In the lead-up to Monday's federal election, one topic that’s maintained real estate at the tip of politicians’ tongues is housing, with each party referring to the situation as a national crisis.

In the lead-up to Monday's federal election, one topic that’s maintained real estate at the tip of politicians’ tongues is housing, with each party referring to the situation as a national crisis.

Canadians think so too: an August survey conducted by Leger on behalf of Re/Max Canada found 85 per cent of respondents felt a housing affordability crisis is underway. Contributing to that belief are rising prices (a national 13 per cent, year-over-year increase in average purchase cost according to the Canadian Real Estate Association) and average rental costs ($1,763 per month, per rentals.ca) that are out of reach for many.

Re/Max Canada regional vice-president Elton Ash says issues can't be solved overnight. (Supplied)</p>

Re/Max Canada regional vice-president Elton Ash says issues can't be solved overnight. (Supplied)

In Manitoba, as sales surge, the average purchase price of a detached house in July 2021 was $377,789, with over half of all sales occurring above list price, statistics from the Winnipeg Regional Real Estate Board show; listings were down 34 per cent year-over-year. Meanwhile, overall rents in the city increased 11.7 per cent last month over August 2020, to $1,385, rentals.ca’s national report showed.

Overall, the numbers portray the housing situation on a national and local level as increasingly unaffordable, with supply not keeping pace with demand, fuelling competition for a smaller, more expensive stock of available detached homes and rental properties.

These are not new issues, Re/Max Canada regional vice-president Elton Ash told the Free Press. "It did not happen overnight, as much as politicians might like people to believe," said Ash, whose company is calling on the newly appointed federal government to implement a revamped national housing strategy across all levels of government.

But, Ash said, this is the first time in recent memory that affordable housing has been widely called a "crisis" situation during a federal election.

"In the past it’s certainly been bandied about as a topic," Ash said. "But COVID has put a greater emphasis on it from Canadians’ point of view."

As a result, housing has been a keystone issue for voters, with 79 per cent of respondents to the Leger poll saying they were concerned about the state of affordable housing, 40 per cent concerned about a lack of income and wage increases, and 36 per cent concerned over the lack of overall supply.

Some 48 per cent of respondents were concerned about the impact of foreign buyers, a matter Ash said has taken on too much airtime given the supply-side issues that prevail while foreign buyers represent less than five per cent of the market.

Each major political party has taken steps to address those concerns, with full platforms available on party websites.

The Liberal party’s plan under Justin Trudeau aims to: save first-time home buyers an estimated $30,000 through a series of credits and financial programs; increase the number of homes by 1.4 million through construction, repairs, and the conversion of a growing amount of empty office space; and introduce a ban on blind-bidding, a temporary ban on new foreign ownership, and a "crackdown" on speculation and house flipping.

The NDP has been a steady critic of the Liberal government’s housing strategy, saying it’s "too small to make a real difference for most Canadians." For its part, the NDP is proposing the creation of 500,000 units of quality affordable housing by 2031, with 250,000 units to be completed by 2026. The party is also proposing dedicated fast-start funds to streamline application processes for housing funding, and is incentivizing the construction of affordable homes by pledging to waive federal GST/HST on those projects. Meanwhile, leader Jagmeet Singh has promised to introduce 30-year terms to CMHC insured mortgages for first-time buyers, double the home buyer’s tax credit, and introduce a 20 per cent foreign buyer’s tax for non-Canadian, non-permanent resident buyers.

The federal Conservatives, with new leader Erin O’Toole at the helm and criticizing the Liberals consistently, have made housing a key concern, with plans to use at least 15 per cent of the federal government’s 37,000 owned properties for housing.

The party also proposes a ban on foreign investors from buying homes in Canada for a two-year period, followed by a review, and to "encourage foreign investment in purpose-built rental housing that is affordable to Canadians." The bulk of the plan focuses on home ownership and mortgage affordability, including the encouragement of seven- to 10-year mortgages.

The Green party, led by Anamie Paul, addressed affordable housing in its platform as a twin crisis to homelessness. Key proposals include the declaration of a national housing-affordability and homelessness emergency, followed by the establishment of a national moratorium on evictions. The party pledges to redefine affordable housing to account for regional variations across the country and to create national rent and vacancy control standards. The Greens would also put an emphasis on Indigenous housing, expand the rapid housing initiative, and invest in 50,000 supportive housing units and a minimum of 300,000 units of "deeply affordable, non-market, co-op, and non-profit housing" by 2031.

In each platform, there are ambitious ideas, Ash said, but there’s a concern that with regard to housing there isn’t enough being done quickly enough to address the depth of the housing affordability crisis. Few plans scratch the surface of the homelessness crisis, for example, and neither do they address the housing needs of an expected 1.2 million immigrants to the country in the next two to three years.

Just as the matters at hand didn’t materialize over night, Ash said they can’t be solved that fast either.

"A challenge is politicians tend to look at four-year windows," he said.

Another challenge is that in order to address the crises of affordability and homelessness holistically and effectively, there needs to be multi-level government support and co-operation, which ultimately leads to more appropriate housing supply being developed.

Ash said it was not his or his company’s place to endorse a plan or select which proposals were best; that’s up to voters. What he did say was he hoped Canadians took the time to be informed on housing proposals if they plan to execute their democratic right to vote.

"Canadians need something adapted to current challenges," he said. "The landscape is adjusting, and the government should be aware of that. Canadians value home, and whether its rental or ownership, it’s top of mind."

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
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Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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