04/13/2017 05:31 EDT | Updated 04/17/2017 10:06 EDT

Canada's Real Estate Must Be About People, Not Speculators

Looking up at the Skyscrapers
onlyyouqj via Getty Images
Looking up at the Skyscrapers

The dream of owning a home is getting further and further out of reach for many people. Young people in particular are hit hard by rising prices for buyers and renters.

Pricing people out of homes is not good for our communities or our economy. This isn't just about getting millennials out of their parents' basement. It's also making sure that people don't become house rich and real life poor.

When people's incomes are locked into making mortgage payments or rent, small businesses and local economies suffer. High mortgages mean little flexibility, and not much left over for other life purchases. The consequence: big chunks of cash flow to Bay Street instead of Main Street.

There is no question that the province needs to take action now to combat speculation, increase supply and decrease demand.

It's unfair that speculators -- who use the real estate market as a place to make money -- are gaining while people and families trying to buy a home are getting priced out of the market.

The real estate market should be about supplying housing for people, not an ATM for speculators. Realtors, bankers and the rich are the only people who benefit from turning the GTHA into a housing casino.

Bursting the speculative housing bubble must be a top priority for the Ontario government. The 2008 global financial crisis is a recent reminder of the economic risks of turning homes into an investment vehicle instead of a place to live.

Both the dramatic increase in prices and the number of homes without the lights on are an indication that speculation is out of control. Empty homes only compounds the lack of supply for places to live.

Here's some of the things we can do to start addressing housing affordability:

1. As an immediate first step, the province needs to tax speculators.

Putting a tax on vacant property will make it harder for speculators, whether foreign or domestic, to use real estate as a lucrative place to park cash. A surtax on quick turnaround sales would also decrease speculation.

2. Get creative on increasing supply.

A re-think of rules that prevent "granny suites" and laneway housing could create more density with existing structures. And additional sources of income for homeowners. Or new rules that work for young people interested in "tiny houses" using existing materials like shipping containers. Plus add more mid-rise development to support human scale intensification like you see in world class European cities.

3. Create more affordable rental housing.

More affordable rental housing. Some of this will come from high rise apartments, but why not make it easier for people to rent basement apartments that meet safety standards?

4. Set ambitious targets for affordable housing in new developments.

The government is moving forward with changes that will allow cities to implement laws to increase affordable housing in new developments. This inclusionary zoning should be mandatory for all new developments.

5. Support telecommuting through tax credits.

To ease pressures of demand, why not create more incentives for people to telecommute from rural locations instead of buying in expensive urban markets or commuting long distances? Tax credits for companies that encourage work from home or for communal work spaces in smaller towns would reduce demand in large urban centres.

6. Stop the false rumour that paving over farmland will help this problem.

Land speculators and developers seem to be using the shock and awe of an overheated housing market to threaten the Greenbelt or pave over prime farmland. The province should say a clear and urgent no to these requests.

Only 20% of the land set aside for development in the 2006 Growth Plan has been used. That leaves 80% left to develop -- it's clear that the supply of housing can be increased without destroying farmland or greenspace.

It's good that the Liberal government is finally recognizing the problem. But so far concern hasn't led to action.

The housing crisis is a complex problem that requires creative solutions. Those solutions should start with what works for people, not for speculators and developers.

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