ABOVE: UBC economist Tom Davidoff and architect and planner Michael Geller join Steele & Drex to talk housing
With dust settling on the provincial election, and a minority government looking more and more likely, the result has raised questions about how the parties will reconcile their different opinions on hot-button issues.
One of the biggest issues in Metro Vancouver is a near-unaffordable housing market, and with a stark contrast between the Liberal, NDP and Green approach, it’s hard to see what solutions will actually be implemented.
To find out just what the parties could do to ease the congested market, Steele & Drex spoke to UBC’s Tom Davidoff and property developer Michael Geller on Friday.
The deciding factor
To start, both men believe as kingmaker BC Greens leader Andrew Weaver will have the final say on any housing initiatives.
However, both men also believe that happens to be a good thing.
Weaver has promised to put the screws to municipalities when it comes to development of land, a notion both Davidoff and Geller think is long overdue.
Davidoff says the provincial government having a strong hand will go a long way.
“The only way you’re going to get to decent zoning laws is by having the province tell municipalities ‘you can’t have single family zoning when land costs $50-million an acre.’”
He says that homeowners, who are often against large developments, currently hold all the power when it comes to the choices municipalities make.
“The idea that you take $50-million an acre land, and put eight single family homes on it is the worst idea you could imagine. And that’s what they do.”
Geller agrees, saying that he hopes mayors will embrace more effective zoning solutions.
“To address housing affordability, yes, maybe we can tie down demand, but we really need to increase supply.”
Where the two men differ, however, is on Vancouver’s controversial empty homes tax.
Davidoff believes the tax to be beneficial, as it essentially means those who aren’t contributing to the local economy are making that deficiency up in taxes.
“That’s not who we’re worried about housing here,” Davidoff says.
But Geller disagrees, saying he believes the tax to be prohibitively expensive, particularly for those who own another home within B.C.
“They’re being told they can’t have a second home, they have to rent it out. That is absurd in my opinion.”
He even goes as far as to say it’s a punishment for success.
“They’re being punished, in a way, because they’re lucky enough to have a second home.”
He says the root of the issue is property owners “getting away with murder” by cheating the system.
He says it’s a well-known fact that many people are flipping properties or pretending a second property is their principle residence, one that the government should be paying more attention to.
“The fact is the government should be able to see what’s going on. There are so many things going on right now in our housing industry in terms of people deceiving the government and deceiving one another.”
Davidoff, however, says that kind of cheating is only a symptom of a province with unusually low property taxes.
He says the disparity between income and property taxes is just inviting those who wish to abuse the system.
“Vancouver is a uniquely attractive place for people from all over the world not making money here to buy a property because we really whack you for earning a living with income and sales taxes, but we have unbelievably low property taxes.”
He says the best option is to essentially reverse the situation in B.C. right now – raise property taxes, while lowering sales and income taxes.
“Right now we do the opposite,” Davidoff says. “So of course we’re a great place to visit but a tough place to live.”
Whatever the solution, both men agree that something needs to be done soon, as Metro Vancouver is looking at a 30-year process for becoming affordable.
With files from Tristan Martin-Woodhouse