Chilliwack – Hope candidates talk housing

Candidates in the Chilliwack - Hope riding share their views on housing in the Fraser Valley

By Tyler Olsen | September 13, 2021 |6:00 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 Chilliwack – Hope, we spoke to NDP candidate DJ Pohl and Liberal candidate Kelly Velonis. Conservative candidate Mark Strahl and Green candidate Arthur Green 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 Chilliwack – Hope to learn more about the election in that riding.

NDP — DJ Pohl

FVC: Are house prices too high at the moment?

Pohl: Yes, absolutely. House prices are too high. They have been skyrocketing for many years now and we are actually at one of the fastest-growing housing prices in all of the G7. And, you know, not just housing in terms of buying, but also renting prices as well. Every single province across the country saw rents rise last year and 1.6 million households are spending more than 30% of their income on housing. So absolutely, housing prices are too high.

FVC: The obvious follow up is, what do you do to try to depress those housing prices?

Pohl: So there’s lots of things that can be done. And ultimately, we want to look at the overall situation of what housing looks like, especially locally in our riding, in Chilliwack to Hope. We are fast-growing communities with exponential population growth. People are moving out towards the valley. That is impacting what housing and housing prices look like for us out here, on top of the already skyrocketing prices and rental prices and ballooning housing costs. So taking that all into account, people are going to have different access points into housing and have different needs with regards to housing right there. You may have young families looking to purchase their first home. You have vulnerable populations, including seniors and people living with disabilities, looking to ensure they have stable housing, and that might be in a rental market where they’re facing demovictions and skyrocketing rental prices. We also have a population of people in our communities who are unhoused and need access to affordable housing as well as additional resources and supports to address the underlying issues and reasons that someone may be unhoused to begin with. So it depends on all those different access points into the housing market, or housing in general, what we’re looking at here. They might have different answers and exactly what to do. But ultimately we need to approach this in a way that impacts the supply and the demand issue here. And part of this is ensuring that there are an appropriate amount of affordable housing units available. So whether that looks like—we could look at growing towards mandating a percentage into new builds in CMHC legislation and mandates.

Right now the federal NDP is committing to develop at least 500,000 units of quality affordable housing in the next 10 years, with half of that done within the first five years. There’s also commitments to waive the federal portion of the GST and HST on construction of new affordable rental units, which will help kickstart that construction that’s needed, and it creates jobs and ensures that those remain affordable for the long term. The NDP is also committed to reintroducing the 30-year terms to the CMHC and increase the homebuyers tax credit to $1,500. In addition to that, there’s also addressing the money laundering and the speculation aspect of things that is also raising housing prices. And the commitments there are on a 20% foreign buyers tax on the sale of homes to individuals who aren’t citizens or permanent resident residents. And then fighting money laundering further, which includes creating a public beneficial ownership registry to increase transparency about who owns which properties.

FVC: So as the Liberals have done, your plan talks about spending a lot of money to build new housing. But they found that they could pledge a lot of money but actually getting the houses built and the homes built is very complex. You need land, you need cooperation from local levels of government. You need people to actually build the homes. What do you actually do to get that money and that money out the door and that promise actually fulfilled?

Pohl: That’s a great question. So working collaboratively with all levels of government to ensure that these units are getting built is an incredibly important piece of this to ensure that we have success, that they’re built quickly. And we’ve seen the Liberal and Conservative governments commit to a certain dollar amount towards these types of things, and not execute on getting them done. The federal NDP is committed to getting these built quickly. The waving of the taxes on the affordable rental builds will help jumpstart and kickstart that construction on those units so they’re built as quickly as possible. That’s one route. But it does also take significant collaboration with the provinces as well as municipal governments to ensure these projects are what the community needs, which requires open communication between all partnerships, and what’s available in the community and having that opportunity to address the specific community needs.

FVC: So how do you know the NDP will be able to to execute that communication side of things, and the execution of that plan better than previous governments?

Pohl: Laid out in our platform there’s specific examples on how these pieces can be delivered right away and how they target both the supply and the demand side issue. So under the leadership of Jagmeet Singh and the federal NDP—basically comparing to other governments who make empty promises and don’t deliver on them—Jagmeet Singh and the NDP will absolutely deliver on this as quickly as possible, because we know that it’s of the utmost importance to voters in terms of affordability and ensuring that people deserve to have that right to housing and a roof over their head. And this is being prioritized as an issue that could be implemented and starting to work on immediately. Those plans differ from the other parties in that they’re not even looking to initiate those processes for some years down the line.

FVC: Finally, economists have said that relaxing mortgage rules further just helps spur more housing demand and in turn push prices higher, and doesn’t actually make homes more affordable over the long-term. Why do you think that expanding the mortgage terms wouldn’t do that? Or is there a way to do that that doesn’t have long-term repercussions?

Pohl: Changing those rules to ensure that people have more funds freed up to use to support themselves in the community is a way that people are going to be supported for the long-term. And if they didn’t have that opportunity to make smaller payments on those mortgages at that time, the likelihood of being able to even enter the housing market, especially right now as things are, is nearly impossible for a young family. So reintroducing that 30-year term on entry level homes for first-time homebuyers actually ensures that those smaller housing monthly payments can be met and it frees up money for to meet the needs of both families on other bills and will create an opportunity for people to enter the housing market that would otherwise not have had that opportunity.

FVC: But does that not just create more demand, which then pushes prices even higher?

Pohl: So part of part of addressing that and ensuring that folks who want to live in that neighborhood and enter the housing market can be competitive against those rising prices is being able to address it through the speculation tax as well to ensure that a local family who wants to live and work in that neighborhood, or maybe stay in the neighborhood that they grew up and grew up in, can do so by ensuring that there is a 20% tax for foreign buyers, so that they’re not competing with people that aren’t subject to financing and have just liquid cash to to put down in order to turn up profit, because ultimately, everyone has a right to have housing and a roof over their head.

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Liberal — Kelly Velonis

FVC: To start off with, are house prices too high?

Velonis: Absolutely they’re too high. We are right now in the middle of a housing crisis. I look at young Canadians who can’t even dream of—my own children—who don’t see the same future that we had in buying a home. And that’s what I think it’s just so imperative right now, with the Liberal government’s three-part housing plan. We’re going to unlock home ownership. We’re going to help families save money to buy their first home. We’re going to help them save up to $30,000. We need to build more homes and we also need to protect the right. Here in Chilliwack-Hope alone, we’ve seen such an increase in our housing prices soar astronomically through this pandemic. That’s put homeownership out of reach for many people. So then let’s take a look at our people that are living on the streets or homelessness: how will they ever get into the renting market, if we don’t make more homes affordable for Canadians? We need to have more affordable housing projects, working with our provincial government, with our municipalities.

We have in the past, I’m very proud of the National Housing Strategy that the Liberal government introduced in 2017. And thankfully, Chilliwack was able to actually see three of those projects come to fruition here in Chilliwack. We had a development on Webb Avenue of affordable housing, that was a joint project. It was a 67-unit apartment complex. And it was a joint project with the CMHC Rental Construction Financing Initiative. Try to say that one too many times [laughed]. And so we were able to build affordable housing. We also saw a 36-unit affordable housing project between the Liberal government, the provincial government, the City of Chilliwack, and Ruth and Naomi’s. And this project also included a 20 daycare spaces and nine treatment beds at Ruth and Naomi’s for at-risk [people]. And we’ve also seen another $5 million investment into an affordable housing complex on Edward Street in Chilliwack. So we’ve been really fortunate. I’ve talked to people in the municipal government, and this is something that they’ve been waiting for, for a long time. Chilliwack officials have been trying for years to get Chilliwack qualified for this. And we have affordable housing stock. And now it’s becoming a reality.

FVC: Going back to the start of your conversation, you said that house prices were too high. So would you want to decrease house prices, even if it leaves owners with less equity?

Velonis: I don’t think it’s as simple a question as that. I think what we need to do to decrease housing prices is really curb unproductive foreign ownership and continue to work to end chronic homelessness. So it’s really working with private, nonprofit and co-op parties to work with. We’re presenting $1 billion in loans and grants to continue to work with these people to make renting more affordable. The last thing we want to do is take people that own homes right now and make their mortgage payments unattainable for them. We have to find a common ground here. And that common ground is building more affordable housing, building smaller homes, using some of our federal land to build those homes on. We need to really work with our province and our municipal government to make this come to fruition. There’re many nonprofit organizations out there, co-op organizations that want to build and they’re looking to build. What we need to do is cut that red tape for them. As we know, it’s really really difficult. In municipal, there’s a backlog of zoning and getting these things off the ground. So that’s where I think the federal government needs to step in and work jointly with the province and with the municipality to get these things up and going.

FVC: The parliamentary budget officer found that government spending on assisted housing hasn’t increased since the Liberals took power. So why should people think that the Liberal government would be capable of following through on its large housing policies?

Velonis: But it has increased. Because since we introduced the National Housing Strategy in 2017, there has been billions of dollars put into housing strategies and infrastructure. Have we done enough? No, we haven’t. That’s why we need to continue working and continue moving forward. [Editor’s note: Although overall spending has increased under the Liberal’s housing strategy, the CHMC saw only a 9% in funding for programs to help low-income households find housing. This represents a 15% decrease in the real purchasing power of those funds.]

FVC: Since the Liberals have been in power since 2015, house prices have doubled across BC, across Canada, we’ve all seen it. And the Liberals haven’t been able to bring that back. So what makes you think that now’s the time that you guys will be able to rein that in? Why should people be agreeing with you on that?

Velonis: Because I think now we have to put more effort into unproductive foreign ownership. That is one thing. And house flipping, we really need to be putting our efforts into that. As well as I think, right now, we need to follow through on our commitment with the Indigenous communities to look at housing projects that work with them. Support Indigenous housing, and our work on chronic homelessness. Right now in Chilliwack, we are working with the Reaching Home Program, which the Liberal federal government has put money into communities to help them with homelessness, which then funnels that money down through nonprofits that are that are looking to partner with CMHC, to partner with Housing BC, to make more affordable housing. So we are making steps. Are they fast enough? No, they’re not fast enough, unfortunately. So we just need to continue moving forward.

We need to build more homes. And in our plans we report, the Liberals will build, preserve, and repair and additional 1.4 million homes in the next four years. It’s a lofty goal, but it’s an attainable goal, because we have the plan laid out to get the work done.

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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