Stop Blaming Foreigners. We Cause Housing Inaffordability Problems and We Can Solve Them.

We have seen the enemy, and he is us.” -Pogo

It is tempting to blame somebody else for the problems we cause, but that prevents us from making changes needed for real solutions. Such is the case with housing inaffordability.

Chris Douglas’ July 8 Times Colonist Comment, “Victoria City Council Lacks Urgency on Housing” argued that foreign investors are the primary cause of Victoria’s high housing prices, stating that “The Globe and Mail recently reported that foreign nationals are purchasing 23.8 per cent of Victoria’s housing.” This claim is based on an error that the newspaper subsequently corrected. The revised article includes this Editor’s Note: “An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that in Victoria, the number of purchases by foreign nationals increased from 16.5 per cent to 23.8 per cent after the imposition of a foreign buyers’ tax. In fact, the number of purchases by foreign nationals has remained fairly static, increasing slightly from 3.9 per cent before the tax to 4.7 per cent since.”

These numbers are small and include foreign workers and immigrants in the process of obtaining citizenship, indicating that speculative foreign investments are a very small portion of total housing purchases. For more detailed analysis see the recent Sightline Institute technical study, “Stop Blaming Foreign Home Buyers” which found that foreign buyers, empty units and short-term rentals only explain a small portion of housing price appreciation: the primary cause is the inability of markets in attractive cities to respond to growing demand.

Rather than point fingers at others it is time to ask, “Why is it so difficult to add housing in our region?” The main answer is vocal opposition to the infill development local markets demand.

Fortunately, a few thousand new units are under construction around Victoria’s city center, which should start to drive down prices in that market, but not all households want to live in downtown highrises; we are not building enough townhouses and mid-rise apartments in walkable neighborhoods. The project proposed at 1201 Fort Street, which Douglas opposes, is the type of development we need. It will provide 91 new housing units in a walkable area on major bus routes. Opponents complain that the new buildings will be taller than what currently exists, as if that’s a bad thing. It’s called “change,” and is exactly what our community needs to meet future housing demands.

Our current development policies are unsuited to serving new housing needs. They reflect the outdated assumption that middle-class households require single-family homes and apartments are undesirable, so neighborhoods should strive to banish multifamily housing. But housing preferences are changing: many middle-class households now want townhouses, condominiums and apartments located in walkable urban neighborhoods. Regulations must change if we are to meet these needs.

Infill opponents often assume that new housing is for somebody else, but many of them may eventually want to live in those buildings in order to remain in their neighborhoods when it is time to downsize from their single-family homes. Let’s build enough housing for our own future selves.

 

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