Langley – Aldergrove candidates talk housing
Candidates in the Langley - Aldergrove riding share their views on housing in the Fraser Valley
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 Langley – Aldergrove, we spoke to NDP candidate Michael Chang and Conservative candidate Tako Van Popta. Liberal candidate Kim Richter and Green candidate Kaija Fastad 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 Langley – Aldergrove to learn more about the election in that riding.
NDP — Michael Chang
FVC: First things first, are house prices too high?
Chang: Oh, I say way, way too high. I think here, one of the main issues is that compared to any other city in the world, I think Vancouver has one of the least affordable housing markets, by far. Not only about the price of the housing, but for someone who actually works here, it is almost impossible to have a house. I remember one of the news [articles] said, [in] not a really high paid job, that someone would need to accumulate their income for 30 years to make a one down payment in the Vancouver market. [Sighs] It doesn’t make any sense.
I think that the one of the main problems is, and if some of the maybe investors, you know, the housing has to be for living. It is not a method of making money out of their housing units and putting the housing or just investment together for high rental income. So I think the basic concept for housing should be changing, and it should be changing for someone who can really work hard and has to buy their home according to their income, they earn for every day.
So I think one of the main issues is probably the offshore investment from some other countries. Because we kind of imposed so many different kinds of taxes, you know, the empty tax, in some other way, but I don’t think it is working right now. So no, I think the best way to have affordable housing is, we need more houses. It should be probably not too expensive housing, or you know, maybe some of the rental housing program for the low-income people. So I think the NDP is trying to build about half a million new houses in the Metro Vancouver area in the next 10 years. And also the atmosphere with taxes is fine for someone using the housing market like the stock market, because you know, when you kind of put up the house and you have a short-term property for buying and selling—they just treat the housing market as a stock market, so it kind of really increased the general price of housing in the area, especially the Vancouver and Burnaby is now having an effect on the Fraser Valley. In Langley and Chilliwack housing prices have increased at least 25% in the last few months. [Editor’s note: Across the FVREB area, prices have increased 14% in the last six months, and 137.5% in the last 10 years.]
So I think the government has to build more houses, and they should have houses for the low-income people with reasonable prices. I think the average rent price for housing is just too expensive. So we have to somehow find a way through the rent price.
FVC: So on that topic of housing prices—you brought up rental housing, which I know is a huge issue for a lot of people out here. But a lot of our questions, and a lot of the things that the platforms are focusing on, is home ownership. So if you want to decrease housing prices, would you be willing to do that even if it left current owners with less equity?
Chang: I think we should. For houses, the main purpose is living, as a kind of the space you are living in. I know for some people, it’s a way of investing for their property. A living property should have a separate kind of an entity for how to deal with the rent price. I know it’s increased probably more than 45%, 50% in the last 25 years. That’s really unheard of in any market. So we have to look at all the numbers and for what is the main reason. There’s so many different reasons. But, you know, we have to think about the kind of middle-class people who have a job here and work here and somehow find a way to where they can find their home in the area that maybe their job isn’t close to. So I think the government has to do something, even though it can have an effect on their equity value for some of the owners but we have to look at the bigger picture. It’s not about some people who own more than two or three houses. And it’s especially for the young people, it is almost impossible to own a house these days, and we have to change something. We should do something about it.
FVC: Looking specifically at the NDP platform, you guys talk a lot about spending money to build housing, as do the Liberals. But building housing is complex. You need land, you need buy-in from other levels of government, and you need the people to actually build the homes as well. So if the NDP got into government, what would you guys do to actually make sure that money got out the door and started building homes?
Chang: Okay, so I think that Canada is a huge country. I immigrated to Canada in 2006, and we have the land, and we have some land we can use for [housing]. In particular, in the town for my riding, which is Langley-Aldergrove, 73% of land is in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and we have some residential areas and the commercial and the community area. So I think we have enough land to build, if the governments are willing to put in some lower cost housing. And then we want to bring not only federal, but provincial money in to build. And the building cost is too high right now.
It is changing almost daily, whenever they try to buy the material for building a house. It increased by 60% in the last three months and the last few weeks it decreased by 40%. So, we have to stabilize the price of the materials for building the house. And we should use more domestic material to build a house. And I think that in that way we can build a much cheaper house than they used to be, and the government has to do something about lowering the price.
I think the Conservatives had a promise about one million new houses. And the Liberals have a very similar promise. But we cannot control the marketplace. So, now the price comes with the supply and demand, so we bring more new numbers of homes for the supply, the price will be stabilizing some time down the road.
And people are moving in from the west to the east for the last three or four years. So, still, hopefully we have a reasonable price range, but especially for Langley and Abbotsford, the pricing isn’t stabilizing, so we need more housing in this area as well, so we can absorb some of the population from the west side. So that is our platform for housing.
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Conservative — Tako Van Popta
FVC: The first question that we’re asking all the candidates is: are house prices too high?
Van Popta: [Laughs] Canada has a housing affordability crisis, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. And Metro Vancouver is ground zero for that crisis. I’ve spoken to so many people here in my riding, constituents, young families, who are giving up hope. And that’s not a good thing. We need to keep the dream of homeownership alive. Let’s go back to the start of the pandemic. If a young family had decided around that time to maybe save up for another year, or 18 months, for a down payment for their first home today, they are $150,000 further behind. They did everything right. They’re being responsible, and homeownership is just slipping through their fingers. And that’s just not acceptable.
So yes, we have a housing affordability crisis, and it runs so deep, you know. Because we’re talking about an economic relaunch, right, get the economy going, again, post pandemic. And we need to get people back to work. The Conservatives are saying we’re going to get a million people back to work. While here in the Lower Mainland, if you can’t afford a house, where are you going to live to take the job that’s being offered to you? So it’s a deep, it’s a fundamental, it’s a systemic problem that needs to be tackled. The Conservative Party talks about supply and we have a supply problem. And the Liberal policies so far have just been like band-aid solutions to something that really needs major surgery. And supply obviously has to be a big part of that solution. I talk a lot about transit-oriented urban development. I’m so pleased that both parties have agreed now—both my party, the Conservative Party, and the Liberal Party—have agreed that the federal government needs to come to the table to get the SkyTrain going all the way into Langley. I’ve been making a lot of noise about that. In my two years in Parliament, my very first speech in the house, talked about the need to get SkyTrain to Langley. And that obviously gives people a choice of transportation. It’s much greener to be able to get cars off the road. But also fundamentally, it gives municipalities opportunities to open up new housing along transit routes, and that needs to be a big part of the solution. I’m very pleased that the Conservative Party’s platform includes that. Working together with municipalities to get urban development around transit stations.
FVC: How are you planning on getting kind of cooperation from all the different levels of government that need to come together to make this housing supply happen?
Van Popta: So the two years that I’ve been in Parliament so far, I’ve had many conversations with provincial people, with mayors of the two cities that touch my riding, both Mayor Henry Braun of Abbotsford and Jack Froese of Langley, to talk about transportation. I spoke with the TransLink people to develop strategies. They’re helping me develop strategy in how to reach out to the government in Ottawa to get them to come to the table to commit to funding. So, yeah, Canada is a complicated country, you know, with various different levels of government. And the way this country works is that these levels of government have to come together. I’ve had some early successes so far.
FVC: So another question that we have is around equity. And so you know, houses are too expensive. You’re saying we have a supply problem. So would you want to decrease house prices, even if it leaves current owners with less equity?
Van Popta: That’s a really good question. I get the example of the couple in my riding who are $150,000 further behind. For every story like that there’s another family who’s $150,000 further ahead, and pretty pleased with that. Yeah, so I understand that. You know, I’m a homeowner, and it was the biggest investment that my family made, and it’s the foundation of our family’s financial stability, and that it should be for most people. Yeah, no, so I’m not hoping that house prices, you know, that they’re going to lose their equity. But we do need to moderate the increase in house prices—like it’s way beyond the rate of inflation. It’s just unacceptable. Nobody, nobody wants that. That’s just not good for our economy at all. And how are we going to do that? We’re going to increase the supply. House prices aren’t going to come plummeting down. But people do have to have a goal in mind, right? This family, right, that saved up for another year for their down payment, if prices had gone up at the rate of inflation—like 4%, let’s say—they would have accepted that. But prices have gone up 35%. That’s unacceptable.
FVC: I was looking through your platform, and we saw that you have a plan to bring new housing into the market, which obviously you’ve been talking about a lot. But you also have a plan to try and make mortgages more affordable, largely, it seems, by changing some of the rules around the stress test or reducing the need for it. But economists say that relaxing mortgage rules spurs more housing demand, and that tends to push prices higher. It doesn’t necessarily make homes more affordable or make it easier for people to get in on the ground. So how do you square that part of your party’s platform with the housing prices that you say are too high?
Van Popta: Obviously, people need to borrow money from a bank in the form of mortgage financing to buy a house. And if the rules, if the stress test makes it even more difficult to get into a house, that doesn’t solve the problem. Again, I go back to supply, right. It’s a lack of supply that’s not meeting the demand. And the Liberal’s policy has been to try to reduce demand by making it more difficult to get into a house. That does not solve the problem. The problem is fundamental. And the solution needs to be fundamental. We need to increase the supply. So that supply meets demand.
FVC: But that’s still not necessarily solving the issue of increasing house prices. Because if you’re lowering the mortgage rates, that might still increase the demand.
Van Popta: Well, yeah, logically that does because more people are now able to get into the housing market. But don’t forget, people who can’t afford to buy a house for various reasons including the stress test, are renting. And the price of rental housing is way too expensive as well. There’s a supply problem there as well. So, you know, making things even more difficult for homeownership, I don’t think solves a problem. So I agree with our party’s platform to make getting a mortgage easier. It’s going to get people out of the rental market into hopefully homeownership, right, which is, you know, the Canadian dream. And I think that they should be supported in that.
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.