Where do the federal parties stand on housing affordability issues?

The federal government has significant powers when it comes to affordable market and rental housing issues in the Lower Mainland according to Dave Watt, Real Estate Board past president.

“It controls mortgage insurance regulations, funds for social housing, tax initiatives including the use of RRSPs for downpayments, and the National Building Code,” said Watt, listing just a few areas, in his opening remarks as moderator of the Real Estate Board’s April 21, 2011 Federal Election Candidates Housing Forum.

“This forum was organized so that REALTORS®, apartment owners and managers, home builders and developers could hear how each federal party plans to tackle affordable market and rental housing,” explained Watt.

Four candidates – one from each of the major parties – participated in the forum.

 
(L-R) Rosario Setticasi, REBGV President; Libby Davies, NDP candidate for Vancouver East; Adriane Carr, Green candidate for Vancouver Centre; Hedy Fry, Liberal candidate for Vancouver Centre; Dave Watt, REBGV Past President; and James Moore, Conservative candidate for Port Moody – Westwood – Port Coquitlam.

The Board asked candidates to describe:

  • what they see as key housing affordability challenges in the Lower Mainland;
  • their party’s platform and initiatives related to housing affordability; and
  • what they plan to accomplish with regards to housing affordability, if elected.

Candidates also answered audience questions about how their party defines housing affordability, how their party would ensure the HST doesn’t negatively affect housing affordability, how they would deal with growth and what they would do about taxes that act as a disincentive for new rental housing construction.

Here’s what we learned. 

CONSERVATIVE PARTY
James Moore, Port Moody – Westwood – Port Coquitlam

Key issue: Keeping the economy strong. The Conservative Economic Action Plan has created 480,000 new jobs since July 2009, kept taxes low and put money back into the pockets of taxpayers. Continuing to improve financial security will help more Canadians afford homes.

Solutions:

  • Invest in infrastructure, including the Evergreen Line.
  • Invest $400 million in the ecoEnergy Retrofit Homes Program to provide home owners with grants of up to $5,000 to offset costs associated with energy-efficient upgrades.
  • Continue to invest in social housing. The federal budget is now $2.2 billion annually.
  • Encourage density targets in municipalities.
  • Establish Social Impact Bonds to raise funds for new community initiatives.

Best quote: “We can’t have a national housing strategy. Quebec doesn’t support a strategy and one-quarter of Canadians live there, so the strategy wouldn’t be national.”

To read the platform, visit: http://www.conservative.ca/policy/platform_2011/

GREEN PARTY
Adriane Carr, Vancouver Centre

Key issue: Housing that costs more than 30 per cent of income means there an affordability risk. Right now we’re seeing Lower Mainland housing costs of 50 per cent and more of total income.

Solutions:

  • Implement a national affordable housing plan which would get CMHC back into funding housing through municipal grants and federal transfers to local governments. Under the plan, the government would build 20,000 new and 10,000 rehabilitated, subsidized affordable units per year for 10 years.
  • Allow rollover of capital gains if the property owner is reinvesting in another rental property.
  • Encourage more compact cities by increasing the densities of urban cores which increases the supply and affordability of housing, while minimizing sprawl in farmlands and green spaces.
  • Increase ecoEnergy home energy retrofit grants by 50 per cent.
  • Create a Minister of Housing position.
  • Create a community housing superfund for municipalities.

Best quote: “Right now, we’re the only G8 country without a national housing strategy.”

To read the platform, visit: http://greenparty.ca/files/attachments/green-book-2011-en.pdf

LIBERAL PARTY OF CANADA
Hedy Fry, Vancouver Centre

Key issue: About 25 per cent of Canadians face challenges finding decent housing and we have 40,000 new residents coming into Canada each year. How do we accommodate them?

Solutions:

  • Develop a national housing strategy which includes partnerships with governments at all levels, non-profits and cooperatives, and the private sector to get ideas on how to stimulate market and non-market housing.
  • Create a Minister of Housing position.
  • Consider removing the HST from new housing.
  • Encourage municipalities to set density targets to accommodate growth.
  • Allow capital gains deferral, accelerated depreciation and the deduction of losses against other income if the property owner is reinvesting in another rental property.
  • Implement a green renovation tax credit to retrofit one million homes by 2017.

Best quote: “We should be more concerned with people and their needs, not planes and prisons.”

To read the platform, visit: http://www.liberal.ca/platform/

NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY
Libby Davies, Vancouver East

Key issue: The serious housing affordability crisis in Vancouver in both market and non-market housing.

Solutions:

  • Reintroduce in the next parliamentary session, Bill C-304 – An Act to Ensure Secure, Adequate, Accessible and Affordable Housing for Canadians (a national housing strategy).
  • Index the Home Buyers’ Plan to ensure home buyers don’t lose buying power. (Note: This was a Real Estate Board recommendation).
  • Allow tax incentives for landlords so more affordable rental housing is built. This includes allowing capital gains tax and recaptured capital cost allowance deferrals when an income property is sold and the proceeds are reinvested in another rental property. (Note: This was a Canadian Real Estate Association and Real Estate Board recommendation).
  • Restore funding for the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program (RRAP) and the Affordable Housing Initiative to increase the supply of affordable housing.
  • Look at a GST/HST exemptions to encourage affordable housing.

Best quote: “None of this will happen out of the blue. We need a national housing plan. If not, this debate will just go on forever.”

To read the platform, visit: http://www.ndp.ca/platform

The Federal Election Candidates Housing Forum was hosted by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver with financial support from BC Real Estate Association. Planning partners included:

  • BC Apartment Owners and Managers Association
  • Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association
  • Urban Development Institute – Pacific Region

 

Did you know?For many years, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) has been asking the federal government to develop a comprehensive national housing strategy. Measures to support and encourage home ownership must be a central component and the strategy must also address the needs of renters, those who require assisted housing and the homeless with options such as portable housing allowances. For information visit www.realtorlink.ca and in the national search box enter “national housing strategy.”

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