(Paul Henderson/Chilliwack Progress)

(Paul Henderson/Chilliwack Progress)

COLUMN: Have we sold our souls to the highest bidder?

Columnist ML Burke waxes philosophical about housing affordability

This column is a bit philosophical in regard to our homes as opposed to our houses, the value of living in our community versus the monetary value of our dwelling. I keep hearing the reason someone sold their home was simply because they were offered so much money. I wonder where they will go with all that money and if they will be happy.

The debate continues on how we can live affordably in the Lower Mainland when basic shelter costs have skyrocketed beyond most folks’ reach. This applies to new buyers, but it’s particularly critical for renters, especially senior renters, who are being displaced through renovictions and condos replacing older rental buildings.

Huge profits are made through upgrading buildings, then hiking the rents beyond the means of the original tenants. They likely will have to start over in far-away communities after leaving their friends, family and everything they knew and loved. This seriously hurts them but it also hurts the community they had to leave behind.

“The truth is more important than the facts.” — Frank Lloyd Wright.

The “facts” are the statistics and the increasing cost of living in this region. The “truth” is that we are in the midst of a social crisis with the gap between the rich and the rest of us getting wider by the day.

In most cases, when we cannot afford to buy, we rent. Exceptions are well-off folks who choose to rent. Incentives for developers to build rental units disappeared in the 1980s, which has resulted in a less-than-one-per-cent vacancy rate, with most of those units being over-priced.

The growing homeless camps are just the tip of the iceberg. I believe the recent homeless count is (at least) three to five times higher than the reported numbers because so many are couch surfing, or living in their vans and cars and moving around to avoid prying eyes.

Money is the new motivator, replacing the values and cultures within our communities. We can’t just blame wealthy foreign buyers. Our own domestic speculators have been busy flipping properties which they use for short-term rentals, further reducing our stable rental stocks. Sorry for this bleak outlook, but don’t despair.

We can still turn this around, but it must happen quickly. It will require cooperation from all three levels of government, rezoning to encourage rental buildings, non-profit community land trusts, partnerships and fast tracking of the permitting process.

Journalist Christopher Pollon outlined four interesting fixes to this rental crisis in his June 6th article for The Tyee, “Four Ways to Fill the Rental Housing Gap”: Waiving the 15 per cent foreign buyers tax, providing they invest in rental housing; providing money for programs to preserve aging rental housing; funding rentals by taxing the estates of real estate “lottery winners” (this would discourage house flipping by charging more capital gains tax on homes resold quickly, while using the tax revenue to provide affordable rental housing); and using zoning to limit speculation and NIMBYism.

I’d like to add a fifth solution: Re-introduce a new model of non-profit co-ops for all ages, not just families. We desperately need one- and two-bedroom rental units, especially in South Delta. If you have land, I have people. Call me.

ML Burke retired from the health sector to work on issues such as affordable housing. She sits on the Delta Seniors Planning Team and the BC Seniors Advocate’s Council of Advisors.

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