in the election outcome. The Liberal Party is hoping to win an additional 15 seats to establish a majority government, and with many ridings throughout BC being a two- or even three-way race, BC is an important battleground province.
Many parties have pledged to make home buying easier by increasing purchasing power and flexibility for buyers. But when it comes to housing affordability, the focus needs to expand well beyond obvious measures such as incentives and assistance for first-time home buyers. Increasing support for first-time home buyers without increasing the available housing stock will only exacerbate the ongoing mismatch between supply and demand.
Other measures proposed, like the banning of blind bidding in real estate transactions, are a reaction to recent heated market conditions but do not provide enough detail or data around effectiveness and implementation to be taken particularly seriously.
To their credit, the Conservatives, Liberals, and NDP have also made lofty promises to build more homes. But without a detailed, coordinated, and collaborative national strategy – which identifies roles for all levels of government – the goals are not likely to be met and Canadians will once again be left disappointed.
The federal government has other tools that could effectively help improve housing affordability, and yet, it appears they have yet to consider using them. Take, for example, the nearly $15 billion in federal funding for transit infrastructure announced earlier this year.
We at the BC Real Estate Association strongly endorse tying federal transit infrastructure funding to commitments from local government to increase housing density around new transit stations and major transit corridors. Additionally, municipalities need to be incentivized to speed up development approval times and actually make a dent in the supply deficit in their communities.
While the focus of the election is on the federal government, it’s regional and municipal governments that are key to actually achieving the housing targets needed, and whichever party takes power will need to use existent policy levers to influence municipalities to meet expanded housing goals. The time of three-tiered government with disparate housing agendas needs to end. A National Housing Strategy that coordinates all three levels of government to the singular goal of expanded housing targets is the clearest path to moving the dial on housing affordability.
Canada has endured much over the past year and a half due to COVID-19 but what we’ve also demonstrated is our resiliency. Emerging from this election we have the opportunity to build a stronger, more equitable, and more prosperous Canada by focusing on policies that tackle housing affordability in a holistic way, instead of focusing on soundbites, trends and outright bad or ineffective policy. Housing is in a crisis state in BC and we encourage Canadians to discuss these critical issues with your local candidates.