|The redevelopment of the South Shore False Creek, with it's 1/3 low-income, 1/3 mid-income and 1/3 higher income housing was the result of a significant federal government investment in housing|
I write this as Canadians are about to go to the polls. Not all Canadians, since approximately four million have already voted at advance polls and sadly, millions of others will not vote at all.
This has been an awful election campaign. The stump speeches and debates were often unforgivably cringe-worthy, as was Andrew Scheer’s response when accused of being linked to an ugly smear campaign against Maxime Bernier.
While many voters won’t vote for Trudeau because of his handling of the SNC Lavalin matter, I can’t help but observe many of these voters think nothing of paying a contractor or cleaning lady in cash, knowing full well they won’t be declaring the income or filing GST. After all, everyone is doing it.
Like many observers, I won’t be surprised to see a minority Liberal government, supported by the NDP, but not necessarily by Jody Wilson-Raybould, who I also expect to be elected.
During the campaign, the parties often tried to bribe us with our own money. Many promises were made that were not costed and unlikely to be implemented. However, given Vancouver’s need for much more affordable housing, let’s look at some housing-related promises from the three major parties.
The Liberals say they will keep their new first-time buyer incentive. This is essentially a shared-equity mortgage program like those implemented in UK and elsewhere. While these programs helped some first-time buyers buy a home, they also resulted in people buying more expensive homes. If Liberals form government, I expect this promise to be kept.
Liberals also promised to create a national tax on vacant residential properties owned by non-Canadians who don’t live in Canada. As someone very concerned about the unintended consequences of Vancouver’s and B.C.’s so-called empty and vacant home taxes, I worry about this.
What will be the definition of a vacant residential property? Is it a dwelling that’s never occupied, or a furnished second home occupied less than six months a year? If it is the latter, I hope this promise is not kept.
The Liberals will also work with others to crack down on financial crime in the real estate sector. This is long overdue and let’s hope this campaign promise is kept, regardless of who forms government.
The Liberals also promise to build new, purpose-built, accessible and affordable housing for veterans and others. There is no doubt housing affordability across Canada was exacerbated when the Conservative government cancelled many federal programs in the early 1990s.
More federal money is desperately required, especially since many of Vancouver’s homeless, and others seeking subsidized housing have come to our city from elsewhere across Canada.
The NDP has promised an additional $5 billion to fund new affordable housing during its first 18 months in office. It has also promised to create half a million quality, affordable housing units over the next 10 years. That’s 50,000 units a year.
To put this in perspective, in 2017, housing starts hit a ten-year high at 221,000, and the 2019 estimate is less than 200,000.
While it is not clear what the NDP means when it says “it will create” this housing, or how it will be funded, some industry experts question whether governments, the non-profit sector and construction industry even have the capacity to build all this housing, in addition to market housing.
The NDP also says it would waive the federal portion of the GST/HST for new affordable rental units. This is something I support since currently developers must pay GST on the construction of a rental unit, but not a condominium unit, since GST is paid by the buyer.
The Conservatives want to change the federal government’s ‘stress test’ and like the NDP, increase amortization periods on CMHC-insured mortgages to 30 years. CMHC’s CEO Evan Siddall has referred to these promises as “reckless myopia”.
The Conservatives have also promised to make surplus federal real estate available for development to increase the supply of housing. I recall a similar promise in an annual 1970s Budget Speech when I worked for CMHC. Following the announcement, staff were asked to identify sites that could be made available. There were a lot less than anticipated.
Promises, promises. Let’s hope this time some good ones are kept.