Cheryl Ashlie.

MacDuff’s Call: Give local purchasers priority access to housing

Reducing foreign competition not a stand-alone solution.

I read the highlights of the provincial government budget and there is nothing substantive that further tackles affordable housing, other than more modular housing for the homeless.

That is fine, except that once a person secures a place within a modular housing facility and, hopefully, has access to the support they need to end their cycle of homelessness, there is nowhere for them to move on to, due to lack of affordable rental units.

And considering all levels of government are continuing to only play on the edges of the housing crisis, with no one taking bold steps that will improve housing affordability and rental stock for people who live here, we will continue to face this crisis.

For instance, when we know that there is not enough housing for local people, why are developers still being allowed to market and sell offshore without mandatory provisions for local buy-ins first?

The nonchalant attitude towards this issue by government was evidenced recently when the media exposed that the massive re-development of the lands around the old Brentwood Mall in Burnaby, called the Amazing Brentwood, which is the largest development taking place in Burnaby with 11 towers being proposed along the SkyTrain line, is being advertised to the international market by the developers as being in Vancouver.

When I read the coverage that focused on the comments of Chris Peters, executive director of Tourism Burnaby, who spoke of Burnaby facing a “branding issue,” and the mayor, Mike Hurley, backing it up with comments to the effect that Burnaby needs to work on “breaking” away from Vancouver, I felt it epitomized how the politicians just don’t get it, or are so busy being politically correct that they don’t see the need to discuss the bigger issue of developers marketing much needed housing to the international market.

This is especially so in using disingenuous advertisements directed at unsuspecting international buyers who have inflated purchase powers that may cause them to buy without knowing they are not buying in Vancouver proper. Not that I weep for that type of purchaser, as “buyer beware” applies, but I do weep for how it feeds into local residents’ ability to compete in this housing crisis market.

There is proof that local governments can make inroads if they take a stand on protecting the local purchasers, such was the case in West Vancouver, whereby the council managed to negotiate into the development application from Westbank Development Corp that people who live or work in West Vancouver would have priority access to the 159 units that were being built on the old Sewell Marina property. Which left me wondering why more strategies along this line are not being used?

I had put out on my Twitter feed a few years ago the suggestion that government should only allow foreign investment when there is surplus housing in the region.

I did not receive any feedback, which is not unusual for my Twitter contribution. However, I have since read that many countries do give priority to a “local first” regulatory system within the housing market and some go as far as outright banning of foreign buyers, such as New Zealand, China and Switzerland.

Others, such as Mexico, restrict where foreign ownership can take place. Although I struggle with an outright ban, I would like to see movement towards policies that give local purchasers priority access over international purchasers and restrictions when there isn’t enough stock for the locals.

I also believe that reducing foreign competition is not a stand-alone solution, as cities have to do more to expedite the building of housing stock by looking for creative solutions, such as more residential units being integrated into light industrial complexes for work or live options, encouraging developers through lower development cost charges, expedited permit processing, deferred property taxes, relaxed zoning and other tools that are within municipal councils’ discretion.

Municipalities could even get creative with their own lands. Presently, Maple Ridge owns a large tract of land in the Silver Valley area. Perhaps it is time for the city to sit with the federal and provincial governments and determine if there is an appetite for a cooperative housing option to be built on those lands.

When my family lived in False Creek, many of the families whose kids attended False Creek elementary came from the co-operative housing units in the area that were built in the ’70s and ’80s as a response to the affordable housing needs of the day, which were included in the revitalization of that area.

The beauty of False Creek’s housing was that market housing and co-operative housing were nestled amongst each other, which created amazingly diverse, yet cohesive neighbourhoods.

Perhaps the province and the feds could work collectively with local governments on more of these projects. They already do this in the area of supportive housing projects, which is how Alouette Heights in Maple Ridge got built. Maple Ridge gave the land and senior government built and operated the facility.

Going back to my original comment, whereby I don’t see governments taking bold steps. In reality, with so little being done, maybe just leaning into some tried and true methods of the past, such as co-operatives and tax incentives for developers and investors who are willing to build rental properties, or attempting strategies such as West Vancouver’s, while not bold, are at least worthy of trying in the face of this crisis.

I would even hesitate to guess that no money would have to be spent on a branding exercise, as the locals who would benefit from such actions would actually know the difference between Burnaby and Vancouver.

Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year, and

currently president of ARMS.

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