By Pauline Kerr
The province has come out with some welcome news for prospective home buyers. The plan will see more houses built, with less red tape.
The plan also addresses some of the issues that are driving up housing prices, by extending the non-resident tax on buyers to the entire province, and raising the rate from 15 per cent to 20 per cent.
Both are positive steps that will undoubtedly make it easier for home buyers in future years – at least, the ones with high incomes, access to family money or a million-dollar city condo to sell.
Unfortunately, they do little to address the fact that housing prices are already well beyond what a lot of people in this community can afford.
Too many local residents cannot afford rent, much less a house. These tend to be the people employers need to fill the thousands of vacant jobs in this part of the province – everything from meat processing to retail to service industry positions.
Perhaps a reminder is in order about what happened in Alberta at the height of the oil boom. Many people from this area headed west, lured by the high wages employers were offering. After a season of living in their car or paying an obscene amount of money to rent a bunk in tent trailer, they came home and businesses closed their doors. Municipal and provincial authorities failed to provide the housing infrastructure needed for the province to take advantage of the boom.
Ontario’s housing plan will meet the needs of builders and high-end buyers but does nothing to fill the gap in low- to mid-level housing – apartments and townhouses.
To make matters more difficult for those seeking affordable housing, a lot of existing duplexes, triplexes and small apartment buildings have been bought by city investors, who expect to charge city-style rents. Numbers quoted in numerous news stories indicate about a quarter of recent Ontario home purchases were made by people who own more than one property. The only differences between a cheap attic apartment and an executive loft are nice flooring, fresh paint, new appliances and a couple of thousand dollars a month rent. The aim of the game is not to provide housing but to make money.
The popularity of short-term rentals that are, for all practical purposes, hotels, has provided another way to earn high profits on properties that used to be available for long-term local tenants.
The housing crunch was happening before COVID, but the pandemic pushed everything over the edge, so to speak. This is a perfect storm that has been brewing for the past several years, and it is leaving in its wake a lot of people without a roof over their heads.
The most vulnerable victims of the storm are, of course, the homeless. Communities that have never had visible homelessness, have it now. Shelters are full, and waiting lists for subsidized housing are huge.
However, one wonders how many people have turned down jobs because there was no affordable housing and no public transit.
One also wonders how many people are living in unsafe situations because of the lack of housing. This would include those who, with their children, are remaining with abusive partners.
The provincial government’s plan for housing addresses the demand for upper-end dwellings. Single-family homes on estate lots, luxury townhouse units and the like continue to sell as fast as they can be constructed.
However, it has missed the mark for those at the lower end of the income scale. The plan will not see units constructed to house the thousands of workers employers in this area are desperate to hire.
There is more to meeting the province’s housing needs than cutting red tape for builders. If the province intends to solve the housing crisis, a much broader plan is needed – one that provides incentives for builders to construct the housing the province needs, not just the structures that builders know will be profitable. The province needs economic growth; employers need workers; workers need homes; governments need votes to stay in power. Simple.