British Columbia

Does Pierre Poilievre have a point blaming city hall for Vancouver's soaring property prices?

Experts who spoke to CBC agree with federal Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre on the general point that there are many barriers and constraints to building housing in Vancouver, though the cost of regulation he states is debatable.

CBC asked experts about Tory leadership hopeful's claim that city 'gatekeepers' are causing prices to soar

The house on the double lot in Vancouver listed for sale at $4.888 million that Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre showcased in a recent video. According to the listing, the house and a laneway home at the back of the property rent for $5,000 per month combined. (Zillow)

Hot on the heels of his tour through British Columbia, federal Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre has taken aim at Vancouver City Hall for "destroying the home ownership dreams of working class youth."

In a video monologue that borrows stylistically from Rick Mercer, Poilievre does a 180-degree spin on East 40th Avenue in Vancouver's Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood to breathlessly reveal a run-down 1930s house that's for sale for $4.888 million. 

He then uses it as an example to show how municipal regulations add to the cost of property in the city's overheated market.

The property is a double lot that measures 66 feet by 140 feet (20 metres by 43 metres), according to B.C. Assessment. The real estate listing notes the house and a laneway home at the back of the property currently rent out for $5,000 per month combined.

In the video, Poilievre says the lot can be redeveloped into six units at the cost of over $1 million per unit, after which he poses a question he's keen to answer: "Why is it that Vancouver has the third most unaffordable housing market on the planet?"

One reason, he says, quoting a paper by the non-profit C.D. Howe Institute, is that housing regulation costs imposed by the city add up to $644,000 for every unit developed in Vancouver.

"That's the cost of getting approval, getting the zoning changes, getting the permit and paying all the fees directly to the city and all the gatekeepers," Poilievre says in the video — before pledging "to get the local gatekeepers out of the way so we can build more homes."

Of course, following through on this pledge assumes he first wins the Conservative leadership race and his party then wins the next federal election.

A member of Poilievre's campaign team told CBC the details of his plan would be released later.

In a statement, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the C.D. Howe study that Poilievre cites is flawed and "assumes any housing costs beyond construction are the result of policies imposed by local governments, ignoring things like developer profits, high land costs and speculative demand."

CBC contacted the author of the paper, C.D. Howe associate vice-president Benjamin Dachis, but did not hear back.

A 'now selling' banner is draped along the side of an apartment building.
A 'Now Selling' banner on a new condo tower in downtown Vancouver pictured on Jan. 27. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Poilievre's video has been retweeted over 2,000 times. 

CBC asked three people with knowledge of Vancouver housing and property development to comment on his claims. 

Jon Stovell, Reliance Properties president and CEO, Urban Development Institute chairman

"It's great that he's raising these issues and much of what he's saying is very accurate. The numbers are always a topic of debate, and how they are calculated, but it's very much the case that government at all levels — municipal, provincial and federal — are adding a tremendous amount of cost to housing costs while also complaining that it's unaffordable and focusing on foreigners, which I think is a red herring. 

"And on top of the direct costs [governments] are adding in, they are tremendously contributing — particularly at the local level — to extreme time delays of getting housing built, which increases costs dramatically because you're using borrowed money, usually, to build housing as a developer. It also keeps housing from getting into the market and getting people housed."

Jill Atkey, B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association CEO

"So, that $644,000 does ring true, but only on properties where there is a significant addition of density ... When we're adding more housing, we need to add more capacity for water and sewage.

"It's important to point out when we're pulling numbers out of reports, that the same C.D. Howe report calls for those same services to be funded ... They're advocating for a shift, for those services to be paid for by property taxes for all households in the municipality rather than through development taxes ... And our property taxes, particularly in British Columbia, are actually very, very low when we look at either other provinces or other countries. 

"We need to speed those timelines up in order to get more housing built and, in particular, the kinds of housing that our cities need most, which is both market and non-market rental housing."

Tom Davidoff, UBC economist and housing researcher

"He needs to be cautious with the claim of $644,000 of the price being attributable to municipal and provincial fees. I think that would be on the high end, first of all. But additionally, those fees will commonly subtract from land value. What matters is how many homes get built. And, you know, the intersection of supply and demand will lead to the final price.

"He's got it partially right. I think the federal government should bully municipalities into doing the right thing on housing. And speeding up approvals is great. Lowering fees, I'm not so sure. 

"The federal government has in the current budget allocated money that only goes to municipalities that do a better job of approving housing. Now, he might say it's insufficient incentive, and that may be correct, but it is good to see that that's in the budget."