1st-time homebuyers grant only serves the 'privileged,' UBC professor says

A University of British Columbia professor says the B.C. government's new program to provide first-time homebuyers with loans to cover their down payment is misguided.

The B.C. Home Owner Mortgage and Equity Partnership program, announced on Dec.15, will provide a loan up to $37,500 with a 25-year mortgage. The loan is interest-free and payment-free for the first five years and can be used towards a home with a purchase price up to $750,000.

Nathanael Lauster, an associate professor in sociology and the author of The Life and Death of the Single-Family House: Lessons from Vancouver on Building a Livable City, told CBC's The Early Edition the program focuses on people who don't need as much support.

"These are people who already have a high enough income, so that they can apply for these mortgages and get them," he said. "That's a very privileged set of people already in terms of people who are in the housing market to be focusing your attention on."

Instead, Lauster pointed out many people suffer from inadequate or poor housing or are living on the streets. Young people in Vancouver are finding it difficult to find affordable rental housing in an equally overheated rental market, let alone buy housing.

The government should be focused on better rental protections, more investment in co-operative housing schemes and social housing instead of first-time buyers, he said.

"Those aren't the people who are most in crisis with respect to housing across British Columbia."

Bigger problems than 'feeling like a success'

Part of the issue, Lauster said, is the scheme reinforces a "culture of ownership" — something that is simply not sustainable in many cities.

Many people were raised with the expectation they will be able to buy a house one day, he explained, and owning a house is portrayed as a key life milestone.

In recent years, however, home ownership has become more difficult for first-time home buyers, with skyrocketing prices forcing many buyers in Toronto and Vancouver to move out of the city or reconsider owning a home.

He said he felt for people in that situation but there were others with greater need.

"We have a wide array of people who are facing a real housing problem that extends beyond just their ability to feel like a success in life."

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled UBC sociologist calls new first-time homebuyers loan program "problematic"