In NDP's 1st budget, housing advocates 'finally' get to see what B.C. government will do
Speculation tax and eliminating trust loopholes likely, but other policies might be a ways off
What's the best word to describe the talk around the budget the B.C. government will present on Tuesday?
"There's a lot to be hopeful about, and we're looking to see if the hard numbers in the budget match that ambition," said Alex Hemingway, a public finance policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, an organization that bills itself as "one of Canada's leading progressive voices".
"It's quite exciting after so many years, the first time we'll see a different budget from a new government, said Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, whose support for the NDP propelled his party into power after last year's historic election.
For the first time since 2001, an NDP government will deliver a budget in B.C., and with that comes plenty of speculation as to what policies that might bring — on child care, education, health care and a host of other issues.
But the budget also brings talk of a different sort of speculation: the type around housing.
Perhaps no issue has dominated political discussion in B.C. more in recent years than the escalating cost of housing.
The benchmark price of homes has gone up 50 to 100 per cent in virtually all of the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria in the last five years, and, in the last election, the NDP said they would do more than the B.C. Liberal Party to limit demand and curb the practice of people buying properties primarily for purposes other than living in them.
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For months, Premier John Horgan and multiple cabinet ministers have said measures to address demand would have to wait until the budget — increasing expectations for Tuesday.
"We go in, we raise a concern, and get answers like 'we are working on a comprehensive strategy'. Finally, tomorrow we will get our first glimpse," said Raza Mirza, a spokesperson for Housing Action for Local Taxpayers (HALT).
"There are very strong policy frameworks they put in place in their pre-election promises ... we haven't actually seen any of those implemented yet, so that's something that worries me."
Taxes and bans
Along with a basic tax on speculative buying — for example, condo units under construction being sold before they're complete or homes being flipped within months of a purchase — Weaver and HALT are hoping to see the elimination of something called the 'bare trust' loophole.
That would prevent people from creating numbered companies to own properties and then selling them without paying a property transfer tax.
Those proposals aren't being greeted warmly by the Urban Development Institute, which represents the development community in B.C.
"We don't want to see a pile on of more taxes. It might seem politically expedient. It might sound good, but as we've seen, we've had the foreign buyers' tax, we've had the empty homes tax. We've had the mortgage test. We've had a number of these initiatives, and it has not done anything to curtail prices," argues spokesperson Anne McMullin.
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Yet, some are hoping for even bigger changes. Weaver has also pushed for a ban on all foreign real estate purchases, and Hemingway has proposed a large increase on property taxes for the wealthiest landowners.
"We do need to break out of this set of constraints where we're told, not just by this government but over many years ... that we can't have bold and transformative change," said Hemingway.
At approximately 1:30 p.m. PT Tuesday, when Finance Minister Carole James rises in the legislature to present her budget, the speculation will come to an end.
"I have my fingers crossed," said Mirza.
"There's been indications they are going to do something about speculation. Now, we just have to wait for the details."