BUCHOLTZ: High cost of housing hits home for too many

The pocketbook issue that may prove to have the biggest influence on how people vote May 9 is housing

The pocketbook issue that may prove to have the biggest influence on how people vote May 9 is housing.

Looking back at the cost and availability of housing when the last election was held in 2013, there is no comparison with the multiplicity of challenges on that front today.

While the cost of detached houses had risen substantially, sale prices were nowhere near what they are today. Townhouses and apartments were affordable for most. Interest rates were low, as they are today, but the initial purchase cost meant monthly payments were significantly less.

In May 2013, the average sale price for a detached house in North and Central Surrey and Cloverdale was between $540,000 and $588,000. In South Surrey and White Rock, the average sale price was already beginning to rise to more stratospheric levels; the average sale was $1.142 million.

For townhouses in Surrey, according to the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, the average price was between $283,000 and $356,000. In White Rock and South Surrey, it was $475,000. Condo sale prices averaged from a high of $315,000 in White Rock/South Surrey to a low of $175,000 in nearby North Delta.

Prices had gone up about 10 to 11 per cent – slightly higher in South Surrey/White Rock – in the previous three years. It was not an unstable market.

Last month, the average sale price for detached houses in all of Surrey was over $1 million – $1,020,561 to be exact. The lowest-priced area – $846,000 – was in North Surrey. In White Rock/South Surrey, the average sale price was $1,439,693.

Townhouses and apartments had also gone up, although not as much. In all of Surrey, the average sale price was $518,137; in White Rock/South Surrey, $629,834. Condo average sale prices were $305,020 in all areas of Surrey; $402,260 in White Rock/South Surrey.

The real estate board also notes the sales inventory levels of townhouses and apartments is low, putting even more pressure on prices.

People who rent may think this does not affect them. It does. Higher prices put pressure on the rental market. Landlords are supposed to keep rent increases to a modest level, but there are ways around that.

In addition, few purpose-built rentals are coming onto the market, because there is such a strong demand from buyers.

There are already stories of landlords trying to get 25 to 30 per cent rent increases.

High housing prices even add to homelessness numbers, which are at record levels. Some people who are homeless are working, and simply cannot find a place within their budget. Some sleep in their vehicles. Others are living in travel trailers and other accommodation meant to be short-term.

The three main contenders in the election have released various ideas about housing as part of their platforms. Voters who are concerned about affordability and availability will find it worthwhile to go over the plans of each party.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Now-Leader, as well as at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca. E-mail: frank.bucholtz@gmail.com