UBC professor: Political parties' housing strategies are woefully inadequate

Housing policies outlined in election promises are outdated and insufficient to address the housing crisis, expert says

UBC professor: Political parties' housing strategies are woefully inadequate

At present, none of Canada’s political parties have workable strategies to drive down housing costs, according to University of British Columbia professor and urban designer Patrick Condon.

Instead, the parties’ proposed housing policies merit “gasps of disbelief” due to their tone-deaf approach, Condon said in a recent contribution to TheTyee.ca.

“All three platforms fall back on tired bromides that can only make the out of control urban land price dumpster fire worse,” Condon said. “Ideas so retro you’d think we were not only living pre-pandemic, but before the crash of 2008.”

In particular, the Conservatives’ approach – which he said will essentially ensure automatic approval of higher-density projects near transit infrastructure – will be disastrous.

“New density near transit is good for many reasons but affordable housing is not one of them,” Condon said. “Just look at the Metrotown district in Burnaby, where pricey towers replacing affordable flats have made Burnaby the demoviction capital of Canada.”

Condon said that the Conservatives neglected to offer provisions for ensuring that a significant share of these projects will be affordable to those earning near the national average wage.

“Their plan rests on the assumption that if you add new housing supply – any supply – prices will go down,” Condon said.

Read more: How 2021 Federal Election is shining a spotlight on Canada’s housing affordability crisis

The Liberal platform also offers only “small-bore demand side changes” like a 24-month wait time for foreign ownership, along with first-time buyer assistance, real estate transfer rule adjustments, and the continuation of the current administration’s multibillion-dollar housing plan.

“This last one sounds big enough to do some good until you look under the hood and see that the vast majority of the billions they claim credit for is actually treasury department loans for market rate projects (again in the hope that just increasing supply will do some good),” Condon said.                                     

Complicating matters is that this injection of capital is likely inflaming home price growth, “as it is part of the glut of newly printed central bank funds flooding the economy with the intention of further driving down interest rates,” Condon said. “Driving down real interest rates below the rate of inflation has the corrosive effect of driving up asset prices, housing in particular. It’s no big deal if stocks, gold, and bitcoin prices go up. That doesn’t do much harm to average wage earners. It’s a big problem when entry level housing prices double in 10 years.”

And while the NDP strategy is promising to directly fund affordable housing, it’s still the least bad choice in a series of fatally flawed approaches, Condon said.

“They are disappointingly lacking in specifics on how this might be done. They headline the creation of a half million ‘affordable’ new homes, presumably subsidized,” Condon said. “This seems a logical step since [a Parliamentary Budget Officer] report says that given current trends, at least one in seven Canadians will need direct government housing support (either in the form of housing grants to renters or subsidized housing units).

“That’s five million Canadians,” Condon said. “A half million units is a good start but most needy households will be waiting a very long time for affordable housing under the NDP plan.”

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