Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

No B.C. party proposals will have an immediate impact on the housing market: experts

Cranes rise above homes in front a construction site in Vancouver in December, 2016.

Ben Nelms/Bloomberg

Nothing that any political party is proposing in B.C.'s imminent provincial election will have an immediate, dramatic effect on the housing market, say experts.

Although parties are proposing measures as significant as, from the Greens, a 30-per-cent tax on foreign buyers throughout the province to, from the NDP, a proposal to encourage the construction of 11,000 units a year, the attempts to restrict demand are unlikely to reduce prices.

And the ambitious attempts to create new supply would take a long time to have an effect.

Story continues below advertisement

"Increasing to a 30-per-cent foreign-buyer tax won't have that much impact," said Helmut Pastrick, the chief economist for Central 1 Credit Union. "It will mainly affect the high end, not apartment prices in Surrey."

And, although housing advocate Kishone Roy is impressed by the commitments being made by the NDP and the Green Party to create affordable housing over a number of years, he doesn't believe that will turn the housing market around, either.

"I just think it will take a long time for it to happen."

The Green Party has promised $750-million a year for the construction of government-subsidized units, something the association estimates would address the province's housing backlog within eight years.

The NDP's proposal – to facilitate the construction of 11,400 units a year through partnerships with developers and non-profits, as well as using government land and direct funding – would catch up with the backlog within 10 years, according to the association.

BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark is frank in saying that her party doesn't want to jolt the market.

"We don't want to change policy to such an extent that people who have equity lose that," she told The Globe and Mail's editorial board recently.

Story continues below advertisement

Even NDP Leader John Horgan said he doesn't envision any of his party's measures making housing instantly and miraculously affordable.

The foreign-buyers tax has not been clear, so far, he said.

"The impact … was to stifle activities, not to stifle costs, and now we're seeing escalation again."

However, UBC professor Tom Davidoff, who specializes in real estate, said it's possible that the Greens' combination of measures – which include a doubled foreign-buyers tax, a surtax on properties where owners can't show rental income or proof of Canadian tax paid on income, a speculation tax, and a capital-gains tax on properties flipped in under five years – are "pretty punitive" and could produce some kind of noticeable impact.

"What they're doing is quite bold, maybe a little risky."

For the moment, though, Mr. Davidoff said the housing program having the most effect is the Liberals' decision to provide a short-term, interest-free loan to help first-time home buyers with down payments.

Story continues below advertisement

"It's clear now that the bottom end of the market is going bananas," said Mr. Davidoff, who believes the home-buyer down-payment program is a poor piece of housing policy that does nothing to improve affordability.

But, even if the Greens' policies produced as much as a 10 per cent drop in the market, which most analysts say is unlikely, that wouldn't result in a big wave of defaults.

People default on mortgages when they lose their jobs and can't make payments, not when the theoretical value of their home drops, said Mr. Pastrick.

"Most people, because it is their primary residence and not an investment property, will just ride it out," he said.

That's true even when housing markets see the kind of major drop – 25 per cent to 35 per cent – that is the result of a general economic crash.

As a result, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver's assurance that his government would work with banks to protect home buyers in the case of a market plunge is unnecessary and confusing, he said.

Not only won't it be needed, but, contrary to what Mr. Weaver said, federal government-backed mortgage insurance can't be used to protect buyers. It is in place to protect lenders.

If a buyer walks away from a home and stops paying the mortgage at a time when the house value has plunged below the purchase price, the insurance is used to guarantee that the lender gets back all the money that has been loaned.

Video: BC Liberal and NDP leaders talk coal and trade
Report an error
About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.