Parties posture on housing affordability

B.C’s three main political parties are shaping up for a turf war on arguably the biggest election issue in the Lower Mainland – the cost of housing.

Less than 24 hours into the 2017 B.C. election campaign, North Vancouver-Lonsdale had its first visit from a party leader – the NDP’s John Horgan here to talk housing.

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Flanked by his candidate from the riding, Bowinn Ma, and West Vancouver-Capilano NDPer Mehdi Russel, Horgan mingled and glad-handed at Lonsdale Quay before sitting down with a group of residents, many of whom were facing “demoviction” or the loss of their neighbourhoods to redevelopment of high-end homes.

The NDP’s platform released Thursday contains a number of promises aimed at tackling affordability: higher taxes for speculators, changing the Residential Tenancy Act to crack down on fixed-term leases and renovictions, tackling tax fraud and money laundering in real estate, a $400-per-year rent rebate and a promise to build 114,000 affordable rental, non-profit and co-op housing units over 10 years.

“Housing is going to be the No. 1 issue in this campaign,” Horgan said. “The province can bring on Crown land. The province can ease constraints on permits going forward, can assist BC Housing to reduce the wait-list by aggressively bringing on new supply. The Liberals did nothing until they were facing an eviction of their own – losing their jobs,” he said.

The platform also contained a promise of legislation to guarantee “fair treatment” for those being demovicted.

“What we need to do is protect people who have security of tenure now and ensure they have somewhere to go that’s not just affordable … but appropriately sized,” he said. “Families are being displaced at a higher rate than singles or couples.”

The B.C. Green Party too has made housing a central piece of their campaign.

“Hands down, I think it’s the biggest issue. People in rental and low-income housing are concerned that their properties are going to be demolished and built into condos,” said North Vancouver-Seymour candidate Joshua Johnson.

The Greens’ platform includes a hike in the property transfer tax for homes assessed at more than $3 million, a tax on lifetime capital gains more than $750,000 on principal residences, bumping the foreign buyers tax to 30 per cent and making it provincewide, progressive property taxes and a switch to income-based homeowner grants, as well as forcing denser zoning in neighbourhoods well served by transit.

Money raised would then be spent on building 4,000 new units of affordable housing annually and retrofitting older buildings.

On the doorsteps, Johnson said the plan is finding support even among homeowners who would end up paying more.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to own a home in the area (in which) I was raised because it’s just not feasible. I don’t have $1 million to spend on a house – even on an MLA’s salary. It’s just ridiculous. I think people are really afraid of what’s going to happen to our community if we don’t see some changes,” he said.

North Vancouver-Lonsdale Liberal candidate Naomi Yamamoto said high-paying jobs, low taxes and limited government are the best steps towards affordability.

“Having people keep money in their pockets to spend on whatever they want to spend it on is what we think is really important,” she said, contrasting that with what she characterized as reckless NDP spending promises.

For people desperate in the housing market, Yamamoto pointed to her government’s announcements in the last year of more than $900 million for affordable housing, funding for homeless shelters, and rental subsidies for low-income residents and seniors (including roughly 1,200 in North Vancouver.)

“It lets them retain their pride and dignity. We’re not stigmatizing people. We’re not ghettoizing folks by putting them all together in social housing units,” she said.

For buyers, Yamamoto pointed to the foreign buyers tax and down payment loans as steps her government has taken. “I actually do hear affordability is a huge issue on the North Shore. We are one of the best places to live, I think, in B.C. and it’s a reflection of that is well,” she said.

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