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.