21 December 2017 0 Comments Posted By : Gregory Scruggs

What Vancouver, B.C., can teach us about housing

The Seattle area’s increases in home prices led the nation for the 13th straight month in November, the longest-ever such streak for real estate around Puget Sound. That meteoric rise has made it ever harder for the region’s booming population to buy a home. But if we think it’s difficult in Seattle, look 140 miles north to Vancouver, British Columbia, where experts say house prices are like those of San Francisco but incomes resemble those of sleepy Halifax.

Why the disconnect between the price of a house and what residents can earn locally? Many point to real-estate speculation. The results are sad-but-true websites like Crack Shack or Mansion?, which vividly illustrate the deleterious effect of speculation as run-down houses fetch over $1 million Canadian, and prompt a grassroots campaign by young Vancouverites who angrily profess #DontHave1Million.

Although there is disagreement, some evidence suggests that real estate speculation is also a factor in Seattle’s housing market. That was a notable point of agreement between mayoral candidates Cary Moon, for whom real-estate speculation was her major campaign plank, and Jenny Durkan, who belatedly came around, declaring real-estate speculation a barrier to affordable housing in September.

Housing affordability remains front and center for new Mayor Durkan. On Monday, she announced plans for spending $100 million on affordable housing projects and, in her first official act, she signed an executive order to assist rent-burdened lower income households by streamlining access to the city’s Utility Discount Program and creating a Seattle Rental Housing Assistance Program. Meanwhile, repealing the state ban on rent control is potentially on the docket in Olympia, although some experts believe that approach is counterproductive.

Dealing with rents is one thing. But what about tackling runaway home prices? Trying to actively slow or even reverse the rising value of houses may sound like political suicide in a country where, for good or for ill, homeowners often view their house as an appreciating investment. In metro Vancouver, a broad-based political coalition actively wants to see the cost of housing go down. The consensus was strong enough to boot the conservative B.C. Liberals in May elections that saw the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) take control of the provincial parliament for the first time since 2001.

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