This is an ongoing, bi-weekly series by the Osoyoos Times putting questions to the candidates in the 2019 federal election in October.
This week’s question:
The average wage needed to afford a two-bedroom rental in Canada is $22/hr, and minimum wage, at its highest in the country, is around $15/hr. With short-term vacation rentals encroaching on viable rental units in the South Okanagan as well, what can be done to address these issues?
Richard Cannings, New Democratic Party
Wherever I go in the south Okanagan and ask business people about their number one issue, the answer is almost always “housing, housing, housing.” Many businesses are having trouble hiring permanent employees, and one of the main reasons is that the new hires can’t find a place to live. They can’t afford to buy and they can’t find a suitable rental.
One factor in the low local rental vacancy rates is the proliferation of short-term rentals such as AirBnB, which are an attractive option for people with extra rooms In a resort town such as Osoyoos. While short-term rentals aren’t technically allowed in the residential areas of Osoyoos, the bylaw is not enforced, and I found 215 listings on a quick internet search. Some of these are in rural Osoyoos, where short-term rentals are allowed with a temporary use permit.
Rules for rental properties are the purview of the municipal and provincial governments. The federal government’s role is to provide funding and incentives to produce more dedicated long-term rental properties.
The NDP believe that everyone should have access to a home they can afford. We have a plan to create half a million units of quality, affordable housing across the country – including rentals and co-op housing.
Connie Denesiuk, Liberal Party of Canada
Everyone should have a safe, secure place to live. Workers and families who can’t find affordable rentals or are forced to leave a residence because of short-term vacation rentals, experience undue stress. Moreover, businesses have difficulty attracting and retaining workers when rental housing isn’t affordable or available.
Regulating short-term vacation rentals in the South Okanagan and elsewhere falls under the local jurisdiction (assigned by the Province) of municipalities or regional districts.
Concurrently however, Canada’s Liberal Government is working to address rental availability through a 10 year, $55-billion National Housing Strategy, which features a Rental Construction Financing Program. It includes low-cost loans to encourage construction or upgrades of rental housing in communities with defined need. Also confirmed is that a minimum of 20% of those units must be rented at or below 30% of the median income for families in the area.
The federal Liberal Government has also delivered a means-tested Canada Child Benefit, helping many families in our riding ease rental affordability. Our government is also making progress by assisting skills training for workers seeking better paying jobs.
The Liberal Government’s political will and long-term planning to enhance both rental housing availability and affordability are important to me. I’m running in this election to ensure these national programs continue, including those to increase the supply of affordable rental housing in our riding.
Helena Konanz, Conservative Party of Canada
As a former Penticton City Councillor and board member on the Regional District, I worked hard to increase housing starts and rental stock in this valley, and to tighten up rules on short-term rentals as to avoid further encroachment on long-term housing. Rental availability in the South Okanagan is one of the lowest in Canada, and rates are much higher than the average wage earner in this valley can afford. The current Liberal government has not helped in this area, an example being the implementation of the Mortgage Stress Test, putting a chill on the real estate market and placing further stress on the rental pool.
Bringing down the cost of building new units is also imperative. A major driver for building expenses are the costs all levels of government place on construction. A recent report found that the cost barriers to housing supply in Canadian municipalities such as development charges and zoning regulations are highest in B.C., with Vancouver being the worst culprit. In fact, close to half of the price of a new detached home in that city is due to government fees and regulations.
The South Okanagan is not far behind.
Unlike the other parties, a Conservative Government will encourage less government interference and regulation and work hard to bring down the cost of living in all areas of our lives, including housing.
Tara Howse, Green Party of Canada
Housing issues affect a wide-spectrum of people, from seniors on fixed incomes to young families starting out to unique barriers people on First Nations experience. There is no single ‘fix’ for all housing needs.
The provincial and municipal governments are large influencers of housing delivery and can impact the housing needs at a local level, such as enacting bylaws to govern vacation rentals and approving new developments. At the federal level, government is responsible for mortgage regulations and creating a system that allows for innovative housing solutions while at the same time addressing daily living costs. The Green Party supports initiatives such as guaranteed liveable income, safe and accessible childcare, and comprehensive pharmacare.
From a systems perspective, a National Housing Strategy (NHS) that promotes and supports all types of housing initiatives to address changing demographics (e.g. increasing seniors’ needs, affordable housing, intergenerational housing) is required, overseen through the National Housing Act. Although the recent NHS is welcomed, primarily because there finally is one, critiques show significant deficits related to senior housing needs, core housing needs, and notes that government spending levels are relatively the same. Looking at mortgage regulations, one solution the Green Party supports is adjusting regulations to allow cooperative housing projects easier access to funding.