Today in the legislature I rose in Question Period to ask the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing when the government will step in to clamp down offshore purchases of BC real estate. I’ve been raising the issue of housing affordability week after week in the legislature and I continue to be very troubled by the lack of action on this file.
Yesterday the government released very disturbing data that indicated a growing crisis in terms of offshore buying. Fully 5 percent of the homes in the Capital Regional District and Metro Vancouver, 10 percent in Burnaby and 11 percent in Richmond were purchased by foreign buyers in September alone.
Below I reproduce the video and text of my question period exchange.
A. Weaver: Yesterday the government released property transfer tax data that clearly demonstrates the rising impact that foreign speculators are having on our housing market.
Fully 5 percent of the homes in the capital regional district and Metro Vancouver, 10 percent in Burnaby — that’s a doubling in a year — and 11 percent in Richmond were purchased by foreign buyers in September alone.
And that’s not counting all the transactions that were able to avoid paying property transfer tax and foreign buyers tax through creative measures.
Across every single community in Metro Vancouver, the percentage of transactions involving a foreign natural is going up. These transactions have now an outsized impact on the entire market, contributing beyond their relative share to the price increases we’re seeing in our province.
It’s essential that this government take action on the use of foreign money in our real estate sector, and this action must start now.
To the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing: When will British Columbia start implementing policies that will ensure that our limited housing stock is used first as homes for British Columbia, not as a bank to account for foreign capital.
Hon. C. James: I am proud to work with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
This is a tax issue, and I’m proud that we’re actually doing work in the Ministry of Finance on tax issues to come up with a comprehensive strategy that will address affordability in our province.
I appreciate the member’s question because what’s clear from the figures is that the previous government’s piecemeal approach did not work. You’re continuing to see foreign investment increase. We need to address the issues.
So right now, within my ministry, we’re actively examining all of the existing and new ideas for housing tax measures, including a speculation tax, including the foreign buyers tax.
We’re rejecting the piecemeal approach, because we know we have to address housing affordability in a long-term strategy. That’s what we’re focused on, and that’s what we’re going to do.
Mr. Speaker: Members.
If I may, before you continue, member, remind all members that we have visitors in the gallery. I’m thinking it’s difficult for them to hear, and I’m especially reminded we have a wonderful group of young school students in the gallery.
A. Weaver: That was timely, because that wonderful group are actually grade 5 students from Glenlyon Norfolk, a school in my riding. So welcome here, in during question period.
I appreciate the Minister of Finance rising in response to my question. But my question was to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing about what is being done today, not what is going to be done hypothetically in February.
Look, the reality of the situation is this: the previous government brought us back in summer to implement on a timely, urgent fashion a foreign buyers tax. This was done despite the budget cycle, which was not occurring for another six months.
So I don’t buy the minister’s argument. We’ve heard the government talk about speculation taxes. Yet, there’s been no action. We’ve heard them talk about vacancy taxes. No action. We’ve heard them talk about Airbnb. No action.
To be blunt, the government is acting like deer caught in headlights. This is the single biggest issue facing our province, and we are told week in and week out: “Wait and see.”
Mr. Speaker: Members.
A. Weaver: I’ve got some cheerleaders on the opposite side today. It’s good.
The former Housing critic made it clear that tackling foreign speculation was the most important step that could be taken. There are plenty of actions that could be taken now to close loopholes. Sure, we’re tracking and collecting data and working with our federal partners. All could be done outside of the budget process.
My question to the Municipal Affairs and Housing is: why has the government been silent on the foreign demand issues since taking over government?
Hon. C. James: Thanks to the member. In fact, you can check off a couple of those pieces. The work we’re doing with the federal government is already done. We included information-sharing in September. Those are exactly conversations that are going on. That’s a piece that’s happening now.
You can also check off, Member, the issue of closing the fixed-term loophole to be able to protect tenants from unfair landlords who were looking at year leases.
You can also check off investing in the residential tenancy branch to protect tenants and support good landlords.
And I would remind the member, as well, that in fact, the information that came forward on the foreign buyers data showed very clearly that one measure simply doesn’t work. A comprehensive approach is needed. That is what we are looking at now to end speculation of the real estate market. I look forward to the member’s ideas so we can put a plan together long term that is going to address affordability.