A local expert says parties competing in the 2021 federal election are giving the housing issue a “quite unprecedented amount of attention,” while warning about high expectations.
Agent Leo Spalteholz, who analyzes real estate figures and policy at househuntvictoria.ca, said previous elections have seen little attention paid to the issue, outside of a few policies that appeared on party platforms.
But 2021 is different, he said.
“It actually took a lot of the parties a little bit by surprise the amount of national anger that is arising around this issue.”
While some parts of the country accept high housing prices as a fact of life – such as the West Coast – the phenomenon of escalating real estate has spread to areas previously spared, Spalteholz said.
So if the parties have recognized the problem, how innovative are their respective solutions?
“People have to understand that most of the housing issues are really outside the jurisdiction of the federal government,” he said. “Right now there is an election going on, people are really putting the emphasis on the federal government to solve this problem, but much of the problem actually needs to be tackled by local and provincial governments. If people are expecting any of these platforms – it doesn’t matter the party – to fix house prices, they are going to be very disappointed.”
This said, the federal government’s role is to set tax policy and allocate funds for provinces, and by extension, municipalities.
So based on those federal powers, which party has the most feasible platform?
“It is tough to choose which one is on all points the best,” Spalteholz said, as each party’s platform has good aspects.
“I would say the NDP has probably the best-worked plan for below market housing. They really had the most concrete commitment to how many units they would like to create for affordable or below-market type of housing.”
The Conservatives, meanwhile, have in his words the “most effective elements for stimulating rental housing construction.”
As for the federal Liberals, it is hard to evaluate some of their programs, because they never appeared before, such as the proposed bill of rights for homeowners designed to crack down on things like blind bidding.
“It’s unclear how that will actually be implemented, but it is a very interesting idea to make the process more transparent,” Spalteholz said. “And I also like the housing accelerator fund, because it is really recognizing that local governments are often where the construction of new housing basically falls down to.”
As for the federal Greens, its housing platform seems broadly in line with others, he said, pointing to provisions around foreign investment among others. “They want to create 50,000 supportive housing units and 300,000 deeply affordable housing units over 10 years (and focus) on non-market and rentals similar to the NDP platform. Nothing immediately jumps out to me as a new idea.”
This said, the Greens’ platform seems to be silent on encouraging local governments to allow denser housing close to where people work or close to transit, he said, adding that both the Conservatives and New Democrats have promised to tie transit funding to densification.
“Allowing people to live car free or car light lifestyles is likely one of the biggest levers to drive down transportation emissions, so it’s surprising to see it not mentioned,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest omission from various platforms concerns the issue of student housing, Spalteholz noted.
“Even though that is provincial jurisdiction, I have a hard time believing that if there is money on the table for building radical amounts of student housing, that the provinces and universities would say no to that,” he said. The supply of student housing, or lack thereof, has become especially apparent in Greater Victoria. “As students are coming back to campus, the shortage of housing is really desperate.”
While the University of Victoria is increasing the supply of on-campus housing, it still mostly falls on the community to provide housing for students.
“And that puts immense pressure on both the rental market and investors.” The absence of rental housing invites more investors and their entry in turn drives up prices, he said.
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