Abbotsford candidates talk housing

Candidates in the Abbotsford riding share their views on housing in the Fraser Valley

By Tyler Olsen | September 13, 2021 |6:10 am

For the 2021, federal election, The Current is focusing on two issues with critical and unique local implications: housing affordability and Indigenous issues.

We sought interviews with candidates from each of the four major parties. In Abbotsford, we spoke to Green candidate Stephen Fowler and Liberal candidate Navreen Gill. Conservative candidate Ed Fast and NDP candidate Dharmasena Yakandawela did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. (You can read why we did not request interviews with other parties’ candidates here.)

To read candidate questionnaires from other ridings, and to catch up on all our election coverage, check out our Fraser Valley Votes election hub. You can also read our riding profile for Abbotsford to learn more about the election in that riding.

Green — Stephen Fowler

FVC: Are house prices right now too high?

Fowler: Yes. Yes, they are.

FVC: Given that, what needs to be done to decrease house prices?

Fowler: Well, this is not my expertise. I think in terms of housing, putting people into homes, homelessness and things like that: our strategy would be to play it more like the English style of council housing, where there was housing that’s built, that’s not marketable, it’s built by the country. It’s on the market for people who need somewhere to live. It’s good housing, but it’s there specifically for people who fit the criteria of not [being] able to own their own home. I was reading up on the National Housing Strategy, and apparently, as far back as Pierre Trudeau, the elder Trudeau, they were building, I think, like 30,000 of these homes a year. But in the early ’90s, I guess during that period, the Liberals and the Conservatives both together kind of killed that program, and we’ve never recovered from that. Apparently, we would have had like, 550,000 new homes since the program ended if they just continued that program.

So I think the solution ultimately—I mean, I think there is a way to harness pricing. Like the buildings that are in Abbotsford, the new ones on King Road near the university, they’re beautiful rental homes, but they’re built for a person who’s probably making, you know—I could probably move into one as a teacher, but if I was moving as a full-time, I don’t want to disparage any job—but somebody who’s making less than me, maybe like $50,000, $60,000 a year, they’d probably have a heck of a time moving into the new rental housing. So they’re nice places and they are serving a purpose. But the purpose of getting people in poverty and into housing, which is a human right, I think that’s what we need to do: is more of the council housing type of thing.

FVC: So you’re suggesting the need for for public forms of housing, and there’s lots of parties that have various policies in which they say we’ll build X number of houses. I think the NDP says this. But there’s also a pretty clear need for market-built housing for people who are making a decent middle-class salary and can’t afford to buy a home now. What needs to be done to incentivize that type of building?

Fowler: For me, for development companies to own and basically have the property sold before it’s even built? That is kind of an area where I’m not really good. I think that there’s a lot—Portland in the past, when they were building their city, the idea of companies owning properties near to where they are that people can live close to work would be a very green handling of real estate. But the ownership of [homes] by properties who own it specifically for making money—just ‘I’m building it so that I make more money’ as opposed to ‘building it so that I put people in housing’—I think like most things that’s the root of it, is being greedy.

FVC: But don’t you need people to be self-incentivized to build homes, since we just seem to have such a shortage of homes?

Fowler: I think that people should be incentivized to build homes for themselves, or to be in a situation where homes are being built. But I just don’t like the idea of a person or a group of people or like building 48 units and then selling those at very high costs. Because that’s what drives up prices. I live next to that cinema district, for instance, in College Park. So my place isn’t nearly as expensive as that. But because of College Park, my place has gone up in value by like $40,000, or $50,000.

FVC: But isn’t that just because all the places in the Fraser Valley have gone up in value, because there’s just not enough homes?

Fowler: I guess. But I think we kind of hit a bubble. The bubble kind of hit and the prices did start to come down or at least hold it for a little bit. But then say when Cinema District opened, all of a sudden the prices [went up] and I kind of thought it was going to be the opposite because ‘Oh, here’s all these nice new buildings. Nobody’s gonna want to live in my older building.’ But my building’s prices are going up too. So it’s like building highways, right? If you build a four-lane on the highway, all the people off the arterial route are going to come back onto the highway and jam it up. It’s just a never-ending circle. You know, we knock down one big place and build a level of townhouses and they all sell.

FVC: You’re alluding to induced demand where if you build more [highway lanes] more people [drive], but that doesn’t really work for housing?

Fowler: I guess not, but the people who can’t live in Vancouver, move to Port Moody. The people who can’t live in Port Moody move out to Abbotsford the people who can’t live in Abbotsford move out to Hope. I mean idealistically, right? That’s where they can afford to go. I would, myself, I don’t really have a good answer for it. Because I think it’s just something that’s part of the whole capitalist economic system that we live in. And unless we kind of undo that, I think that those that are in power are just going to keep promoting it. And the government’s that have been in place for you know, as we both know, there’s only been two parties that have been in power.

I know that the Liberals are back at the table on the National Housing Strategy this year. They’re talking about money, which is good they’re back at the table, but the National Housing Strategy, which did have included you know that housing is a human right at whatever stage and they haven’t obviously lived up to that. So, I don’t know. It’s just a goofy topic, real estate. Because as a Green Party person, you have to understand that is one of the ideological areas where we’re putting a price on land that really doesn’t belong to us anyways. And yet we take this land that it does belong to us, and we can put a price on it. But all we’re doing by that is harming each other.

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Liberal — Navreen Gill

FVC: To start, are house prices too high?

Gill: Yes house prices are too high. I had a hell of a time even buying my house and that was before the interest rates went down, etc. Now I’m in a ton of debt, and it stresses us out daily, our mortgage payments, me and my husband. So yes, house prices are too high. I think it’s very hard for young people to buy homes, basically impossible at times in certain areas.

FVC: So for you would you want to decrease house prices, even if it leaves owners like yourself with less equity?

Gill: I think that, at the end of the day, if our community is happy, we’re happy. It keeps us more safe, it keeps our neighborhoods more lovely, in terms of wanting young families to come in, etc. So yes, I would be okay with that. For sure. I do feel that we should put certain rules in to help with that, which I think the Liberal government is doing.

FVC: On the same topic, the Liberals have been in power since 2015. And house prices have doubled. I think Tyler did the math this morning, and in one place it had gone up 113%. So why do you think that people should believe that the Liberals can make house prices affordable now, given that they’ve been in power for the last six years?

Gill: So I think that’s a great question. So I think that, unfortunately, house prices have actually been steadily increasing for more than 10 years, in my opinion. And now they finally reached a point where it’s completely unaffordable. I feel that there’s a lot of factors involved in house prices increasing; especially since the pandemic, it’s been one of those things that you really didn’t know what was going to happen, because it’s never happened before. So with the interest rates dropping to extremely low rates, etc., this phenomenon happened where house prices went crazy. Like I was buying my house even before house prices [had increased so much]. I thought at that time house prices were too high. And then the interest rates dropped further. And I had no idea that this would even occur to the extent that it did. So I think it was one of those items that no one could have predicted until it happened. And I feel like they tried to put things in place to help people, like the First Time Homebuyers’ Incentive, etc. I did use it. But I think that it’s become more of an issue since the pandemic. So that’s why I trust that they’re going to do something about it now.

I have to say that they’re actually the first government to even address it in the first place. Because, especially in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver, we’ve always had issues with house prices. I have to say that even 10 years ago, our house prices I feel were too high, and very difficult to buy at that time as well. So yeah, I would say I trust the Liberals because they recognize when something becomes a necessity. And since they’ve been in power, that necessity has increased exponentially due to the very different circumstances that we’ve been in. We haven’t been in a pandemic, I think, for more than 100 years. So I really trust them. I think they care about the middle class, I think they’ve demonstrated that they care about the middle class over and over. I think even other things in their platforms have demonstrated they care about the middle class, they made sure that CERB was available so people wouldn’t go to work sick. I feel like that helps significantly. They made sure that small businesses were supported during the pandemic. They made sure to put childcare and women in their budget, which was really incredible. All of those things actually will help people eventually be able to afford a house. For instance, women weren’t able to even work in the pandemic, because of childcare, etc. So I think the Liberals have really demonstrated that they care about the middle class, and housing affordability is a middle-class issue. And they also raise taxes on the top 1% like they had promised. So I trust that they’ve shown the middle class that they prioritize us, so I can trust them that they know that this is an issue that they will support us in this as well.

FVC: One of the things that we wanted to touch on was relaxing mortgage rules, which some people say should help people get into the market. But a lot of economists also say that it spurs more housing demand and that pushes the prices higher. But these kinds of policies are also really attractive in the short term because they’re easy to implement, right? So is your party willing to make decisions that might be less popular in the short term to make housing more affordable in the long term?

Gill: I think we are. And I think we’ve demonstrated that actually. We don’t want to create, for instance, more financialization of housing. So in our new platform, they’ve actually mentioned that they want to crack down on that. One of my fears, I remember months ago I was hearing that corporations are buying more and more homes and renting them, etc., and increasing rent prices. And I was very proud to see in the Liberal platform that they had actually addressed financialization of housing. So I think that’s a tough decision to crack down on people with taxes or rules, etc. And they’ve made it clear that they’re going to do that.

FVC: Housing isn’t just a federal issue. There’s a lot of different people involved. There’s market housing, subsidized housing, and different levels of government that all need to come together. So how would the Liberal government actually get money out the door to the people who need to make the decisions or put the houses in place?

Gill: So yes, they have a few things in their platform. So for instance, they’re permanently going to increase funding to—I’m memorizing all these things—to the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, so that there are more resources available at the ground level. They also have said that they’re going to be helping people accelerate building homes, at the level of provincial government and city government, etc. Because sometimes we aren’t able to build homes just because we can’t do rezoning, etc. So they have said that they’re going to provide funding for that and support that lower level of government, and a more specific level of government, essentially. And, once again, I’m really happy and proud of that, too, because I think it’s wonderful that they recognize that this is exactly what you said. This is not just a national issue, it’s a provincial issue, it’s a municipal issue. Everyone has to work together to create that. It’s definitely in our platform. And one of the things they’ve said is that they want to make sure that we can accelerate housing at a city level, a town level, etc., by helping accelerate the process with the zoning laws, etc., that may prevent it.

FVC: What can the federal government do to address housing issues in your riding in particular?

Gill: I think the housing issues in our riding is, first of all—and I think it’s been all over the news as well—there is a lack of supply. So I think exactly what I mentioned before, making it easier to build homes, also converting spaces that are office spaces that aren’t used for housing as well, which is in our platform as well. And then lastly, the other thing on our platform that I was really happy about is that they also are doing a national tax on vacant homes, so that there aren’t homes that aren’t being lived in, because I think that’s a big problem in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver as well. So those three things.

These interviews have been very lightly edited for clarity and basic grammar. Nothing of substance has been omitted. Each interview was recorded, but technical difficulties with two interviews makes publishing consistent recordings for each candidate difficult, so in the interest of fairness and consistency, we are publishing the transcripts.

Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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