A Rent Freeze Is Not The Solution

We are no doubt living in some extremely challenging times in BC and for anyone trying to find suitable housing, whether they are a renter or a prospective first-time home buyer, it can be a frustrating exercise.  As the industry association representing owners and managers of market rental housing in British Columbia, an industry that provides homes for over 30% of BC households, LandlordBC is acutely aware of the frustration, and share the concern for our persistently low vacancy rates.  That is why LandlordBC continues to advocate on behalf of both landlords and renters to all levels of government, encouraging them to aggressively get in the game and help our industry build more badly needed purpose-built rental housing.  Until we see the scale of development of purpose-built rental in Metro Vancouver approaching that of the Puget Sound Region (Seattle area), wherein for the 3-year period 2015, 2016 and 2017 in the order of 43,000 units of purpose-built rental housing were completed and available for rent, our persistently low vacancy rates will continue.  Purpose-built rental housing is the right supply and we need to build more of it, and fast.

The reasons we are in the mess we are when it comes to rental housing traces back to over 30 years ago when progressive Federal tax policy disappeared – a Federal tax policy which encouraged the building of over 1,000,000 units of rental housing across Canada during the roughly 10-year period of the program. It was shortly thereafter that the “world” discovered condos, and by the “world” I mean the Feds, Provinces, Cities & Municipalities, and the development community. The rest is essentially history. They all soon realized that building purpose-built rental was less lucrative for all them.  Condos were the cash cow that just kept on giving.  Why no one realized that when you stop building one of the most important forms of housing, namely purpose-built rental, the result could be some very negative consequences in the housing continuum, is beyond us.

Rental Building

There is an immediate transitional measure that Government can take to help renters, and that is the provision of meaningful renter supports in the form of portable housing benefits.  Portable housing benefits target those in need and are the quickest and most effective way to deliver immediate assistance to renters. Two good examples of portable housing benefits here in BC are SAFER and RAP, both of which received important additional funding in February’s provincial budget, for which we applaud Minister James and Minister Robinson.  The Feds, via the National Housing Strategy, proposed to establish a national portable housing program albeit only if the Provinces match dollar-for-dollar and, not until 2020 when they hope to have a won the next election.  Renters need this money now with a commitment to provide much more!

In addition to providing immediate financial relief for renters, portable housing benefits enable renters to chose where they wish to live, maintain their mobility for employment purposes, and enhance overall housing security. 

A rent freeze is not the solution. The notion that freezing rents will address current rental housing challenges completely ignores the fact that the net result will instead mean less rental supply as secondary market landlords, in particular, get out of the business or leap to home sharing platforms like AirBnB. Owners of existing purpose-built rental buildings will freeze all investment for the maintenance and enhancement of their buildings and, new construction will stop dead; not only because the business case is gone for the developer but, because the banks, pensions funds and CMHC will all say we are not lending you any money to build rental in this environment.  This is the harsh reality and those who are advocating for a rent freeze need to consider the unintended consequences.