With less than a week to go until the provincial election on Tuesday May 9, let’s recap, compare and critique key elements of the various different housing policies from the three parties. In part two of three, the BC NDP.
With the NDP edging ahead in the pre-election polls, the opposition party has the most to gain from convincing voters it’s time for a change of government. Here’s a look at the party’s proposed solutions to our housing and real estate issues.
· Contrary to what it says on the Liberal platform document, the NDP has said they will keep the current 15 per cent foreign buyer tax. In addition, they will impose an annual property tax of two per cent (of assessed value) on owners of Metro Vancouver homes who do not pay Canadian income tax, whether a foreign national or not. However, the long list of exemptions would mean the vast majority of local home owners would not have to pay the tax, and nor would overseas owners who rent out their property. David Eby, West Point Grey MLA and official NDP housing critic, told REW.ca that “the trouble with the [Liberals’] foreign buyer tax is that it doesn’t capture those who bought a home before the tax was introduced.” This policy could prove a popular vote grab, as it checks the boxes of protecting the interests of local home owners while also acting as a kind of vacant home tax. Don Campbell of the Real Estate Investment Network said on last week’s Real Estate Therapist show, “That’s fine, but what is the measurable result? What are they looking to achieve? It’s not going to force more properties into the market. But if the NDP is going to take that money and put it directly from A to B into the housing market, solving the issue of ‘affordable’ housing, it makes some sense. And it might buy some votes. And foreign buyers don’t vote.”
· The NDP said they would also close a “loophole” that allows overseas buyers to speculate on Vancouver real estate by buying and flipping presale condos – a currently legal practice known as assignment. To quote the NDP website: “We’ll crack down on the cheaters who are distorting BC’s housing market.” Strong words indeed. Currently, the foreign buyer tax only applies on the close of a purchase, so anyone assigning a contract to a new buyer before close is not subject to any Property Transfer Tax at all. It remains to be seen what form that “crackdown” will take.
· NDP leader John Horgan said an NDP government will give all renting households a $400-a-year rebate and revamp the Residential Tenancy Act to tighten rent controls and prevent “renovictions.” That’s all well and good, but although $33 a month is better than $0 a month to renters, this won’t do much to improve affordability and access to scarce rental units. Loopholes that allow landlords to renovict tenants or use fixed-term leases to hike rents do indeed need tightening – but in a city where the vacancy rate is less than one per cent, these measures will not prove to be near enough.
· The NDP plans to build 114,000 affordable rental, co-operative and low-cost housing units over 10 years. Like the Liberals, they have not outlined how this will be paid for. As Campbell said: “If you’re spending money on affordable housing, where are you going to buy the land? Because that’s expensive. Are you going to build on brownfield? If so, how are you going to clean it up and who’s going to pay for it? Is the City of Vancouver going to speed up its zoning to allow for it? Even though people will be up in arms about ‘affordable housing’ going up in their neighbourhood, is it still going to go ahead? There are so many moving parts right now.” Of course, this applies to the BC Liberal and Green parties’ plans for affordable housing too.
Next up: Green Party housing platform