Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

Mayor’s message: Affordable home ownership top priority

I have received emails in the past week asking for Victoria city council to implement a 15 per cent foreign buyers tax.

By Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps

I have received emails in the past week asking for Victoria city council to implement a 15 per cent foreign buyers tax. Victoria city council cannot do this. What seems to be missing from public understanding is that the foreign buyers tax was implemented by the provincial government for all of Metro Vancouver. It is provincial legislation. The city cannot enact the tax.

Victoria city council could lobby for the tax to be implemented here, but where exactly is here? The finance minister did not create the tax for the City of Vancouver but for Metro Vancouver. In the same way, if the province were to implement a foreign buyers tax here it would be not for the City of Victoria but for the entire Capital Regional District.

That fact changes the nature of the city’s lobbying efforts. At a recent Victoria city council meeting, council postponed until April a motion to ask local governments from across the region, and the CRD itself, to request that the province introduce legislation mirroring that passed for Metro Vancouver in the summer — a 15 per cent foreign buyers tax and vacancy taxation authority.

In short, if we have any hope of a foreign buyers tax in the Capital Regional District, the request has to come from the CRD Board. And, in order for CRD directors to consider such a request they’ll likely need a bit more data than what is currently available. By April, we’ll have eight months of data since the tax was implemented in Metro Vancouver.

If implementing a foreign buyers tax is beyond municipal and regional authority, what can we do to address affordable home ownership?

The City of Victoria recently held a workshop to look at affordable home ownership programs from Calgary, Canmore, and BC Housing. The Canmore Community Housing Corporation is delivering one to four bedroom townhomes and condos from between $145,000 and $400,000. That is truly affordable home ownership. Calgary has a similar program, as does Toronto. And BC Housing provides low-cost financing to developers to help with affordability.

The good news is the workshop was packed by both for profit and non-profit housing developers wanting to be part of the solution. The other good news is that last year, the CRD acted quickly to set up the $60 million Regional Housing First Program to build affordable workforce rental housing and supportive housing for those who are chronically homeless. When faced with crisis, the regional government can respond swiftly.

We must now act equally quickly as a region on affordable home ownership. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel. We need to look at what’s working elsewhere and design a made-in-the-CRD solution to address local market conditions. The affordable home ownership solution we implement must not further burden already burdened taxpayers.

And then — just as we did with Regional Housing First — we need to implement quickly. What’s at stake if we don’t make affordable home ownership a top priority? The wellbeing of our citizens and the economic prosperity this region is currently experiencing. In order to keep the economy strong, working people and their families must be able to afford to live here.