UBC professor says inexpensive child care spaces could ease real estate pain
The George Pearson Centre has become an election issue as the property is for sale by the Liberals and the NDP suggest it would be better to keep the land for housing. Expensive housing is nothing new in B.C. and will be a challenge for any political party voted in.
Photograph by: Ward Perrin, PNG , Vancouver Sun
It's old news that it's expensive to live in Vancouver, where splashy headlines about terrible housing affordability are the norm.
With a provincial election approaching, The Vancouver Sun surveyed experts for ideas about what a new government could do to make housing more affordable. The Sun also asked political parties what they would do if elected.
The first thing a new government could do to help families with housing would be to extend parental leave to 18 months and build child care spaces that cost no more than $10 per day, according to University of B.C. policy professor Paul Kershaw.
Kershaw, who researches the financial challenges facing young families, said this would save a typical family about $50,000 before their children reach the age of six, which would make it easier for parents to save for a down payment and handle B.C.'s high housing prices or afford to pay their rent.
Kershaw said governments have few ways to influence the price of housing - which is usually determined by market forces - other than programs to fight homelessness and rental assistance to help low-income people.
"Problem is, the vast majority of younger generations face housing prices that are up 150 per cent, while wages are down $4 an hour (since 1976, on an inflation-adjusted basis). So, we need to broaden our thinking to find policy that can support most in the entire generation," he said. "And right now it costs the typical couple around $15,000 from their after-tax income to share a year at home with a new baby, and it costs more than university tuition to pay for child care services, if they can find them.
"We can make it far less difficult for people to deal with higher rents and mortgages if we don't saddle them with these extra costs when they start their families."
Meanwhile, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver has launched a campaign to encourage the party that wins the election to reduce the property transfer tax, which was brought in in 1987 to add one per cent on the first $200,000 of a home's purchase price and two per cent on the rest. When the tax was introduced, just five per cent of homes sold for more than $200,000. The REBGV would like to see the threshold raised to $525,000 to reflect the rise in house prices over time.
"The PTT is structured to reflect home prices in the 1980s, not the prices home buyers pay today," said Sandra Wyant, REBGV president. "The fact that it hasn't been adjusted in 26 years is simply not fair to home buyers and the candidates in this year's election should address this issue."
The PTT annually generates $780 million for the provincial government, the real estate board said.
One way the NDP would address housing affordability if elected is by addressing inequality, said Joe Trasolini, Port Moody-Coquitlam MLA and NDP critic for housing.
"There's no question that affordability of housing is a problem facing British Columbians, and it is particularly acute for the Lower Mainland, which is one of the worst areas in Canada," Trasolini said. "(NDP leader) Adrian Dix has been very clear that we need to address the inequality gap and you start addressing it by providing an opportunity to all young British Columbians to receive the post-secondary training and skills training that are needed to fill the jobs."
Trasolini said that if elected, the NDP would re-introduce a minimum tax on financial institutions, and that some of the revenue would go toward supporting post-secondary education and skills development through the province through forgivable grants for students.
The NDP has also announced that if elected, it will build 1,500 units of affordable housing for low-and middle-income people, leveraging a $250 million housing endowment fund and using partnerships with other levels of government and organizations, Trasolini said.
Trasolini also suggested that there are opportunities for building more affordable housing on government land that could be leased instead of sold. One example is a property at Cambie Street and West 57th Avenue - the old site of the Pearson Hospital - where there are 25 acres. In its 2013 budget, the Liberal government announced plans to sell a portion of the site and use the proceeds to develop new health care facilities.
"Wouldn't it be a much more sound idea to retain the ownership in public hands, upzone it for the highest and best use with the co-operation of the city of Vancouver, then make the land available as a leased land to a developer or a pension fund ... to build a variety of housing choices including social housing?" Trasolini suggested, adding that he has been involved with a similar project as the mayor of Port Moody.
"I'm not talking about something that is not done - it is done throughout the province and is very valuable," he said. "You would expand the social housing base, get revenues in the provincial coffers for the lease and that revenue could be used to increase social housing elsewhere. All of a sudden you are creating some synergy and addressing the province. Instead, they're going to sell it for one-time revenue."
Rich Coleman, minister responsible for housing and Liberal MLA for the riding of Fort Langley-Aldergrove, said the government is addressing housing affordability through homelessness programs, programs for seniors and the rental assistance program, all of which the Liberal party would continue if elected. Coleman said 40,000 B.C. families use the rental assistance program, which benefits families with annual incomes under $35,000, while the province also has 80,000 social housing units where 30 per cent of income goes toward rents.
The leader of the Green party of B.C., Jane Sterk, said the party proposes that one per cent of the provincial budget be dedicated to a housing rental pool available for market and below-market rentals.
"We haven't really created a dedicated pool of rental housing in the last 30 years in Canada or British Columbia," Sterk said, adding that the Green party would work with both municipal and federal governments to build this pool of rental housing.
She said the Green party also has strategies in place to encourage people to live and work in their own neighbourhood, which reduces transportation bills to free up money for housing costs. One example is pay-as-you-go car insurance, which would mean lower premiums for those who drive fewer kilometres, Sterk said.
"The other strategies that are related to working close to where you live are some of the transportation-demand management strategies that we support like road pricing, parking pricing or congestion pricing. Things like that tend to be a benefit to people who move out of single-occupancy vehicles into public transit, or who live and work close to home," Sterk said.
The B.C. Conservative Party did not respond to requests for an interview on this topic.