Opinion: MLA Report with Andrew Weaver

Data is needed to address community's rental needs

Skyrocketing real estate markets across the Lower Mainland and Southern Vancouver Island are dragging the rental market with them.

Frances Bula recently wrote in The Globe and Mail, “as people are shut out of the housing market, more people have no choice but to remain as renters who are competing for a limited supply of housing in a system that has treated renters like second-class citizens for decades.” She’s right, and for people who are young, non-white, have mental health issues, unemployed, recent immigrants, poor, disabled, or have pets, finding a safe, affordable home can seem nearly impossible in markets with vacancy rates around 0.6 per cent like Victoria.

With constrained real estate mobility, people have little choice but to stay in suites that would have previously been viewed as shorter-term student rentals and I am getting increasingly concerned about where the young people in my riding are going to live this coming school year. A representative from Camosun College told us he too is very worried about the situation and described it as a complete crisis with some students living in cars and others forced into over-crowed, expensive shared suites.

We so desperately need more designated long-term rental units in B.C. Spaces that people can make their home, places that welcome children and pets and have some outdoor space. Homes for people who will rent for large portions of their life, either by necessity or choice.

Co-operative housing arrangements are another promising avenue to bridge the gap between the rental and homeownership markets. They provide shareholders with a long-term, sustainable home and create diverse communities, supporting multi-generational residents of varying income levels.

Unfortunately, few co-operative housing developments have been built in B.C. since the 1990s when the federal government released its social housing responsibility to the province and existing units have multi-year waitlists. Given our current housing crisis, and the province’s new Housing Priority Initiatives Fund, I think the B.C. Liberals, in conjunction with municipalities and the federal government, need to step in to help housing co-operatives with land acquisition and planning costs.

Each level of government has various tools available to them that they can use to tackle the housing crisis from different angles. To guide these initiatives we need, and have needed for years, more comprehensive data about the trends impacting our housing market. The information about buyer nationality that the province began collecting this June is a start, but making major policy decisions based on five weeks of data – as the B.C. Liberals did with Bill 28 – is far from ideal.

Knowing that we are going to be faced with challenging housing decisions for years to come, we need to start collecting more data now so we can design informed policy for the future. Determining who is purchasing homes, and how many, in BC would allow the government to identify the flow of foreign investments, the role corporations are playing, and whether we are seeing speculation in our market coming from other regions in Canada. Tracking house flipping (when investors buy a house to quickly resell it at higher price) is an important aspect of understanding an over-inflated market. Imposing a sales tax on homes sold within one or two years of purchase could be an effective way of curbing house flipping but, again, it is a policy that should be founded in comprehensive data.

Studying the impact of Airbnbs, I suspect, would shed a lot of light on changes happening in the rental market. Airbnb has already said it’s open to some restrictions tailored to tight rental markets, including banning hosts from using the popular online platform to run a business renting out multiple units, but governments (municipal and provincial) will need solid data to move forward with such policies.

Long-term and ongoing data collection is vital to the future of homes in B.C. – the sooner we start the better.

Andrew Weaver is MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head and the BC Green Party leader.