BC is in a housing crisis. Rampant speculation, destructive real estate market practices, insufficient affordable housing starts, low vacancy rates, and a curious refusal by the previous government to take action on the issue for years has led to the situation we’re in now. We’ve seen hollowed out communities, families pushed out to the edges of metropolitan areas, and accelerating rates of homelessness in one of the wealthiest provinces in the country.
In response to this growing crisis, the new provincial New Democrat government established a 30-Point Housing Plan that includes both supply-side and demand-side measures intended to work together to tackle the issue of housing affordability.
The speculation tax, foreign buyers tax, and additional school tax are three pieces of this plan. Collectively they will discourage vacant homes, encourage long-term rentals, moderate the market, and raise revenue for important services and housing initiatives. We are asking the wealthiest homeowners, foreign speculators, and satellite families to contribute more of their real estate windfall gains towards solving the problem.
Unsurprisingly, some of the wealthiest 2% have responded with fury. Cries of “Class warfare!” have echoed throughout Vancouver’s west side and West Vancouver with Andrew Wilkinson’s BC Liberals gleefully leading the charge. As I watch all this unfold, I find my patience wearing thin.
Every week, I hear from community members who are struggling through this housing crisis. I hear from renters being mistreated by some bad landlords, but fearful of repercussions should they stand up for their rights. I hear from seniors who are terrified of being displaced by a redevelopment, knowing their fixed incomes would never support them at market rental rates. I’ve seen two-bedroom condos housing two full-time professionals and three growing teens, cramped basement suites with two students in every corner, cars full of blankets parked on side streets, the carefully placed tents hidden behind the trees. I read about Fran Flann in the North Shore News – the North Vancouver senior recovering from cancer surgery who found herself in a homeless shelter at the age of 82.
Tell me what’s fair about workers paying unsustainable rents, families w/ teens in 1BR apts, seniors in homeless shelters, people dying on the streets…then we can talk about how unfair the #SpeculationTax and additional #SchoolTax is. #NorthVan #VanRE #HousingCrisis #bcpoli https://t.co/URMkrfQcvV
— Bowinn Ma (@BowinnMa) May 28, 2018
The impact of the housing affordability crisis on these community members is clear, urgent, and undeniable. Less obvious, perhaps, is the reality that housing affordability affects everyone, even the wealthiest among us who doth protest too much. Looking around in communities where housing prices are the highest, you’ll see “Help Wanted” signs on every retail and service window as businesses struggle to hire because the target workforce can’t afford to live in our communities. Seniors aging in place in West Vancouver are having more and more difficulty finding nurses and care aides willing to commute from Surrey where they live. Hospitals, schools, fire departments, and other important services in North Vancouver are struggling to hire and retain workers.
Immediate actions taken by the government, though considered inconvenient by some, are absolutely necessary for all of us. Still, there are those who fail to realize that the housing crisis is not simply a matter of inconvenience. Having young working-aged people in your community is more than a ‘nice-to-have’; it is absolutely critical to the survival of our communities.
Through the years I’ve watched the diaspora of many of our best and brightest as they leave the communities that have invested so much into their upbringing, their education, and training. Communities that have placed so many hopes on them in building the future of our province are left deflated in the wake of their young people leaving.
Most homeowners see these obvious truths as their children grow up and out of their homes to build their own lives far away from where they were raised. As a result, many have applauded government’s decision to take the bull by the horns. They recognize, as I do, that those who do well in society, must do well by society if they truly care about building the communities that will support them in their old age. It’s not a matter of charity. It’s a matter of survival.
The School Tax is the provincial portion of property taxes and has existed for decades. A recent rate increase for homes exceeding $3M and $4M has been met with protests in neighbourhoods where property values are high, like Shaughnessy, Kerrisdale, Point Grey, and the British Properties. The most common objection to the higher tax rate is the fallacy that seniors will be unfairly forced from the homes they own. In reality, seniors over 55 years old, surviving widows, and people with disabilities are eligible to defer part of or all of their property taxes until death or sale at a generously low-interest rate. Families supporting children may also be eligible for deferment programs.
I never forget that it’s a privilege to pay my property taxes, including my portion of the #schooltax, because it means that I have the incredible good fortune of actually owning a home. #bcpoli #VanRE #housingcrisis
— Bowinn Ma (@BowinnMa) June 2, 2018
Some of these homeowners have scoffed at the option of property deferment, despite the fact that deferred payments would amount to a tiny fraction of their overall windfall gains. I admire those, who through hard work and perseverance, now own their homes outright, but most of these homes were purchased in an era where real estate values were much lower, and owning a home was more attainable. Times have changed, and as a member of a generation where many of my peers have all but given up hope of ever owning a house at all – regardless of how hard they work – the options that these homeowners scoff at are a privilege that most people will never know.
School Tax increase on $3.25M property = $500/year
Seniors, widows, PWD can defer until sale or end of life at 1% interest. 40 yrs deferment~$25k
— Bowinn Ma (@BowinnMa) May 6, 2018
Regardless of how these homeowners feel about their options, the fact remains that they have options that those without wealth do not. A renter cannot defer their rent increases, refinance their apartment, or sell their unit if it’s no longer affordable.
Most people agree that having to pay a bit more tax on a multi-million dollar home isn’t a crisis at all. The real housing crisis in BC is the people and families who cannot find an affordable place to live. Policies designed to help and protect the few at the top instead of society as a whole have contributed to this housing crisis for years and continuing down that path will not help us turn the tide. Change might be uncomfortable, but it’s also necessary. We’re in a housing crisis, and it’s time we start acting like it.