From the Straight:

Brown

When the former Chief of Staff to Gordon Campbell writes an essay as scathing as this on the housing crisis, it’s another serious sign that a tide is turning.   Worth reading in its entirety, but here are some selected quotes:

  • Enough already. Metro Vancouver’s real estate frenzy is out of control. Like a virus, it is a killer concern that is spreading. Metro Vancouver’s affordability crisis is now Greater Victoria’s unfolding nightmare.
  • Each level of government blames the others for failing to address the supply problem. Yet the provincial government is hardly in any position to point fingers at local governments. Its refusal to properly invest in desperately needed public transit infrastructure has clearly inhibited the densities and investments needed to rapidly liberate more affordable housing. Plus, the Clark government wants Metro’s governments to raise property taxes and community amenity “contributions” to finance critically needed TransLink investments. It wants to hike taxes that would only further add to the costs of new homes and existing homes alike. And now it has the gall to attack the NDP for its proposed new speculators’ tax? Spare me.
  • … the province now collects about three times more in property transfer taxes than it receives from the natural gas royalties, despite Premier Christy Clark’s endless yattering about the wealth that sector generates.  Arguably, the proportional benefit and impact of the money the B.C. Liberals receive from their paymasters in the property development and real estate sectors is even greater.
  • In politics, money talks. And the cash the B.C. Liberals get from their wealthy benefactors in those sectors has made the NDP’s demonstrably sensible demand-side measures targeting foreign speculators and absentee owners a mute point for the Clark government.
  •  ….homeowners … have seen their property values soar with the offshore investment tide that supposedly “raises all boats”, as it also quietly drowns out hope for young families and swamps those most in need of affordable housing.  Most homeowners want to stop the worst abuses and negative side effects of unwanted foreign investment, but only to the extent that it does not reduce the new market value of their most valuable investment.
  • … unwanted demand, it must be noted, is also largely driving certain new supplies of new housing that is being built primarily to attract those wealthy foreign buyers and the higher prices their investments leverage.  It is also hiving off huge portions of our existing housing supply to sell to those wealthy foreign buyers, who are typically wealthier than most Canadians and who enjoy a competitive edge over all domestic buyers by dint of the substantial premium they gain on our struggling currency.  Contrary to what the Clark government maintains, we do need to address the demand side of the housing crisis. Because that unquenchable demand is arguably doing more harm than good.
  • British Columbians are being inundated with story after story that rightly makes their blood boil. Stories about coercive pressure tactics, deceptive sales pitches, dishonest brokerage practices, and even threats of personal violence that paint an ugly picture of a Wild West real estate industry that is hurting British Columbian sellers and buyers.
  • As the Globe and Mail reported, “An in-depth look at public data—including land titles, tax reporting and court records—revealed a distinct pattern, suggesting the typical wealthy foreign family buying Vancouver real estate pays little or no income or capital gain tax…
  • Some of Vancouver’s wealthiest and most desirable neighborhoods are being alienated before our eyes, as wealthy absentee buyers and foreign investors scoop up those iconic properties, only to let them sit empty.  It is happening in slow motion, as a crime against our culture.
  • … none of those measures would fundamentally address the legal ability of those with deep enough pockets to buy whatever they want, wherever it is for sale in British Columbia.  And therein lies the greater problem, in my view.
  • I think it is time to say that here, in British Columbia, if you are not a citizen, a permanent resident, or otherwise demonstrably committed to living and/or working in our province, you cannot buy B.C. land or fee simple property that is specially designated for protection. Period.
  • A good start might be to strike an independent expert advisory group that is charged with consulting British Columbians and assessing the many mechanisms now employed around the world for restricting foreign ownership of residential and agricultural properties.
  • To be clear, I am not talking about in any way restricting or inhibiting immigration.  Nor am I arguing to restrict foreign property investment or ownership specifically from China, per se. …It should be possible in this country, of all countries, to have a respectful, intelligent debate that is grounded in the principles of mutual tolerance and respect, which most of us consider defining hallmarks of Canada. We should talk about this issue openly and honestly, without fear of recrimination or being branded as “racists”.
  • It is time to openly discuss the vision we hold as a society for the land beneath our feet and who should own it. If anything, we need to deal directly with that “elephant in the room” before it crushes Canadians’ welcoming attitudes towards immigration and much-needed foreign investment. Otherwise, I submit, public resentment and anger will build in ways that are anathema to Canada and to our multicultural society.