The federal Liberals have raised some concerns in B.C.’s real estate community with an election statement, released September 1, that hints at governments seizing privately-owned vacant land that could be used for affordable housing.
A Liberal election brochure explaining its Housing Plan states that a re-elected Liberal government would create a $4 billion Housing Accelerator Fund “which will grow the annual housing supply in the country’s largest cities every year.”
The fund is aimed at a target of 100,000 new homes by 2024-24, which would be affordable to “middle-class” buyers.
However, the statement goes on to read:
“We will also work with municipalities within this program to identify vacant or underused property that should be converted to housing on the principle of use it or lose it – that core urban land should be available for new housing, not left vacant as an unproductive investment property.”
Some, such as the B.C. Real Estate Association (BCREA), see the “use or lose it” term as a veiled reference to possible seizure of privately-owned land if the government decides it should be used to provide housing.
An Ottawa-based spokesman for the Liberal Party of Canada dismissed the term as a “colloquial saying.”
“We are not proposing the seizure of private land,” he said in a telephone interview from the Liberal campaign’s media office. The reasoning behind the statement is that some of the $4 billion in federal funding could be used by major municipalities to purchase such land and convert it to housing, he explained.
When asked what would happen if a land owner with a potential residential site refused to sell, the spokesman said, “I really don’t know.”
The BCREA, which released a statement August 31 calling on governments to help increase the supply of housing, is among those questioning the federal Liberal messaging.
“Regarding the “use it or lose it” line in the Liberal party platform, in addition to a number of risks associated with the policy – including a potential infringement on property rights – it is important to see details around how “vacant or underused” will be addressed,” said a statement from the BCREA's senior communication specialist.
“We are pleased to see the discussions around housing affordability take centre stage during the election campaign," said BCREA CEO Darlene Hyde. "However, what we've seen promised so far falls short of what is needed to make a significant, long-lasting impact. It is important for our new government to make creating a comprehensive housing strategy focused on increasing supply an immediate top priority."