Pol's Silence Slaps Housing Problems onto Young

By the time the provincial election in B.C. is held in May, British Columbians will have, in the course of seven months, participated in federal, municipal and provincial elections. Notwithstanding recent reductions in housing prices in Greater Vancouver, there still remains a crisis in affordability for both owned and rental housing. Current price declines and fewer condo project starts may mean that this is the ideal time to investigate the development of affordable rental housing.

One would therefore assume that housing policy and housing affordability would have been major themes in all three elections. Although there has been the usual promises of money for social housing, that is, housing for the most poverty stricken residents, to address a growing and scandalous problem of homelessness, there has been a surprising lack of discussion of housing policy in general, and programs to assist in affordability specifically.

It is our young people, those aged 35 and under, who have found themselves to be most disadvantaged in our present housing system, yet few have the analytic tools to understand how the system is stacked against them, and why politicians from all levels of government are mostly silent about an issue that is so important for their quality of life. The purpose of this article is to explain to our young people the perverted priorities of our housing system as implemented by politicians at every level.

Housing policy in Canada is a confused mix of jurisdictions with programs at times coming from every level of government. At other times, each level of government excuses its inaction by suggesting that the real jurisdiction lies with another level of government. In fact, both the federal and provincial governments have been exercising jurisdiction in various facets of housing policy, and the municipalities have the limitation that they can only do what the province allows them to do.

However, in the event of strong municipal will, the province will be unlikely to erect roadblocks to municipal programs.

The primary aspect of policy that is so misunderstood in the present environment is the extent to which various levels of government give financial benefits to higher income owners of housing, rather than to lower income renters.

There is no good reason for this and such housing analysts as Professor David Halchinski (formerly of UBC and now of University of Toronto) have argued the case for tenure neutrality in government benefits – between owners and renters.

Accordingly, to the extent that young people are over-represented in the rental market, and middle aged and older people are over-represented in the owned housing sector, then our young people are losing out, and, in a democracy, should at least be made aware of precisely how such programs operate to their detriment and to the benefit of older, wealthier landowners.

In my recent book, Exploring Vancouverism: The Political Culture of Canada’s Lotus Land (CanadianValuesPress), I outlined a number of the ways that our municipality acts to keep up property values for the benefit of the baby boomers owning houses and keep low the taxes on those houses. For the little known fact is that for a million dollar house in Vancouver the property taxes are 40% less than the same value house in Toronto.

Local politicians have dutifully served their masters in Kitsilano, Dunbar, and Shaughnessy by obligating new developments downtown and elsewhere to assume a whole array of costs – for planning studies, infrastructure, amenities such as libraries, parks, and day care centres, and now “green” features – where the costs of these are added to the purchase price.

The existing residents are happy that this imposition of costs on the buyers of one bedroom condos not only helps keep their property taxes low, but increases the value of their homes to keep pace with the elevated price per square foot of the new condo units.

Provincial politicians, now asking for the votes of young people, should be asked why they give financial benefits to wealthy older people without a means test, rather than help younger people.

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