Opinion: Victoria’s housing market goes dystopian

Opinion: Victoria's housing market goes dystopian
Photo credit: Clayton Bunn/Pexels

Prospective homeowners in Victoria knew the day would finally come.

They could probably feel it with the horrible, ongoing gut feeling of impending doom. The average price of a house in Greater Victoria has hit $1.1 million.

This is great news for people who bought houses before the Victoria housing market was thoroughly Vancouverized. For those whose property is fully paid-off, they are one real-estate sale away from sailing away into a comfortable retirement. For those who are still renting, the hopes of owning a home get further and further away each year. There seems to be no escape anywhere on the map. Up in Nanaimo, the benchmark is now $1 million.

Affordable housing at a new Victoria complex carries a cost of $432,000 for a one-bedroom unit. “Affordable” is clearly a relative term, as you can get something similar, yet not designated as affordable, for $448,000 in Vancouver.

For people under age 30 — and some over 30 — the prospect of owning a home is depressingly dystopian. The lucky ones have parents with deep pockets who can help with a down payment. It will get worse for those in the lower-middle class, especially those with siblings who will have to split the inheritance.

The traditional paradigm is that either the market or the government solves societal problems. Markets have been allowed to run their course on housing throughout the pandemic, and an already unaffordable housing market skyrocketed into exclusionary status. The B.C. government’s last budget would have been a perfect time to implement something in the way of revamped affordable housing.

Young people forsaking the prospect of being a homeowner would have been satisfied with anything to help solve the crisis, provided it was more than what actually came out of the 2022 budget. The chief executive of the co-operative Housing Federation of B.C. didn’t like the budget, and said it will not solve the affordable housing crisis.

People at the real estate board are happy, the president of the Victoria Real Estate Board praised the budget for lacking real intervention into the housing market.

An article from Western Investor about the budget included a quote from the president that said “nothing scares us more than the government deciding to go off in bold new directions.”

Of course, the real estate board is happy, the last thing an association of private realtors wants is the government becoming a competitor in the market, and not without justification. The co-existence of private and public enterprises in the same market tends to end terribly, whether it be energy or healthcare.

That being said, younger generations in Victoria — and all of B.C. — are increasingly desperate for any glimmer of hope that there may be a day in their future when they can purchase property. Bold solutions sound like good ideas when the benchmark price for a house in Sooke is rapidly approaching $1 million, yet there seems to be no appetite for bold solutions in the legislature.

The average B.C. politician is not young — they typically are around age 50. They bought their houses when they were affordable, and many live in rural parts of B.C. where the housing crisis only exists as a distant problem in the cities. The basic yearly salary for an MLA is about $111,000 per year, while B.C.’s average salary as a whole is under $65,000. Politics is a highly lucrative career. If an MLA holds their seat for a full four-year term, they easily have enough for a down payment on a house just about anywhere in the province.

Housing will never be an issue for an MLA, yet voters expect them to do something about the unaffordability crisis, and they haven’t.

The market hasn’t fixed it, the government doesn’t seem willing to, so where do non-owners turn to?

For many young people, a crash in the housing market seems like the only hope. Does a generation really need to hope for a crisis to attain the middle-class necessity of owning a home?

Geoff Russ is a writer and journalist who has had his reporting featured in The Source, The Spec, The Tyee and The Times Colonist.

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