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The dirty secret of the housing crisis? Homeowners like high prices

An adult counting money beside a house

In the realm of Canadian housing discourse, the predominant solutions often orbit around immigration reform and massive construction endeavors. However, according to Paul Kershaw, a public policy professor at the University of British Columbia and founder of Generation Squeeze, this emphasis on bolstering housing supply sidesteps a critical issue that politicians tend to skirt.

Kershaw asserts that our nation's fixation on perpetually escalating home prices stems from a collective perception of homes as financial commodities rather than essential shelters. While acknowledging the role of increased supply in curbing prices, Kershaw underscores the necessity for introspection, urging homeowners to confront their entanglement in this cycle.

The Speculative Spiral

The trajectory of housing prices in Canada paints a familiar picture: a steady ascent over the years. From a modest $241,000 in January 2005 to a staggering $719,400 in February 2024, the average home price has more than tripled. This relentless surge, however, has outpaced income growth, with housing costs devouring over 60% of median household earnings, as per a recent RBC report.

Conventional wisdom often prescribes ramping up construction to meet demand and alleviate pricing pressure. Yet, a significant chunk of this demand emanates from investors, as evidenced by the Bank of Canada's findings, attributing 30% of home purchases in early 2023 to investors. This influx has squeezed out first-time buyers, with their market share dwindling as investors stake their claim.

Delving Deeper into Investment Dynamics

While foreign buyers and house-flippers hog the limelight, domestic investors in low-rise housing wield a more substantial influence on prices. These investors, comprising those purchasing directly from developers or retaining their initial properties upon relocation, capitalize on the market's upward trajectory. Consequently, housing supply for first-time buyers dwindles as homeowners cling to their properties for investment purposes.

A Historic Paradigm

Beyond financial gains, homeownership embodies a myriad of advantages, from security to equity accumulation. However, escalating prices not only bolster homeowners' equity but also pad governmental coffers through increased tax revenue. Real estate's pivotal role in the Canadian economy renders any concerted effort to deflate prices politically untenable.

Priced Out and Seeking Solutions

As Canadians grapple with affordability woes, the prevailing fixation on homeownership exacerbates the crisis. Naama Blonder, an architect and urban planner, highlights this fixation, emphasizing the imperative of embracing alternative housing models beyond traditional ownership. However, bold political action remains elusive, with forthcoming measures likely to offer piecemeal solutions rather than addressing the root causes.

Charting a Course Forward

Amid mounting housing challenges, Kershaw advocates for a comprehensive tax reform targeting housing wealth. By levying annual taxes on the top decile of property owners, such measures aim to temper price escalation while funneling funds into affordable housing initiatives. Failure to engage in this dialogue risks perpetuating the affordability crisis, underscoring the urgency of confronting entrenched paradigms to forge a sustainable housing future.

In essence, navigating Canada's housing quagmire demands a holistic reevaluation of entrenched beliefs and policies. Only by transcending the allure of speculative gains and embracing innovative solutions can we chart a course toward housing equity and accessibility for all Canadians.


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