Today in the Legislature I was up in Question Period. I took the opportunity to continue pressuring the government to commit to demand-side housing reforms.
Housing affordability is the single most pressing issue facing British Columbians. As mentioned in the exchange below, I’ve sat through question period for the last two months and have yet to hear any questions of substance from the BC Liberals on this topic.
I’m not entirely happy with the response to my supplemental question and will continue to pressure government to deal with speculation in our real estate sector.
Below I reproduce the video and text of the exchange.
A. Weaver: The single biggest issue facing British Columbians today is the issue of housing affordability. I’ve now sat in this question period for a full two months, and I’ve yet to hear anything of substance in question period from members opposite. As a consequence….
Mr. Speaker: Members.
A. Weaver: As a consequence, please let me pick up the file.
Mr. Speaker: Member, if you could please be seated for a moment.
Members, I’m not sure this is a productive use of the time in the House here.
Member, please continue.
A. Weaver: As a consequence, I’ll pick up the file.
The B.C. Liberals introduced the B.C. home owner mortgage and equity partnership in early 2017. The then opposition housing critic and now Attorney General called the program “completely bizarre,” and he said: “It’s an incredibly poorly thought-out policy.” And he further noted our provincial government’s — that’s the previous government — response is to encourage people to take on more debt and subsidize the debt. It’s bizarre, he said.
I agree, and so does Evan Siddall, the president and CEO of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, who said this: “Programs that support demand in supply-constrained markets like Vancouver serve primarily to increase prices and make the affordability problem worse.”
In reference to the stated goal of the program and the program and making houses more affordable, he stated: “I’m joined by loud chorus of economists in insisting that it will do the exact opposite.”
My question is this. When will this government eliminate the program, which nothing more than incentivize British Columbians to take on more debt than they can afford, a reckless incentive particularly when the interest rates are rising, as they have twice already this year?
Hon. C. James: Thank you to the member for the question. I think, as the member pointed out, after 16 years of ignoring the housing crisis in British Columbia, there’s a lot of work that has to be done.
I’m very proud of the first steps we took — in less than two months after being sworn in, in government — in our budget update by announcing funding for 1,700 affordable housing units and 2,000 modular housing units.
We’ve also added resources to the residential tenancy branch to support good landlords and good tenants in the work that they do.
We’ve also improved information sharing with the homeowner grant and the Income Tax Act to look at speculation and how we address the speculation.
On the member’s specific question around the B.C. partnership program. It is being looked at as part of the budget. The member will know from the budget update that the amount of money has been reduced in that program, because the previous government predicted about $700 million over three years as usage. We have reduced that by $500 million because the program has been underutilized because of the concerns that the member has raised. So this is being looked at as part of the budget process.
A. Weaver: The members opposite seem to think that if I don’t hurl a character assassination at government, it’s a softball question, as opposed to a question dealing with real issues facing British Columbians.
Yesterday, Global News noted New Zealand’s approach to tackle their housing crisis and clamp down on offshore ownership and speculation. The story included a very disturbing comment attributed to government: “Foreign ownership of homes is not being considered as part of the budget 2018 planning.”
There’s a lot of foreign capital out there looking for a safe place to park money in these tumultuous times. Foreign investors have turned to our real estate sector, thereby turning our houses and land into commodities for investing in speculation, not living in or working on. Our residents are paying a social cost, as they can’t afford to live in the places that they work.
Yesterday I also received an email from a rural farm and ranch realtor who had been approached on behalf of a limited company based in Hong Kong looking to purchase 35,000 acres of farmland in British Columbia. The stories are never ending.
This government continues to focus on the supply side of housing. When will this government step in to clamp down on foreign money flooding into our real estate sector and agricultural markets like other jurisdictions have done internationally?
Hon. C. James: Thanks to the member for the questions and the ideas and the solutions to take a look at speculation and closing loopholes. Stay tuned for more information this afternoon around one piece of that.
I’m working with the Minister of Housing. We’re working together on both the demand and supply side. It is critical, as the member has pointed out, that we look at both pieces.
The member will know that tax measures are not talked about before the budget comes out so that we ensure that people don’t utilize tax information to their own personal benefit. That will come out as part of the February budget.
I can assure the member that speculative issues are being looked at — how we close the loopholes. It’s all part of a comprehensive housing strategy that we are going to be proud to table and proud to implement in this province.