Since 2015, housing, homelessness and poverty have dominated the issue landscape in B.C.
In the second half of 2022, we saw a bit of a jump in the proportions of residents aged 55 and over who were preoccupied with health care, and residents aged 35 to 54 who worried about the economy. For the province’s youngest adults, housing remains the most important concern.
Research Co. and Glacier Media have tracked perceptions on the first set of housing guidelines implemented by the provincial government. At the start of 2023, the measures brought forward during the tenure of former premier John Horgan remain popular. More than seven in 10 residents continue to favour the introduction of a “speculation tax” (72 per cent, up two points since June 2021), as well as increasing the foreign buyers tax (77 per cent, up two points) and expanding it to areas located outside of Metro Vancouver (75 per cent, unchanged).
Sizable majorities of British Columbians favour the increase in the property transfer tax to five per cent from three per cent for homes valued at more than $3 million (65 per cent, down two points), the introduction of a 0.2 per cent tax on the value of homes between $3 million and $4 million and a 0.4 per cent tax rate on the portion of a home’s value that exceeds $4 million (68 per cent, down one point).
This month, we reviewed the announcements made by new Premier David Eby. Again, reaction has been mostly positive. More than seven in 10 British Columbians support the proposals to build more modular supportive homes in areas where people are experiencing homelessness (78 per cent), implement a three-business-day protection period for financing and home inspections (71 per cent) and cap rent increases in 2023 at two per cent (also 71 per cent).
The new regulations related to strata developments are also backed by majorities of residents, including ending most strata age restrictions (64 per cent) and removing strata rental restrictions (59 per cent).
These new ideas appear to have generated positive momentum for the provincial administration. This month, 48 per cent of residents think the actions of the provincial government will be effective in making housing more affordable in British Columbia, up seven points since June 2021.
British Columbians who reside in a rented property are more likely to expect success from the government’s actions (52 per cent) than those who own their current dwelling (46 per cent). Other possible courses of action are more contentious among these two groups.
Fulfilling the promise of a renters’ rebate and doing away with the home owner grant are not as popular as one specific item that deals with homelessness. The idea of implementing a $400 renters’ rebate for households earning up to $80,000 a year – originally introduced by Horgan during a political campaign – is backed by 57 per cent of British Columbians but rises to 72 per cent among renters. The cancellation of the homeowner grant, which reduces the amount of property tax people pay for their principal residence, is endorsed by just 30 per cent of British Columbians and just 23 per cent of owners.
Three in five British Columbians (60 per cent) agree with municipal governments immediately dismantling any encampment or “tent city” located within their municipality – a proportion that rises to 64 per cent in Metro Vancouver. These actions, if indeed contemplated, would have to be accompanied by the most popular of the new measures: An increase in modular supportive homes.
Another important piece of the puzzle is immigration. Most British Columbians (71 per cent) are satisfied with the federal government’s decision to ban non-Canadians (with exclusions for international students and temporary residents) from purchasing residential properties in Canada for the next two years.
Many British Columbians want any consideration about housing to also ponder newcomers to the country. More than three in five British Columbians (61 per cent) want the federal government to tie immigration numbers to affordable housing targets and new housing starts. The province’s residents want to see coordination between all levels of government to ensure that nobody is left behind.
The key political challenge on the housing file is establishing an emotional connection with the electorate. There is an increase in the expectation of a positive outcome, and the BC New Democratic Party (NDP) still has more credibility on this file (49 per cent, down six points since December 2021) than the Green Party of BC (39 per cent, up six points) and the BC Liberal Party (33 per cent, down three points).
There is a 16-point gap in the level of trust that British Columbians place on the two main political parties to deal with an issue that matters the most to young adults. This finding defines the challenges of the governing party and the Opposition on housing. The BC NDP will need to show the positive effects of the policies that, as of now, have been welcomed by residents. The BC Liberals will need to establish a plan that allows them to be seen as a party that understands the plight of young people who want to get into the housing market.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted on Jan. 9-11 among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in B.C. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.