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BC NDP lacks housing plan as young people struggle amid COVID-19, says expert

Last Updated Nov 2, 2020 at 8:07 am PST

FILE - Downtown Vancouver. (Riley Phillips, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Expert says housing should be focus as John Horgan looks to fill seven cabinet positions

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VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As Premier John Horgan decides who will fill a number of empty cabinet seats, housing and income fixes should be the focus, says a UBC associate professor and founder of Generation Squeeze.

Paul Kershaw has been crunching the data on wealth and income disparity between generations for years, and says the COVID-19 pandemic is only going to worsen the situation unless a comprehensive recovery plan, including housing affordability strategies, is created soon.

“Despite recession-like conditions brought on by Covid-19, housing costs are trending upwards and reaching historical highs in some parts of the province,” he writes in a recent analysis.

Kershaw says gains made with “modest” price declines from 2017 to 2019 “are not persisting, even as people struggle more than ever to pay their bills because of the pandemic.”

New faces on cabinet, new realities in suburbs

Following the provincial election, when it became clear the BC NDP gained support and even seats in usually safe suburban Liberal ridings like Richmond, Langley, and Surrey, political watchers agreed the province’s shifting demographics were likely tied to the housing crisis.

Kershaw agrees that rising housing costs that pushed families and young people out of the urban core have shifted the priorities of suburban communities. However, he says the consequences of ignoring their needs is more dire than simply losing the next election.

He says the NDP’s 30-point-plan is better than nothing and an improvement on the previous Liberal government’s work, but the COVID-19 pandemic has eroded the small gains.

“That stabilization has actually eroded and we’ve seen such pressures again creep back into our housing system, which really reflects that the government’s 30-point-plan is not sufficient to achieve housing affordability,” says Kershaw.

“So the plan’s kind of more akin now, to like a weather vane blowing in the wind rather than pointing our province to where we actually need to go.”

Shift in economic indicators needed

“We often describe our economy as the best in the country because we have the best GDP and we have, you know, quite a low unemployment rate, at least we did prior to the pandemic,” says Kershaw.

“But the reality is we also have the worst economy in Canada when it comes to hard work paying off for younger residents, because here is the place where full time work is least likely to be able to cover our major cost of living either as rent or mortgage payments.”

He says homeowners, like himself, will continue to get richer so long as the economy is driven by housing prices, and he doesn’t believe the housing market should be such a central indicator of economic well being.

“It’s time for our governments and our citizens alike to acknowledge explicitly that our housing values are only healthy when they stall so that home earnings can actually catch up to the cost of rent or the cost of ownership,” he says.

Without a plan, Millennials, Generation Y, and so-called Zoomers, who are just starting out, will be unable to afford a home or the infrastructure to raise a family in the coming years.

Kershaw says urgent housing problems are only going to become worse as young adults entering the workforce during a COVID-19-induced recession are likely to have even lower relative incomes and their earnings are likely to grow more slowly over their lifetimes.

“But I think the key problem is right now, but we don’t have the B.C. government acknowledging that a good housing plan actually starts with a goal that points us to where we need to go and that goal should be nothing less than everyone being able to afford a home that meets their needs within a decade, either as a renter or an owner, or in a co-op, etcetera,” he says.

Kershaw also says the twice-promised $400 rental rebate is not likely to be “a game changer” for anyone, given rental costs have increased by thousands of dollars a year in many places