There’s no question that housing affordability is top of mind for voters in British Columbia and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Today, the average single-family detached home in Vancouver costs $1.8 million dollars. Condos aren’t far behind, averaging $737,000 per unit.
The reality is that so many people – even those making good incomes – just can’t afford to live in Vancouver. Different political parties each have different reasons why, but the fact remains the same – owning a home in Vancouver is unattainable for many of the people who live there (or who want to).
From an on-the-ground standpoint, demand for housing in Vancouver far exceeds the supply, pushing up prices to astronomical levels. The phrase ‘affordable housing’ in Vancouver has a very different meaning than it does in other cities across Canada. What would be considered affordable in Vancouver would likely be a small condo for half a million dollars. The lack of attainable housing in the city is leading to thousands of people leaving Vancouver each year and moving out to the suburbs or even other parts of the province.
Cities outside of Vancouver such as Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Langley – once considered too far for the average commuter – are seeing more and more Vancouverites move in, because the ability for a family to purchase a home is more obtainable. This coupled with changing demographics has fundamentally altered B.C.’s political landscape and the way these ridings vote.
With a few notable exceptions, Vancouver voters generally have leaned more to the centre or left benefiting the NDP or Liberal Party. But as Vancouverites move to the suburbs, they’re bringing their voting habits with them and communities that traditionally vote Conservative might find themselves being represented by a Liberal or New Democrat after the upcoming federal election.
We saw that trend very clearly during B.C.’s provincial election last fall with the centre-left New Democrats winning a sweeping majority, largely a result of flipping seats in Vancouver’s suburbs like Richmond, Surrey, Chilliwack and Langley that had long been held by the centre-right BC Liberal Party, which is a coalition of Liberals and Conservatives, but generally leaning more to the right.
So what does that mean for this Federal Election?
The Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP are all aware of the opportunities to pick up seats in Metro Vancouver and have put housing affordability at the forefront of their campaigns. This is a strong strategy to win over voters who feel homeownership is out of their grasp and are looking for optimism that a new government will change this.
In this year’s federal campaign, we’ve seen common trends amongst the three major parties regarding housing affordability. Each party is threatening to ban or tax foreign buyers from purchasing homes in Canada or tax housing speculators. A major issue with this approach is that B.C. has had a foreign homeowner’s tax since 2016 and a speculation/vacancy tax since 2019, and home prices have only increased since then. Party leaders need to be prepared to answer questions about how their plan will produce different results.
Other priorities across the platforms include easing the stress test, providing a more flexible First-Time Home Buyers Incentive, and provide longer mortgages. While these initiatives encourage buyers, without supply, prices will only continue to increase.
Parties have each designated the magic number of homes they plan to build over their term:
- Liberals: 4 million (includes home repairs)
- Conservatives: 1 million
- NDP: 500,000
But without assigning clear responsibilities for which level of government will be responsible for delivering these promises, there’s a risk of progress continuing to be tied up in red tape and bureaucracy.
As home prices in other parts of Metro Vancouver inevitably edge closer to home prices in Vancouver proper, political parties will need to implement more concrete policies. Examples include the Liberals’ plan to decrease municipal zoning and regulatory backlogs or the Conservatives’ plan to ensure density is built around new rapid transit.
However, political hopefuls must walk a fine line between solving the housing crisis by increasing density and not detracting homeowners, many of whom see density as detrimental to their property values, livelihoods and retirements. Further to this, political parties also need to walk a fine line to not endanger the equity that homeowners have accumulated to date. Rapidly falling house prices might look good to first-time buyers but are a recipe for electoral disaster to anyone already in the market.
There are no instant solutions, but there is also no doubt that parties who want to form government will need to at least sound credible in their plans to address housing affordability.
Regardless of how the debate about density occurs within political parties’ war rooms, affordability and the lack of available housing is front and centre in the minds of those living not only in Metro Vancouver and British Columbia but also those in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area, as my colleagues explored in “Issues in the GTHA: Part One”. As the federal parties chase the majority standing, every seat building up to 170 counts. And this new group of suburbanites who are fuelled by the lack of affordability will likely dictate the composition of the Parliament post-election day.
As no political party is currently in majority territory, parties ought to be motivated to address the new wave of Metro Vancouverites because in ridings that are mixed with undecided or mixed party voters, their votes really matter, and their votes are up for grabs.