Rising housing prices key issue for Langley voters

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

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

In Langley, the cost of housing was very stable, and had been for some time. Sale prices were nowhere near what they are today.

Townhouses and apartments were definitely affordable for most working people. Interest rates were low, as they are today, but the monthly payments were significantly less, simply because the initial cost was less.

In May 2013, the average sale price for a detached house in Langley was $567,433. This was actually down from the average price a year earlier of $582,907.

The average sale price for townhouses in Langley was $328,941, while the apartment sale price average was $204,289. All figures are from the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board.

Prices had actually been on a plateau for more than five years, with barely any change in that time. There had been some decline in 2008-09 as a result of the financial crisis, but it had little lasting effect on the Canadian real estate market.

Contrast that with the real estate board’s March 2017 statistics.

They show that the benchmark price for all types of housing in Langley had risen to $642,000, up 49.6 per cent in three years and 53.6 per cent in five years.

The average sale price for detached houses this March was $975,860 – a change of 8.3 per cent from a year earlier. The benchmark price for detached houses in Langley, which provides a broader market view, actually rose by 17 per cent from March 2016 to March 2017.

Townhouses and apartments had also gone up, by even higher percentages. In Langley, the average sale price was $506,437 in March 2017 – up 23.6 per cent in one year.

The average sale price for apartments was $309,893, up 32.2 per cent in one year. In March 2016, the average sale price had been $234,380.

The real estate board has also noted in its report on March sales activity that the inventory levels of townhouses and apartments for sale is low, putting even more pressure on sale prices. Due to the skyrocketing prices for detached housing, more than half of all sales in the total board area, which include North Delta, Surrey, White Rock, Langley, Abbotsford and Mission, are townhouses and apartments. This has occurred for seven straight months. Total sales in the board area in March were 2,213 housing units.

This dramatic price increase has a huge impact on everyone in the housing market, not just buyers and sellers.

People who rent may think this does not affect them, but it does. Higher sales prices for houses, whether detached or attached, put significant upward pressure on the rental market.

Landlords are supposed to keep rent increases to a modest annual level, but there are many ways around that restriction. In addition, few purpose-built rentals are coming onto the market, because there is such a strong demand from potential buyers. Boosting rents is particularly easy for owners of basement suites, where there is often a higher than usual turnover of tenants.

In Langley City, where 35 per cent of the housing stock is rentals, and much of it is very affordable by most standards, there is terrific pressure to convert rental properties to stratas, or tear down older units and replace them with new ones.

High housing prices even add to homelessness numbers, which are at record levels in Langley.

Some people who are homeless are working, and simply cannot find a place to rent within their budget.

Some of them sleep in their vehicles.

Others are not officially homeless, but are living in travel trailers and other accommodation which is meant to be short-term and temporary.

The three contending parties in the election have released various ideas about housing as part of their platforms.

Those who are concerned about housing affordability and availability, and are planning to vote, will find it worthwhile to go over the plans each party has to deal with housing issues.

Housing is a crucial part of our daily lives, and it’s something that every one of us needs.

Frank Bucholtz is a retired Langley Times editor. Find his thoughts on issues affecting communities south of the Fraser at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca.