by Pauline Kerr
Most of us are familiar with Monopoly. Roll the dice, move your playing piece and buy property. Collect rent from anyone who lands on something you own.
Players have their favourite tactics. Some like to buy up the utilities. Others try to get control of a specific block of property (usually Boardwalk and Park Place, although apparently Illinois Avenue is the most landed on) and pile on the houses and hotels. There are a few individuals who write their own rules – sneak in an extra house, pass cards under the table, make secret deals.
As we hear about sky-high rents, renovictions, people bidding against each other not just to buy houses but to rent apartments, and the increasing number of people forced into shelters or tents under the bridge, we wonder if some high-stakes game is being played with our housing market. The image that comes to mind is of some adolescent alien intelligence waving its antennae gleefully as it secures a key piece of property an opposing player is sure to land on.
All flights of fantasy aside, the reality is that decent housing in Canada is not an option; our climate makes it a necessity.
Other countries with more moderate climates have seen sky-high housing cost increases, but when the same thing hit this country, the situation reached crisis proportions very quickly.
Price hikes were already happening before COVID, but the pandemic pushed things over the edge. Those who could afford to, headed for the hills. To be more exact, they headed out of the city to small, rural towns where the virus was less prevalent, to work from home. They discovered a lifestyle they liked, sold the city condo and bought something here with the proceeds. Even now, the selling price of a Toronto condo buys a lot of house in an area like this, with enough left over to fund a comfortable semi-retirement.
So here they are, buying country homes they consider bargains and pricing the locals right out of the market. Hot on their heels are the investors who are buying up cheap apartment buildings wherever they can find them, with the intention of turfing out the tenants, hiking up the rents and raking in the profits – and turning the quaint little buildings that young couples just starting out could afford to rent, into Airbnbs.
What we are seeing is not a housing shortage crisis but an affordability crisis. Million-dollar single family homes are popping up like mushrooms and selling as fast as they can be built, often to older people who bought into the housing market years ago. Younger people have borne the brunt of wages that have not kept pace with the cost of living – and housing – and cannot hope to save enough for a down payment. Far too many younger people working at entry level jobs cannot even afford to rent a room. Neither can anyone on disability or welfare.
Right now, basic shelter is beyond the means of a growing number of vulnerable people, and anyone trying to live on a modest fixed income, or worried about losing their job should inflation result in layoffs, is nervous.
A couple of decades of provincial governments, both Liberal and Conservative, have maintained a hands-off policy regarding housing. The theory has been that market pressures will correct any inequities, and this has not happened. What we are seeing now is the result of decisions that should have been made long ago, and were not. Waiting until a bad situation becomes a crisis is bad management, in the extreme.
Our province’s plan to build more houses, and reduce red tape that causes delays in the planning process, will probably help the situation eventually. In the meantime, our provincial leaders need to get their heads out of whatever sand trap they have been caught in, and take effective action to ensure that everyone has decent shelter by time the snow flies, or the crisis will become a tragedy.
Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.