COLUMN: Squeezed out of the housing market

The B.C. Assessment Authority has released the 2019 property assessments which are used to calculate municipal property taxes. In recent years, the annual release of these findings has also turned into an occasion to mark just how unaffordable housing has become for many people.

Things don’t look any better for the coming year, even though a few properties have gone down in value. Most of these are in exclusive areas where only the wealthy could ever hope to buy, and the decline is marginal at best.

In Surrey and White Rock, detached houses are unaffordable for many working people. They may never be affordable again. Many areas such as Whalley or Guildford, where five years ago prices had been somewhat lower, have seen a dramatic spike in the past two years.

The reality is this: most people who can afford to buy in Surrey or White Rock have few options available to them. Most likely, they can buy a new or used townhouse or apartment, if they can afford financing. Even that has become more difficult in the past year, due to the mortgage stress test imposed by the federal government.

The high prices, stress test, higher interest rates and stagnant wages have all combined to lead to a dramatic slowdown in real-estate sales across the Lower Mainland. Yet the area remains the most unaffordable in the country.

There should be a mass outcry at this inattention to what should be a basic human right – the right to shelter.

In Canada, housing has almost always been available. Often it has been very basic, but it has been affordable, for both owners and tenants. Such is not the case for many people today.

While B.C. prices have often been higher than in other parts of the country, because of the mild winters and the many attractions here, there has never before been a time when prices are so lopsided.

If wages here were high, and there was sufficient rental stock, that might be acceptable for a short while. Those conditions don’t exist. Younger working people, many of whom have grown up here, cannot afford to live here.

All levels of government have played a role in making housing so unaffordable.

The federal government has only recently finally acknowledged that it has a role to play in housing. It wants to make money available, for the first time in decades, for non-profit housing. A more important thing it can and should do is look at the impact of the stress test on people who already own homes, but cannot afford to renew their mortgages. The number affected by this is growing, and this will lead to more pressures on the rental stock.

The province has slowed down the flood of foreign money with punitive foreign buyers’ taxes and vacant housing taxes. While the latter may help free up a few properties for rental use, the province has yet to do anything substantial to make more affordable housing available.

It has slowed down the flood of foreign money with punitive foreign buyers’ taxes and vacant housing taxes. While the latter may help free up a few properties for rental use, the province has yet to do anything substantial to make more affordable housing available.

It could and should put pressure on municipalities to dramatically speed up their approval processes, and it should also take a close look at municipal development cost charge fees, both of which add up to higher costs for buyers and renters.

As for municipalities, they must take a good look in the mirror and ask what role they have played in this problem.

Surrey in particular lives off development. Fees and taxes from new housing provide a massive amount of funding for the city, and also create a huge amount of economic activity. Yet all this is not creating a product that is affordable.

The housing crisis will take many twists and turns in this new year, but most of them won’t be positive for those who have been left behind.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca – email frank.bucholtz@gmail.com

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