Market mechanisms within municipal control

Mr. Jangula’s comments regarding rental housing affordability, which simplify it to an issue of “supply and demand”, ignores the market mechanisms which are very much within municipal control. Onerous building regulations, slow building application turnaround times, and arduous rezoning processes have the net effect of driving up the cost of building, or stymying development all together. This then creates an artificial supply shortage, whether intended or not, that further restricts an already tight rental market. So I suppose Mr. Jangula’s comments were correct, we do indeed have a supply issue.

Examples of this artificial market manipulation are not just present in Courtenay. Comox stands out as the worst offender. Rental properties in Comox have an “owner occupied” requirement for any suite conversions; owners must reside on the property in order for a suite to be legally allowed on the property. This removes property investors from the marketplace, and restricts investments in properties for the purposes of creating rental units. Comox council supports affordable housing initiatives, just NIMBY.

Given the enticement of high rents, the presence of “illegal suites” has also become rampant; with a lack of action by municipal government to change the rules the “black market” has stepped in to fill the demand as it always does. The problem with illegal suites is they lack municipal oversight to ensure the safety of their tenants; fire breaks between the units are not installed, linked smoke alarms are not in place, and the list goes on. In addition to the multitude of safety issues that stem from illegal suites, the municipal government misses out on the tax revenue that could be generated from legalizing these suites. It’s a lose-lose situation for both the tenant and the municipality.

So now that we can agree with Mr. Jangula that we do have an issue that can be boiled down to “supply and demand”, what do our municipal governments plan to do about it? The mechanisms for the supply shortage are very much within their control to manipulate to create affordable and sustainable housing.

The good news is that a co-ordinated effort by our municipal governments can “fix” this problem through simple changes to their zoning bylaws to encourage densification and legal suites. The end result will be safer, more affordable rental housing, and higher municipal tax revenues. Seems like a win-win to me.

Brennan Day

Comox

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