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LETTER: Municipalities deserve role in housing policy

This is in response to the editorial ‘New housing needs to be type that is needed.’ That speculative forces are helping drive housing prices ever higher is no secret – this being mostly enabled by very low interest rates. It’s almost like a self-reinforcing loop of ever-increasing prices, which only drives further speculation and profit-making. If such a vicious cycle is happening, would any amount of new housing be enough to slow prices? Caught up in this storm are legitimate buyers who simply wish to put a roof over their heads.

But whatever visible or invisible forces are at work in the market, most people would acknowledge that ever-increasing house prices are a significant contributor to some serious social issues, including homelessness and rising inequality. The B.C. government and some municipalities have rightfully taken some steps to try and slow price increases, such as taxing empty homes, trying to clamp down on money laundering in housing, or limiting vacation rentals. Additional tools being proposed by the province include ending blind bidding, mandatory home inspections, and a so-called “cooling off period.”

All of these are likely good strategies, however, as mentioned in the opinion piece, there is another action being considered by the province with the aim of allowing greater density. The details are sparse, but in a nutshell it appears this proposal would essentially pre-empt or claw back some former municipal decision-making powers in this area.

While technically the province has this ability, such action could set an improper precedent. By chipping away at the municipalities’ long-standing and accepted role in local housing policy, it would blur the lines of governance between the province’s role and that of the municipalities. Depending on the steps taken, it could also be argued it would diminish the will of municipal voters on some local housing issues that directly affect them. Before trying this it would be better to let other proposed actions play out first, and of course, while keeping in mind that rising interest rates may cool the market anyways.

Jeff Stanhope

North Saanich