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The Most Dangerous Consequences of Canada’s Housing Affordability Crisis Are Yet to be Felt

By: Chris Andreou

Housing affordability is becoming the defining issue for many Canadians. Each day that passes without meaningful action puts Canada at greater risk of becoming a country of haves and have-nots, all based on who was fortunate enough to own property before the meteoric rise in prices. Policies enacted to date at the federal, provincial and municipal levels have been welcome, but ultimately shallow and clearly insufficient. Just last month, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals included one minor policy towards housing affordability in its first budget in two years - a 1% tax on vacant houses owned by non-residents. This measure fell far short of a substantive response to this issue. Such policies lacking concrete action are alienating generations of young and new Canadians who feel like their government is aware of a major societal issue, but unwilling to take necessary action. And unless action is taken and tangible results delivered, the legacy of all federal, provincial, and municipal governments who have overseen this failure will be one of disappointment and possibly something more pernicious. The social contract between many Canadians and their government is coming close to the breaking point. To secure future prosperity of Canadians from coast to coast to coast, housing affordability should be made a top policy priority.

Nowhere is this issue more salient than with younger generations. As a 28 year old, it feels like housing affordability is all myself and my friends speak about. It has been extremely disheartening to hear many of my peers express hopelessness for owning property in the Greater Toronto Area, with some even going as far as to contemplate leaving Canada altogether. There is a general sentiment that the system is distorted, and that our leaders know this but are unwilling to do anything about it. This sentiment rings across political ideologies. Friends my age with once unshakeable political values are now expressing their willingness to put aside critical priorities such as climate change, to vote for any party that proposes concrete measures to address the housing affordability crisis. Admittedly, all of this is purely anecdotal, but it must be noted that most of my network, including myself, are extremely privileged. We are highly educated, have stable careers and well paying jobs, and our parents and grandparents own property that will eventually be passed down. If we are feeling this way, I can only imagine that people who are in disadvantaged situations must feel beyond hopeless.

Meanwhile, over the last several years Canada has been accepting more immigrants than it has since the early 20th century, and plans on increasing this number even further. My grandfather arrived alone in Canada in the 1950s from a small village in Northern Greece, and after working hard was able to start a modest restaurant, buy a house, and support his family of a wife and three children. I cannot imagine this is still the case for his contemporary peers. While current immigrants will undoubtedly be initially ecstatic upon arriving in their new home, they too will soon face the daunting prospect of purchasing exorbitantly priced property. But unlike many young Canadians who will have the privilege of family property they can count on to be passed down, new arrivals have no such luck. It is no surprise that a recent report from Social Planning Toronto showed that Toronto’s immigrant and racialized communities are hardest hit by this housing crisis, and are living in increasingly precarious housing. Just as runaway housing affordability risks disillusioning the young generation, new Canadians will likely become similarly disillusioned if these trends continue. If immigrants begin to see that despite their best efforts, they cannot get ahead in their new country, they may rightly feel disenfranchised and excluded from an important aspect of Canadian life.

This has been an ongoing issue for nearly a decade, and a failure to take meaningful policy action will have major consequences felt for generations. What began with rapid increases of home prices in metropolitan areas has now extended to an unprecedented country-wide issue, leaving younger generations and new Canadians disproportionately impacted. This article is not meant to raise awareness of the issue (awareness is high) or propose a solution (the issue is more complex than a short article can address). Rather, it is meant to instill the urgency of this issue, and demonstrate what is at risk, should governments across all levels fail to take more meaningful action. It is time to make housing affordability a top policy priority.

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