COLUMN: Ownership more dream than reality

BC Government has 'bold plans' for housing affordability, but it's not likely to have much of an effect.

Premier Christy Clark has taken to YouTube to announce that her government plans “bold action” on housing affordability.

Clark said, in a video released last week, that the province will be announcing specific measures to make housing more affordable in the coming weeks. On Sunday, Housing Minister Rich Coleman and his federal counterpart announced that the federal government will spend $150 million on affordable housing in B.C.

Housing prices have gone from a curiosity to an annoyance to a full-blown problem in the past few years. It’s not an issue for those who have significant equity in their homes, but it is a big problem for everyone else – renters, homeowners with large monthly payments and those who want to buy their first home, or those hoping to relocate.

Prices have been rising sharply, and agents admit it is difficult to accurately price homes.

The supply is not coming close to keeping up with the demand, at least some of which is driven by foreign buyers seeking to park money in a safe place. It’s hard to say just how much of a factor that is, because of a lack of statistics on the nationality and permanent residence of buyers.

While the phenomenon of sharply rising prices has been worst in Vancouver, it is a more significant issue in many parts of Surrey and in White Rock. When many homes go on the market, there are multiple offers and even bidding wars. Subject sales have become rare, and even property inspections have declined.

The province has been criticized for doing too little, but the truth is this is not an easy issue. The housing market is a free market, and people are free to pay what they want to and to sell to the highest bidder.

The federal government has, for decades, shown little interest in housing, other than providing mortgage insurance though Canada Mortgage and Housing.

The lack of new social housing has resulted in more people trying to find rental housing, and has led to a huge number of suites in what were once single-family homes.

The province has actively encouraged development and gained significant revenue from the property purchase tax. Other than some specifically targeted social housing, it has played little role in the overall housing market. The regulation it does oversee, through the Real Estate Council and real estate boards, has been shown to be severely lacking.

While it might have worked better in a less frenetic market, rapidly rising prices lead to greed. Some people in the real estate and development industries have been less than ethical at times.

Recommendations from an Independent Advisory Group on Real Estate Regulation are due this week and will make for interesting reading.

Local governments have been pushing for greater housing densities, as it contributes significant revenue, although the cost of growth to Surrey has likely been greater than any additional revenues it has gained. Population growth leads to demands for more services, and they don’t come cheaply.

The premier said in her video that all levels of government must work together to boost the housing supply. That will ease the demands, but housing stock takes a significant amount of time to appear on the market.

She also said transit investments need to be tied to the housing supply. This makes sense, however, TransLink needs more funds to expand bus service. It was completely ignored in the recent funding announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Clark also calls for support for first-time home buyers. She said that “the dream of home ownership” is important to middle-class families.

Her government can help do something to make it more achievable, but any action taken will not likely have much effect for years to come.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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