Sandy Garossino: Vancouver, we’ve got a housing problem

I’mrunning as an independent candidate for Vancouver city council because we need some straight talk about tough issues. This can be very difficult for parties to do.

For too long our city has been divided against itself—a pattern reinforced by competing political parties that often amplify their differences and downplay our shared values. In troubled times we cannot afford a culture of conflict and division. The only way to resolve our toughest challenges is to seek out and respect each other’s views, put aside our differences, and pull together for the good of all Vancouverites

As one example, if we do not act now to interrupt the trend-line of unaffordable housing costs, we stand to lose an entire generation as our best and brightest decamp for better opportunities elsewhere. They’ll take with them a future that might have been ours.

Employers and universities are experiencing severe challenges recruiting qualified talent, seniors in the rental market are traumatized, prospects for our skilled immigrants are eroding, and the unemployment rate for our under-25-year-olds is almost 17 percent. Massive and artificial distortion in housing prices threatens to destabilize the underpinning of our families, our economy, and personal financial security.

Vancouver, we’ve got a problem. The question is, do we have the will and courage to solve it?

Vancouver’s residential real estate has become a speculative commodity for global investors living outside Canada to the point that Vancouver has become one of the least affordable cities on the planet. In comparison to median income, our housing costs are almost 56 percent higher than New York’s, and 32 percent higher than London’s. Excessive global capital speculation that is unrelated to the local economy drives artificially induced values throughout the market. Which pushes rental costs out of reach.

Vancouver is long overdue for a cold hard look at the extent and broader economic and social impact of global speculation on Vancouver’s housing market.

Vancouverites are desperate for government to put the people’s interests first and get to the heart of housing affordability. Increasing housing supply is on everyone’s agenda, but this strategy is empty if global speculative demand is unlimited.

What percentage of Vancouver residential sales are purchased wholly as investment instruments for speculators with no ties to Canada, never to be occupied or even visited, while Vancouver residents struggle to put a roof over their heads? What is our vulnerability to interest rate fluctuations or shifts in monetary policies in distant capitals? How much worse can this problem get?

We have no idea.

We need hard facts followed by big thinking. Tinkering won’t solve this. This is a time for bold ideas and innovative options that challenge old assumptions and the status quo. Other cities in the Pacific Rim such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Sydney are similarly affected. We should look to their experience.

Finding a made-in-Vancouver solution will take the participation of community groups, experienced immigrants, architects and planners, business leaders, tax experts, and imaginative young people who have the power to see things differently.

When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, the Canadian banking system was the envy of the world. Governed by prudent stewardship and sensible regulation, it safely brought Canadians through a period that brought most western economies to their knees. Our deep Canadian values—moderation and sober, measured regulation—have stood the test of time and will protect the public today.

Failing to safeguard the future of our young people, the security of our seniors, and the prospects of our immigrants is profoundly short-sighted and carries grave risks to our middle class and democratic institutions.

Lest we forget, these freedoms and institutions were entrusted to us by those who paid a very heavy price to secure them, not for us alone but for generations they would not live to see.

If the last three years taught us anything, it’s to never again ignore spiralling real estate prices and global speculation driven by irrational exuberance. Professional politicians are loath to address this issue, but the people cannot wait.

As an independent candidate I do not have the answer to this problem, but win or lose I pledge this much: we are going to start this conversation.

Sandy Garossino is an independent candidate for Vancouver city council.

Comments (19) Add New Comment
Lawson1945
The only problem I have got is you, not getting my Vote, this is what Central Mortgage & Housing should be working on. But Liberals wasted money on gun registry, canadian wheat board and cbc for just a few examples.
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Arthur Vandelay
So just to summarize, Sandy, you are asking all of the current homeowners in Vancouver to vote for you so that you can lower their property values?? So for all of the seniors (or near seniors) who have gotten killed on all of their other investments that they were counting on for retirement, you'd now like to decimate the value of the last one that is in the black? I see no flaws in your plan.
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Ben K
Well, that article was a whole lot of rhetoric, and no substantive policy.
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Maverick Robson
Vandelay, your post shows the misunderstanding that many homeowners in Vancouver have thanks to our easy credit and foreign speculation fueled Real Estate froth.

A stiff correction is going to happen regardless of policy.

Tightening will only serve to administer the medicine before it collapses under its own weight which could theoretically take several more years to work out of.

The candidate is advocating that we "take the punchbowl away" from this party. Yeah it'll be lousy for some, but the gains aren't fundamentally sound as it is.

Long-term, this is easily the route that is far too common sense to ever be applied in the real world.

No changes will be made until we see tremendous financial distress, by when it will be far too late.

Never forget, Real Estate is an asset class that has ups and downs. Vancouver is no different, it's just taken longer here than many could have imagined.



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Captain Vancouver
We've become a City about selling our souls (and our children's future) than becoming masters of our economic destiny. Bravo for Sandy for beginning to search for a "Made in Vancouver" solution to this problem!
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Nik Black
Maverick, although I appreciate your argument and the temperance of your expression, I'm unclear by the end. You're saying a correction will happen regardless of policy, and it will be far too late to do anything because people won't change until they see tremendous financial stress. So, your point being...
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Johann A. Macdonaldsky
Bubbles are psychological. Just having a voice on council bringing attention to the issue in our, "everything is rosy cause real estate is booming and we're world class so it will never go down" city, would be be of some help to fight the psychology.

Policies or not, I'm throwing a vote Sandy's way.
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UWSofty
Is Sandy ok with a solution that will lead to housing prices dropping across the board? She hints at this, but never really says for sure. If she is advocating changes that would drop housing prices across the city, she has my vote.
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2020Vancouver
It's a tricky one - trying to jump into a hot market to steer it in new directions - especially since by the time we've come up with the solutions the situation will have moved on (i.e. the long-awaited 30-50% correction). Certainly, better awareness about the housing stock would make for better planning in the longer term. And like other "destination cities" - it's worth looking at a tax on empties, while tightening up the laws to prevent slum landlords - so that there is a larger supply of available rental stock and more security for renters. That way renting isn't considered second best to ownership. But these are kind of small tweeks around the edges. Like it or not, the market will eventually decide. And in Vancouver's case it could turn out quite nasty.
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Arthur Vandelay
@Maverick - Sandy is clearly pandering to home-ownership frustrations as the solutions she's hinting at are not within the domain of municipal politicians. The good news for these voters, however, is that if you are right, they won't have to worry about this as the big correction is on its way. The bad news for these voters is that you are not right.
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scathie
"Finding a made-in-Vancouver solution will take the participation of community groups, experienced immigrants, architects and planners, business leaders, tax experts, and imaginative young people who have the power to see things differently."

No it doesn't. All you have to do is pass a law that says that only Canadian citizens can own residential property and the problem is solved. Make that your platform and you've got my vote.
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Gentleman Jack
It is very easy to correct the housing problem in Vancouver.

Seize all homes owned and unoccupied by speculating foreigners.

The safety of the people is the supreme law.

The safety of foreign investment in statutory land title is not the supreme law.
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unknown sample
How about large increases in property taxes for non-residents?

I have no objections to foreign ownership of real estate, but not at the expense of Canadian citizens' society and culture.

The Metro Vancouver area is too small for geographical reasons to allow for expansion. Therefore, we require a policy to prevent foreign speculators from making it impossible for people who live and work in the region to ever own a home.

If Sandy Garossino would consider such strategies, she has my vote.
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flora-jean
Sandy is just scratching the surface of major social/economic/health problems in the City of Vancouver. It's a great place to get three or four years of experience (as long as you arrive with the massive savings you may need after being reno-victed) - but not somewhere to build a stable, happy, secure life - unfortunately.
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2nd Nation
Hey - you know what's funny? It's been just over 100 years since our most recent race riots. This doesn't have anything to do with the current anti "foreigner" sentiment, just a funny coincidence.
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James G
It must be said that there are people of every nationality that maintain residences here but do not live here year round. It isn't that easy to determine who 'flips' property and some do so while also being resident here.

Dealing with non-resident home ownership is not the only issue that voters might respond differently to along racial lines.

I am surprised that English-language media in Vancouver is not covering what is still an issue for those voters able to watch, listen and read news presented in Chinese. The inferences made last year by a CSIS official regarding undue influence exerted by the Peoples Republic of China still simmer and are interpreted by most as a racially motivated attack on legitimate participation in the electoral process.

Slate voting has never been popular in this community which attaches far more notice to individuals. This year in particular there are more and better-known candidates with higher profiles tempting this community to step up it's voter turnout and answer back by electing them.

Raymond Louie's try for the Vision mayoralty nomination in 2008 left him with an enviable contact list. NPA candidate Francis Wong has worked very hard before and after getting the nod to run. Normally, these two would draw some votes away from each other but given present circumstances, I am betting each campaign actually creates synergy with the other.

I also believe that this effect will boost the NPA's Bill Yeun and Vision's Tony Tang. It would be no surprise to me to see them all, along with Kerry Jang winning election to council. In some ways this might be a suitable "bite me!" reply from a community that feels targeted as being insufficiently patriotic to Canada. After all, there is nothing more patriotic than running for office and getting out and voting!

If COPE's R.J. Aquino also wins, this would result in a majority of the council being people of colour. This would hardly be unfair. For decades the council has been disproportionately white.
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JoSung
Sandy, I appreciate that you want to get to the bottom of things, but asking for a spot in order to discuss is not going to work, you have to come to us with ideas, and know their repercussions. No one votes to 'talk'. Are you going to tax out-of-country buyers to discourage purchasing, are you going to help families with child care, transportation,, etc to make the city more affordable and keep the smart younger generation in the city? Is Vancouver going to be designed for job growth in order for the people here to be able to afford to live here? What are the repercussions of your proposals and how do you wish to handle them? I want to support position, but you have to give me something to support!

For the 'home-owner' who is freaked out about the value of their property. Honey, sweetie, darling, when crime rates and poverty go up, and you live in poop, the value of your home will go down anyways, and you will probably be violated and hurt personally, in the process. Don't sit on your high horse of defending your investment, it is worthless when you don't have a 'community' that means that people who own here, live here, and invest their personal love into their city. Just drive down a street and pick out the rental properties, they usually don't look so good and drive down value of the street, well that will get worse and worse and other than 'selling' having a good value, your 'living' will not be as much fun. What an awful way to reason in general, the value of your home is more important than the health and heart of your city. You better get a tall fence with security alarms all around it for the future city you are going to live in.
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unknown sample
@2nd Nation, nice try to creep the race card when discussing this issue.

this is about having a viable housing strategy in which the livability of the region is more important than the profit margin of a foreign owner. "foreigners" consist of all ethnicities, including the same ethnic and racial groups that ACTUALLY LIVE HERE. it is their rights which should be considered first.

i propose a series of taxes which make it increasing more financially punitive for non-resident owners to speculate on residential property in a region in which affordability for the residents of said region is damaging the current and future viability of the area.
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Heather H
I think we should either:
only allow Canadian citizens to own residential property or
have a ridiculously high tax on foreign-owned property

Make one of those things part of your platform and I am sure you will get elected. I know I will vote for you!
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