We all know that British Columbia is facing a housing crisis – so what’s our plan?
We’ve heard the numbers. Vancouver has been named the most unaffordable housing market in North America. It now takes an average of 35 years to save for a down payment. B.C. has the highest rent in the country, and it’s expected to keep climbing. In 2021 alone rent has increased by 14.2%. Homelessness is on the rise and intensified by two public health crises: COVID-19 and the toxic drug crisis.
Those are the numbers. This data points to the very real experiences of British Columbians on the ground: from a disabled and homeless constituent unable to find a place to recover from illness, to university students sleeping in their cars, to the young families spending over half their income on housing, to the many people leaving our major cities because of housing unaffordability.
The consequences of the housing crisis in turn impact the economy. Right now, B.C. is experiencing a labour shortage, one that is felt across all sectors. According to the Business Development Bank of Canada, 55% of small and medium-sized businesses across the country are struggling to find employees. Ski resorts, the health-care field, restaurants, daycares all need workers, but workers can’t find affordable and available places to live. Additionally, studies show that housing insecurity increases the negative outcomes for both physical and mental health. This increases strain on social services and limits economic growth as people struggle with their health. The crisis is reinforcing social and economic inequality, too: Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour face racism and systemic barriers when trying to find affordable housing. People in need of housing close to work, transportation and child care find themselves without feasible options.
These factors are not indicative of a thriving economy. We can do better.
Last month, the provincial government released a quarterly update on the province’s finances. The government projected a “stronger than anticipated” financial recovery and a smaller deficit.
But that report doesn’t tell the whole story. Our economic growth is tied to the skyrocketing cost of housing. The BC Real Estate Association reports that housing prices for all home types have increased by 17.1% this year. In other words, a home that would have sold for $800,000 in 2020 now might sell for $936,800. That increase shows up on the province’s books, deepening our government’s reliance on an overheated and unsustainable housing market.
The crisis in our housing market is the consequence of a multitude of factors, including population growth, speculation, global flows of capital, the financialization of real estate and limited supply. Experts disagree on how influential each of these inputs are, but it is clear that a meaningful response must be multifaceted. We need more supply in both market and non-market housing options. We need housing initiatives that help build healthy communities: close to transportation and social infrastructure, accessible for the diverse needs of individuals. We especially need to decouple GDP growth from an unsustainable reliance on an overheated real estate market. Government is overly reliant on housing revenue to display a “healthy” economy; but the economy isn’t healthy if it’s not working for the vast majority of people and businesses. The provincial government hasn’t taken any meaningful actions to cool the housing market, and prices have continued to escalate under the BC NDP’s watch.
Housing and the economy isn’t just about price points and GDP. It’s about people. Right now, people are struggling on all fronts. It is too expensive and too difficult to find a place to live, much less operate a business or plan for the future. The housing affordability crisis is contributing to a worker shortage that is holding back business growth. If we’re going to get serious about economic recovery, we’re going to need a bold housing plan to go with it. •
Sonia Furstenau is leader of the BC Green Party.