LETTER: Immediate action needed on housing

LETTER: Immediate action needed on housing

Congratulations on a series of well argued editorials “Too many struggling to make ends meet” April 20, and the April 27 ‘Speculation tax exemption slams door on vulnerable” addressing the very real issues of affordability and the housing crisis for ordinary South Island citizens.

Your understanding of, and empathy for, hardworking South Islanders who cannot afford to either rent or buy in the current housing market is admirable. The current housing crisis has dimmed the future of a whole generation without hope of either home ownership or affordable rents in communities in which they were born and raised. It has also impacted seniors who have been rent-evicted so new, higher rents can be charged. And it hobbles the growth of existing or future firms hoping to attract and retain workers – particularly for entry level employment.

As a resident of Saanich I am deeply disappointed in the decision of Mayor Atwell and Couns. Brice, Harper, Sanders and Wergeland to support a formal request to ask the provincial government opt out of a tax designed to curb real estate speculation as part of its affordable housing strategy. As Wolgang Depner’s excellent report of council debate, “Saanich seeks exemption from speculation tax” indicates, not only Couns. Brownoff, Haynes, Plant and Murdoch but also citizens such as Natalie Chambers and Teale Phelps Bondaroff pointed out was a total absence of any evidence or data regarding the current situation or evidence of harm.

As expected, spokespersons for the builders and real estate interests attacked the tax despite the relatively small nature and multiple exemptions of the tax. However, I remember when I lived in a condominium several years ago the manager told me that over 10 per cent of the units were owned by Americans and Albertans who can for several weeks a year. I had hoped that my Saanich council would have done at least a preliminary survey of essentially absent ownership in the municipality – and then engaged in an informed discussion of the important issue, not a corporatist ideological pile-on.

As your recent editorial concludes, “The speculation tax offers an incentive for property owners to place homes on the rental market, or alternatively, provide funds through a tax that can help increase the supply of affordable housing.”

In light of the massive housing market failure to provide affordable housing – and the insidious affects of criminal money laundering via real estate that has been revealed by the new provincial government – strong provincial and federal action is required now. The answer is increased supply – particularly of social/mixed income and co-operative housing. The province has taken immediate action but the federal government has postponed much of its so-called housing strategy until 2020 – a year after the coming federal election. Is it right that real joint action be postponed because of the federal election cycle?

Ron Faris


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