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Editorial: What the New Liberal Government Means for Home Owners and Real Estate

Joannah Connolly
October 21, 2015


After sailing to an unexpected majority victory on October 19, Justin Trudeau and his new Liberal government have their work cut out for them in the months and years ahead – not least when it comes to housing.

And although the Conservatives have been the party traditionally associated with supporting and incentivizing home ownership for Canadians, it certainly seems the Liberal government has a comprehensive list of housing pledges.

At the heart of this platform is affordable housing for low-income and disadvantaged Canadians – which is exactly as it should be. After all, most Canadians who are already home owners are probably doing relatively OK – even if their household debt is higher than ideal.

It’s the people who struggle to get into the real estate market – or to find stable housing at all – that should be any government’s first priority.

Trudeau mentioned in his acceptance speech the promise of more affordable housing and help for Canadians “hoping the join the middle class”.

And back in September, he said, “Safe, adequate and affordable housing is essential to building strong families, strong communities and a strong economy.

"We have a plan to make housing more affordable for those who need it most – seniors, persons with disabilities, lower-income families and Canadians working hard to join the middle class.”

The Liberal party website further details the housing pledges made by the party. These include:

  • “significant” investment in affordable housing for low-income and disadvantaged Canadians,building more new housing units and refurbishing old ones– part of a promised $20 billion of social infrastructure investment over 10 years;
  • mandating the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the new Canada Infrastructure Bank to “provide financing to support the construction of new, affordable rental housing” for middle- and low-income Canadians;
  • supporting municipalities to maintain rent-geared-to-income subsidies in co-ops, and giving communities funding for Housing First initiatives for homeless Canadians;
  • the removal of GST on capital investments in affordable rental housing to “increase and substantially renovate the supply of rental housing” across Canada;
  • an immediate inventory of government-owned land to see if it can be used for affordable homes “where there is a pressing need”;
  • a new version of the Home Buyers’ Plan that allows Canadians impacted by “sudden and significant life changes” to buy a house without tax penalty; and
  • a review of “escalating home prices in high-priced markets – like Vancouver and Toronto – and to “consider all policy tools that could keep home ownership within reach for more Canadians.”  

The website adds that the Liberal government plans toquadruple federal investment in public transit – “and, to make sure projects actually get built, we'll make funding flexible for municipalities.”

For Vancouverites, if the Liberals make good on all their promises (and it’s a big “if”), it will be a welcome relief on numerous levels. Finally we might see the kind of affordable housing initiatives that this city desperately needs to help residents that have been left out in the cold by the relatively high cost of real estate.

For those people who would not qualify for such social housing, but still find it hard to get into – or move up in – the real estate market, investment in Vancouver’s transit infrastructure would make a huge difference. Those areas that are currently more affordable but not well served by transit could finally become viable options for commuters. As a growing city that is pushing its average-earning residents further and further out (as usually happens with every growing city), improved transit and transportation infrastructure is vital. What's more, the vastly increased opportunities for higher density and development in other neighbourhoods can only help with housing supply and prices.

And for those people who are not currently struggling in Vancouver’s real estate market – comfortable or wealthy home owners who are happy with their lot and the equity they have built up – the promised initiatives could also be beneficial. If the feds fund successful social housing programs, as well as improved transit and infrastructure creating new neighbourhoods and development, those people currently clamouring for increased taxes and penalties at the higher end of the market will likely be quieted.

Perhaps even the furore over foreign buyers and their perceived impact on local house prices would die down, as people at all levels of home ownership become more satisfied and less inclined towards finger-pointing. Instead of having someone to "blame" about housing, we might have someone to thank.

We can but hope.

We at wish you good luck, Justin.

Joannah Connolly
Joannah Connolly is editorial director of Glacier Real Estate, Glacier Media's real estate division. Joannah writes and curates real estate news for Glacier Media's local newspaper websites, including the Vancouver Courier, North Shore News, Burnaby Now, Tri-City News and others. She also oversees editorial content in Real Estate Weekly Homes, West Coast Condo, Western Investor and Glacier's special real estate publications. A dual Canadian-British citizen, Joannah has 22 years of journalism and editing experience in Vancouver and London, with a background in construction, architecture, healthcare and business media. Joannah has appeared on major local TV outlets as a real estate commentator, has moderated and spoken on various industry panels, and spent two years hosting the Real Estate Therapist radio show on Roundhouse Radio.