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Will the parties’ housing plans help affordability in Vancouver? Not quite, critics say

Aaron McArthur looks at how the federal political parties are promising to deal with the lack of affordable housing, and asks experts whether any of them are making it a priority.

No matter who you ask throughout Metro Vancouver, the message is clear: housing remains out of reach.

Even those who are able to find a place, like University of British Columbia (UBC) student Rhi Mwafany Kirkland, find there’s a lot to be desired about their living situation, which doesn’t nearly match what she pays in rent.

“I don’t have a stove,” she says about her one-bedroom suite in Dunbar. “I think about organizing dinners with friends, but I’m like, I don’t have a table.”

Decision 2019: Affordable rental housing
Decision 2019: Affordable rental housing

Add to that the constant stress of possibly having her home simply sold out from underneath her, and suddenly the easy commute to school doesn’t seem like that great of an advantage. But Kirkland says she has few other options.

Similar stories have been heard throughout the Lower Mainland for years. Despite municipal and provincial efforts like speculation-targeted taxes, crackdowns on renovictions and easing red tape to get more homes built, the message is clear: more financial help is needed from the federal government.

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“Ultimately, when it comes to rental, we don’t have enough and the market’s not going to provide it,” Kirkland said. “So the federal government needs to step in and fund that.”

READ MORE: Real estate prices are dropping, but will Metro Vancouver ever really be affordable? 

Andy Yan, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, says federal governments have been prioritizing homeownership over building more rental units for years, and that approach is starting to backfire.

“I think governments have thought their actions should be around home financing, and that that is enough to deal with the housing questions that are facing Canadians,” he said. “The problem is that it isn’t.

“The market no longer services that (middle class), and that has opened up the question of an increase in spending towards (rental) housing.”

READ MORE: How government policies are impacting B.C.’s real estate market for better or worse

Yan also suggested Ottawa needs to study what solutions will work best in certain markets, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Overall, you have to acknowledge the size of the country, with many different housing markets,” he said. “A blanket housing policy may not work, especially comparing housing in Vancouver and Victoria versus places like Winnipeg, for example.”

Are the parties’ promises enough?

The major political parties have each made commitments to improve housing affordability, with particular focus on helping renters and first-time homebuyers.

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The Liberals have pledged to build 100,000 affordable homes over the next 10 years and want to expand the First-Time Home Buyer Incentive for people in Victoria and Vancouver. The value of a qualifying home will go from around $500,000 to nearly $800,000.

READ MORE: Parties are promising to tackle Canada’s housing crisis. Will their policies work?

They are also promising to put a one per cent tax on absentee foreign owners and want to retrofit 1.5 million homes for energy efficiency and offer interest-free loans up to $40,000 to make houses weather-resilient.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said he would raise amortization limits to 30 years for all insure mortgages and review the mortgage “stress test” for first-time buyers. That stress test would be eliminated altogether for mortgage renewals under a Tory government.

Scheer has also promised to launch an inquiry into money laundering in the country’s real estate sector, which has been found to be a contributing factor to the soaring real estate market in Vancouver.

Federal Election 2019: Singh says they have B.C.-specific plan for coastline, housing
Federal Election 2019: Singh says they have B.C.-specific plan for coastline, housing

The party’s full platform is set to be released following Thursday’s French-language debate, the final time all the federal party leaders will square off before election day.

The New Democrats have promised to spend $5 billion to create 500,000 affordable housing units over 10 years and want to remove the federal GST/HST for those building new affordable units.

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The party would also reintroduce 30-year mortgages for first-time buyers and give low-interest loans to retrofit houses. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is also calling for a 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers and has called for a money laundering inquest into the real estate sector.

Trudeau campaign panders to first-time homebuyers
Trudeau campaign panders to first-time homebuyers

The Green Party wants to make more resources available for housing co-ops as well as build 25,000 new affordable units and renovate 15,000 others every year for the next 10 years. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has also said she would appoint a minister of housing to oversee the National Housing Strategy.

The plans appear to have created a split between voters who own homes and those who do not.

In an analysis of polling for Global News, Ipsos says nearly four in ten homeowners preferring the Conservatives (39%) compared to nearly the same percentage of non-homeowners (38%) preferring the Liberals.

READ MORE: Housing affordability: What has the Trudeau government done for you?

But while many of the above promises may sound appealing to some voters, critics say none of those plans will fully address the affordability needs of Canadians.

Generation Squeeze, a University of British Columbia-based research group, recently graded the main party platforms on whether they would allow all Canadians to afford a “good home” by 2030.

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The NDP, as the top-performing party, didn’t even reach the halfway mark towards achieving that goal. The Liberals and Greens would only get prospective homebuyers 25 per cent of the way there or less, while the Conservatives would actually make people lose ground, according to the group’s analysis.

Global News/Generation Squeeze
Global News/Generation Squeeze Global News/Generation Squeeze

Paul Kershaw, Generation Squeeze’s founder and lead researcher, says the parties are missing the bigger picture.

“We are frustrated that home prices have left earnings behind,” he said. “That then makes it harder to afford time at home and time in the labour market when we start our families.”

Kershaw says many of the platforms need to refocus on helping young people get a jump start on saving money for homeownership and even affording high rents.

He points out that at 37 per cent, voters between the ages of 18 and 38 make up the largest voting block in the country.

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READ MORE: Liberals, Conservatives offer duelling tax plans in battle over middle-class voters

The NDP, Greens and Liberals have all committed to raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, while the NDP and Greens have promised to eliminate student debt.

But Kershaw says the parties need to do a lot more — both individually and by coming together once the new government is formed.

“We’re trying to level up all the platforms,” he said about their analysis, which also covered issues like climate change and family affordability. “That’s good for younger Canadians … and gets us closer to a vision of Canada working for all generations.

“We have a chance to live up to our potential: enough time and money to enjoy life, and opportunity to leave our city, country and planet better off.”

—With files from Aaron McArthur and Andrew Russell

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