News / Vancouver

Ageism in housing: Young people left out of housing policy say advocates

Code Red: Property tax rules have long favoured seniors, but today’s housing crisis requires a tilt toward younger generations says Paul Kershaw

Russell Bonaguro, 37, rents a one-bedroom suite in Vancouver’s Fairview neighbourhood but says the idea of homeownership is out of reach for people with an average job like him.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro Order this photo

Russell Bonaguro, 37, rents a one-bedroom suite in Vancouver’s Fairview neighbourhood but says the idea of homeownership is out of reach for people with an average job like him.

Russell Bonaguro looks up to his parents’ work ethic and their ability to raise their family in a house they built themselves, but like many working Vancouverites, the 37-year old knows he will probably never achieve that in Vancouver.  

“It’s frustrating. It feels like we have to feel guilty or bad about being in this situation but it is genuinely a different situation than other generations,” said Bonaguro, who currently rents a one-bedroom suite in the Fairview neighbourhood. 

The scientist and public health researcher has worked full time in the research sector for more than a decade but says home ownership is still a pipe dream.

“It was so far from my reality that I just zoned it all out because it was ridiculous for me to think I could save up, 20, 40, 50 or more thousands dollars and then also pay a mortgage,” he told Metro.

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Bonaguro’s situation is one that many young Canadians can relate to, signalling a code red in Vancouver’s housing crisis, said Paul Kershaw, founder of Generation Squeeze.

The organization is an advocacy group for generational equality in policymaking. 

Even home ownership in the form of a condo like these ones in the Yaletown neighbourhood is out of reach for some Vancouverites.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Even home ownership in the form of a condo like these ones in the Yaletown neighbourhood is out of reach for some Vancouverites.

“We have to come up with other ways to help the younger demographic cope,” said Kershaw, a UBC professor at the School of Population and Health.  

There are many examples of decision-makers taking an age-approach to policy and there is no reason why they cannot do it again – but this time to help people under the age of 40, he said.

“Property taxes are the primary way in B.C. where we take an age approach to thinking about housing policy. The problem now is that age approach is out dated.”

Seniors can take advantage of property tax rules in two ways – One is the homeowner grant, where people 65 and older qualify for the highest amount; the second is the tax deferral program, where those 55 years and older can defer their property taxes and pay less than one per cent interest.

But it’s younger people, those under 40, who need the most help and a bigger tax break, Kershaw argues.

One politician says tax breaks only touch the surface of what governments need to do to help young people afford homes.

“I think that there are probably ways in which you can use tax breaks to make it a little bit easier for some people to get into the market, but you couldn’t really do that without also addressing the very real issues of the supply of affordable housing,” said B.C. NDP MLA housing critic David Eby.

Over the coming weeks, Metro will highlight some of the Generation Squeeze recommendations, including those about housing supply, and invite readers to share their thoughts directly with experts shaping housing policy on the civic, provincial and federal levels.

Big idea: Why give a tax break to people who have the most housing wealth?

Generation Squeeze aims to convince governments to address generational inequality in the housing market by shifting to address the younger generations’ needs.

Some housing policies already feature an age-approach, but they target the wrong demographic, said Kershaw.

For example, B.C. seniors can take advantage of an additional homeowner grant and those 55-years old and above can defer their property taxes indefinitely while paying 0.7 per cent interest on them. Homeowners with children can also defer their taxes but pay a 2.7 per cent interest rate instead.

“That policy was put in place some time ago because back in the day, seniors had the highest rate of low-income status in the country,” he said.  

Housing prices have nearly doubled in the past 40 years.

Generation Squeeze/Contributed

Housing prices have nearly doubled in the past 40 years.

That made sense when seniors were the most vulnerable group of the population in the mid 1900s, but now young people carry that burden, he said.

Young people earn $4,000 less a year on average in today’s dollars compared to those in 1976, but meanwhile, housing prices have almost doubled in today’s dollars.

The government is essentially “subsidizing wealth accumulation,” said Kershaw.

“It begs the question, why, the very group of people who have the most housing wealth, are the very group of people who are getting the biggest tax break?”

Even seniors want help for younger generation

One Vancouver retiree says seeing his children struggle to find the same standard of living they did has been difficult.

Roger Gibbons, 69, downsized from a house in Calgary to an apartment in Vancouver’s West Side, which gave him the financial means to help one of his sons afford a condo in Vancouver.

“If we hadn’t been able to do that, I think they would be in an even more difficult to get into the market,” said the retired academic.

His forty-something year old son’s family wants to move to a single-detached house but even with his parents help, it seems futile, said Gibbons.

“I worry a lot now.”

A call to action

What do you think? Read more at gensqueeze.ca and let us know what you think by emailing Vancouver@metronews.ca, commenting on this article on our Facebook page, facebook.com/vancouvermetro, or tweet us with the hashtag: #CodeRed. You can also text JOIN to 604-337-0945 to get involved with the Code Red campaign.

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