Sandy Macdougall.

Sidewinder: What is affordable these days?

One of the worst things about current preoccupation with middle class housing issues is almost certain market correction that will follow.

Lately, I have found myself wondering if we’re creating enough focus on affordable home ownership and reasonable rentals for lower income families.

It seems we are far too preoccupied with the well-being of the middle class and tax incentives and other benefits to foster business and industrial growth.

Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has prefaced his many comments on his own economic policies by stating the need to improve things for the middle class.

Not to be outdone by Ottawa, Premier Christy Clark has also joined the middle class support group as she frames many of her remarks on housing about how her new policies will benefit the middle class.

No explanations have been forthcoming from anyone in Ottawa or Victoria concerning how helping middle class people to buy houses they really can’t afford means anything to any lower income working families who face an increasingly unaffordable rental market and the totally unachievable dream of ever owning their own home.

On the other end of the scale, Maple Ridge city council and the provincial ministry of housing are advocating the expenditure of at least $15 million on top of the millions they’ve already spent to provide housing and treatment facilities for homeless people.

Somewhere in between those plateaus there are hundreds, if not thousands, of low income families who are one pay cheque away from homelessness, but nobody seems to care about them.

The high cost of real estate has driven rents spiraling upwards to unaffordable levels for many people. Meanwhile, other than homeless shelters, housing discussions around city council remain focused on the creation of even more housing that is realistically unaffordable for the majority of working families.

Oddly enough, much of that housing is also unaffordable to the city, which is currently entertaining a proposal to add an additional 130 residential units to the top end of Silver Valley, an area currently devoid of schools and other amenities normally associated with urban development.

Premier Christy Clark has stated that the tax surcharge to be imposed on non-resident property purchases will be used to help fund affordable housing but there is no further explanation of what she means, other than her ‘let’s help the middle class’ rhetoric.

The bizarre nature of current real estate trends in Metro Vancouver is beginning to make huge inroads in the local market place as incredible sales are being racked up on even low end single family rental properties which appear to be part of land assembly plans for future redevelopment.

Despite the critical need for lower cost housing and the rental crisis facing lower income working families, the focus at Maple Ridge city hall remains on homeless shelters and million dollar single family residential subdivisions.

If the city, province and federal governments can subsidize homeless shelters and shave property purchase taxes for middles class property purchasers, why is there no rental or home purchase financial assistance for lower income working families?

I don’t want to appear too cynical, but it occurs to me that middle class folks with their very adequate incomes probably turn out in greater numbers at the polls than those in lower income categories.

One of the worst things about the current preoccupation with middle class housing issues is the almost certain market correction that will follow any serious increase in the central bank mortgage rates.

Banks and mortgage companies could be facing a crisis and real estate collapse in which all levels of government will be expected to assist people who are being foreclosed on homes that taxpayers helped them purchase.

In the meantime, those lower income working families will still be largely ignored.



Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.


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