MACNAIR: Impact of home ownership struggle reaches deep

I’m a renter. Always have been and, sadly, probably always will be.

Like many post-Gen Xers, I took a long time finding my career path and lost a good 10 to 15 years of time I could have spent gathering savings and building equity.

Now at 40 with two children, I’ve accepted the fact I’ll never own a slice of Canada. All of my savings go into a registered education savings plan so that the next generation will get the head start I never did.

Not that I’m alone in this struggle. A vast number of 40-and-under Metro Vancouver residents have been disenfranchised from home ownership by a combination of housing scarcity and foreign land speculation – a recent PriceWaterhouse Cooper and Urban Land Institute report revealed Vancouver is a "hedge city" dependent on foreign investors to keep the real estate market afloat. God forbid protectionist legislation keep single-family houses below the $1 million mark.

The good news for renters is that we’re not immediately liable for short-term disasters like replacing a roof or a hot water tank. The landlord pays for that.

The bad news is that over a 20-year renting span, it’s hard not to feel sick to your stomach that you’ve handed over $300,000 to pay off somebody else’s mortgage. So, in essence, you kind of did pay for that roof and hot water tank.

The idea that Canada’s working underclass is subsidizing the middle class is one I’ve never really come to terms with. It’s not exactly Dickensian levels of exploitation but to walk away empty-handed – not to mention in debt from impossibly large student loans – after 20 years of working is more depressing than the weather in late November.

According to a new province-wide survey by B.C.’s Non-Profit Housing Association of 517,000 rental units, nearly a quarter of people are spending more than half their gross income on rent and utilities. The BCNPHA used the data to create an affordability index which found, unsurprisingly, that the Lower Mainland is in a "critical" situation.

The housing affordability crunch is one of the most-discussed problems in our region,

and yet few seem to properly associate it with our equally disturbing social problems. The topic of crime was top-of-mind during the recent Surrey civic election and yet more police officers was the only suggestion most candidates offered as a solution.

B.C. has the highest poverty rate (12 per cent) and the highest child poverty rate (18 per cent) in Canada according to data mined from Statistics Canada in 2011. Although the vast majority of the working poor are law-abiding, criminal activity and poverty are closely linked.

If the cost of social/subsidized housing is considered too expensive for the provincial government, these figures may be sobering: According to a 2011 report entitled The Cost of Poverty in B.C. authored by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives the cost of crime to the B.C. taxpayer is $3.3 billion, of which $131 million is attributable to poverty.

But while there are certainly regional differences in housing and income, one commonality seems to span the entire country, if not the developed world. In a report released by the Conference Board of Canada in September, the income gap between older and younger workers have expanded massively since the 1980s, leaving today’s 20-something workforce the first generation of Canadians to be worse off than their parents.

The income gap has risen so dramatically that, according to the report, the average disposable income of today’s 50-to-54-yearolds is now 64 per cent higher than 25-to-29-year-olds.

Today the boomers are using their wealth and equity to help some of their children gain entry into the housing market by offering to make the downpayment or loan them the equivalent. The bank of mom and dad is currently the best subsidized housing solution on the market.

We can do better than that – we must do better than that. The rhetoric that the children are the future must be about more than a political catchphrase.

By putting each new generation of young people in greater debt from student loans, entering into professions with diminishing returns for their educational investment, all the while offering them no opportunity to buy into asset ownership and equity growth, we’re disenfranchising our own children from prosperity.

I’m willing to give up on my own dreams of owning a piece of the country but I do want more for my children. Don’t you?

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