Making housing more affordable should be central to the 2014 municipal elections
By Patrick Vaillancourt, Columnist
With the 2014 municipal election here in British Columbia only weeks away, candidates across the province are making some pretty bold suggestions and even bolder promises to win. The data shows that voters are not all that engaged in municipal elections, but if you subscribe to the notion that “all politics are local,” I’d encourage you to get informed and vote in your respective municipality this November.
If you are from a middle-class background, you have a dog in the fight, with a lot at stake for residents in the Lower Mainland. The cost of living is becoming increasingly difficult to meet and housing prices, especially in Vancouver, have risen to monumental new heights.
Some people are confused as to why housing is so expensive in the city. It’s really a simple economic equation of supply and demand: there are many who want to buy properties here, and there isn’t enough for everyone.
But why are there so many apartments available for rent?
In truth, many of the properties are being purchased by absentee owners from all over the world. Investors from everywhere are deciding to put their money in Vancouver homes, banking on increasing housing prices being the trend for years to come.
Whether you are a renter or an owner, you have a stake in the fight for affordable housing. The rent you pay has a direct correlation to the owner’s mortgage, and so the higher the cost of the house, in all likelihood, the higher your rent will be.
One proposal by mayoral candidates in Vancouver is to impose a tax on absentee homeowners—those who buy property here as an investment, yet choose to live elsewhere. I think the idea warrants serious debate and discussion in this municipal election.
Homeownership is an achievement, but also a responsibility. Buying a home somewhere is an expression of interest not only in the edifice, but in the community. This is evident in the taxes homeowners pay, whether it’s municipal property taxes, school levies, or water sanitation fees. Though real estate is an investment vehicle, it should be distinguished from homeownership, which implies a certain level of involvement in a community.
Non-resident homeowners aren’t interested in the betterment of the City of Vancouver, but are merely looking to make a quick buck, waiting for housing prices to increase even further before eventually cashing out. This is what pundits mean when they say “bursting the housing bubble,” and a housing crash in the city doesn’t do anyone any good.
A tax on non-resident homeowners is a step in the right direction, but in no way does that singular gesture result in the stabilization of housing prices across BC’s Lower Mainland. It has to be a pillar of a larger program to bring real affordable housing to the region.
Some will no doubt criticize my stance on this as being anti-globalization or anti-free enterprise, yet nothing could be further from the truth. If an Asian billionaire wanted to invest in one of many commercial properties for sale in Vancouver, then by all means do so without any added taxes levied on them. Residential properties are different because housing is a social issue that only affects those who live within the city limits. Absentee homeowners, by virtue of being absent, couldn’t care less about the community, and that is a breach of each and every homeowner’s responsibility to their community.
So be sure to go out and vote on November 15. We can ill-afford to be silent on this issue.