Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday that housing affordability measures were coming “very soon,” but most industry types seem to agree that government measures aren’t going to do much. There is no one factor to blame for our record-breaking high prices, and therefore no government measure comprehensive enough to cover it all, from foreign buyers and domestic investors to the OMB. There simply isn’t supply to meet demand, and raising interest rates, the one measure that cools all heels, has too many potential ramifications.
Nevertheless, Ontario’s PC leader Patrick Brown urged Wynne to release her plan immediately, saying that “wild speculation” isn’t helping her cause, and that “musing” about it has created “uncertainty and chaos” that’s also affecting the rental market. If conjecture is news, the internet is awash in it.
The reality is that as long as people want to live in Toronto, the demand is not going away. Selling off government real estate for buildable land, a measure Brown urged, isn’t an immediate solution, as developers would first vie for it and then have to undergo the lengthy approvals process before building could even begin. I suspect another reality is that the days of anyone but the rich buying detached homes in the city centre are gone. If there’s a theme in our market over the last few years, it’s condos.
In his book The Death and Life of the Single-Family Home, UBC sociology professor Nathanael Lauster, traces the change in housing trends in Vancouver since the 1960s; the city has transitioned from having the highest percentage of its population living in single-family houses to one of the lowest in North America, down from 70% in 1961 to 34% today. And yet, it is widely recognized as one of the world’s most livable cities.
As a sociologist, Lauster’s book centres on how people define “home” itself, and how embracing diverse housing forms has led city residents to an improved quality of life. Detached houses, he believes, with their abundance of private space, can deaden the urban experience; likewise long commutes also contribute to residents’ failing to participate in the social life of cities.
What needs to change isn’t interest rates, then, but our definition of “home.” Are we ready for the increased social contact that comes from living in townhomes and condos, where mingling with the neighbours is unavoidable, or will we be dragged, cranky and kvetching, into the inevitable housing evolution?
Can the market cool itself?
Even though we tend to look to government intervention to help cool the crisis, the market itself will do it better, says Joe Chidley of the Financial Post.
In a recent column, Chidley makes some interesting points about goal-setting: nothing the government has done in Vancouver or Toronto has “worked” yet, anyway, in part because nobody actually knows what “worked” would mean.
In order for a median-earner in Toronto to be able to afford an average home in Toronto, prices would have to go down by 50%, he reckons. The much-touted “problem,” he says, isn’t a problem at all: “Eventually, rising demand and falling supply will work themselves out.”
Since none of us has a crystal ball, his theory is as valid as any.