COLUMN: One issue we agree on hits home

COLUMN: One issue we agree on hits home

Poll shows Metro Vancouver residents agree there is a housing crisis in region

A poll by Insights West found that 90 per cent of those surveyed believe that Metro Vancouver is in the midst of a housing crisis.

That figure is staggering. It is extremely rare to get overwhelming public agreement on any topic. B.C. residents have differing opinions on almost everything.

It found that 84 per cent believe that foreign buyers have been a significant factor in creating the current housing situation. Population growth was targeted by 80 per cent; shadow flipping 76 per cent; money laundering 73 per cent; zoning bylaws 63 per cent; immigration 58 per cent; lack of land due to geography 58 per cent; interprovincial migration 46 per cent; and lack of land due to the Agricultural Land Reserve, 24 per cent.

Many commentators over the years have pooh-poohed concerns about foreign buyers. Some have called such concerns racism, while others – such as former premier Christy Clark – said it was good for homeowners to be able to sell for such high prices. Only when public concerns boiled over in 2016 did her government bring in a foreign-buyers tax.

Foreign buyers have not been as numerous in most parts of Surrey, Delta and White Rock as in Vancouver, Richmond and the North Shore. However, the relatively small number of foreign buyers who invested in homes here had an outsize effect on the entire market.

The influx of foreign capital, seeking a safe place to park money, initially skewed prices in wealthy neighbourhoods. Over time, this affected prices – and rents – in all areas.

The reality today is that most people who work in Metro Vancouver cannot afford to buy here, and have great difficulty finding a place to rent for a reasonable amount.

Federal tightening of mortgage rules, notably the stress test applied to people’s incomes, is also doing damage. Many who own homes cannot qualify for a new mortgage and are being forced to sell.

Provincial and civic politicians must bear blame, too. The former BC Liberal government ignored the issue for too long; the current NDP government believes it can tax its way out of the problem.

At the local level, cities have raised development cost charges, boosted fees and delayed approvals. All of these things cost money, and the price is added to the final product.

Meanwhile, councils have mostly ignored the plight of renters forced out of their homes, and of the homeless. In Surrey, two large manufactured home parks, one of the few types of housing that remains affordable, are being closed for condo development. Cities ignore the plight of such people.

(Surrey does deserve credit for its efforts to create modular homes for the homeless on the Whalley strip, as one of few municipal governments to take concrete steps on this issue.)

It is highly questionable if any incumbent really understands the depths of the housing crisis. Judging by the survey, the public gets it.

This issue needs to be front and centre for Oct. 20.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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