B.C. union's affordable housing plan proposes taxes targeting speculators

B.C. union's affordable housing plan proposes taxes targeting speculators

One of British Columbia's largest unions has developed a plan it says could help combat a lack of affordable housing in the province.

The plan from the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU) recommends several tax changes the union says would assist in easing the stresses put on Metro Vancouver's housing market.

The detailed housing strategy was released this week.

"Housing and property is being treated primarily as a financial asset rather than a place to live," according to the report, Building an Affordable B.C.

Proposed reforms

The proposed plan focuses on three main strategies: reforming property taxes, amending legislation and investing in public housing. 

Paul Finch, the treasurer of the BCGEU, said progressive land value taxation is the key to cooling the housing market and building a more affordable B.C. 

The union's plan includes a number of reforms that would tax developers and speculators when their land values rise because of nearby public infrastructure projects like new transit lines.

The idea behind it, Finch explained, would be to capture some of the windfall gains on investment properties. 

"Really, what is being taxed is the unearned income you're reaping on a higher level of value that basically you have done no work to achieve," Finch said. 

"Across the board, the value is being driven up, and we need to look at what's driving it up."

The plan also proposes taxing speculators who hoard undeveloped land and defer development, applying a progressive surtax to annual property taxes, reforming property transfer taxes and the foreign buyers tax and taxing short term rentals.

The money gathered from the proposed tax changes would then be used to fund public housing and infrastructure. 

"That's absolutely essential to the entire plan," Finch said. "In a tax grab situation, that would not be the case." 

Government response

In response to the plan, Finance Minister Carole James said the housing crisis in B.C. is one of the province's top priorities for the 2018 budget. She said she thanks the union for its work on the report. 

"Together with the housing minister, I am working on a long-term, comprehensive housing strategy that addresses all aspects of the market," James said.

"We are looking at ways we can close speculation loopholes and improve fairness in the market, so that people can find affordable housing in the communities where they live and work." 

So far, the Affordable B.C. Plan has just over 2,000 signatures on its petition. its goal is 10,000.

To hear more from the interview with Paul Finch, click on the audio link below:

With files from The Early Edition.