Robert's column

Robert Barron column: Skyrocketing house prices a tragedy

North Cowichan councillor Rosalie Sawrie brought an interesting perspective to a discussion around affordable housing at a council meeting on June 2.

She pointed out that, unlike the rest of council, she doesn’t own a home and likely won’t anytime soon in the current market.

“I feel sorry for people my age and younger who can’t buy into the market,” she said.

“The rest of council got into the market at an appropriate time. Congratulations because you’re one of the last. I hear countless stories of people asking social services for assistance with housing and being offered a tent. That’s the reality we’re living in.”

It’s striking to realize that Sawrie, a young and successful professional who is a pillar of the Cowichan community, can’t afford to buy a home.

It made me conscious of how lucky I was to have the opportunity to buy my house about 10 years ago.

At the time, I was very wary of buying a house because the prices were, I believed, incredibly high and I was thinking that it would probably be best to wait until they went down again, as markets tend to do.

But more intelligent and intuitive people around me convinced me that delaying a purchase would be a mistake, and that I should take advantage of the fact that I had some money set aside and the banks were willing to lend me the rest of what I needed to become a home owner for the first time.

With great reluctance, I took a deep breath and plunged into the most expensive endeavour I’ve ever been involved with.

It was the best decision I’ve ever made as house values have been increasing ever since, and had not gone down as I predicted and feared when I bought my home.

My house has recently been assessed by BC Assessment at almost twice the price I paid for it, and friends of mine who are in real estate said it would probably fetch an even higher price than that if I was to put it on the market.

It’s a great feeling of security to know that my big investment continues to increase in value while I do little more than just live in it, even if my property taxes increase at the same time.

And it’s also good to know that I’m not at the mercy of some landlord who can raise your rent at any time, or decide he needs the apartment you’re in for another purpose and sends you packing.

I’m astounded to see that the rents people have to pay these days on the very limited rental stock out there have increased to well beyond what I pay each month on my mortgage.

I recently wrote a story about people living in motel suites where there was nothing more than a bedroom with a television, a table and chairs and a bathroom.

I was shocked when they told me that they were paying more than $1,000 a month to live there, and were glad to have a place to stay as they couldn’t find any other accommodation in the area available and in their budget.

The housing crisis is serious and won’t likely get any better soon, despite efforts by municipalities and developers to build affordable housing units.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on just about every industry, including the construction industry, and that’s more bad news for those trying to enter the housing market.

When the pandemic hit, lumber mills were forced to close and then many homeowners stuck in their houses started building more decks and fences.

The lack of the lumber supply due to the closed mills, combined with the increased demand for lumber, is a double-whammy that is now adding tens of thousands of dollars to new home constructions.

In the current climate, I don’t envy people like Sawrie who are hoping and praying for the housing situation to change.

“That’s the reality we’re living in,” she told council. My heart goes out to her, and everybody else in the same boat.

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