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Editorial: Need to prioritize a first home for everyone

The province is expanding the speculation and vacancy tax into the Cowichan Valley
House prices in the Cowichan Valley have skyrocketed in recent years. (Citizen file)

You may have seen recently that the province is expanding the speculation and vacancy tax into the Cowichan Valley.

You may have also seen recently that we are in a housing crisis, with not enough places for people to live.

The two are intimately connected.

The tax was instituted first in some of the province’s biggest urban areas such as Vancouver and surrounding cities, to try to address the dire housing situation.

Now North Cowichan, Duncan, Ladysmith and Lake Cowichan will also fall under the tax come 2024.

In communities like those around Cowichan Lake there are a number of properties that sit empty for most of the year. In some cases they may not be used at all for years at a stretch.

This is not unusual in communities where tourists flock in the summer, but the number of year-round residents is limited.

The folks who own these vacation homes are going to have to pay a premium to leave them empty under the new tax.

There are also some folks who buy multiple homes strictly as an investment and leave the properties sitting idle until housing prices go up, then they sell for a profit. This kind of pure speculation may be great for an investor’s pocketbook, but it’s terrible for communities, home buyers and renters.

The hope is that, facing the new tax, these owners will figure out, at the least, some kind of long-term rental agreement, so the house will provide a home for someone who needs it.

And there are a lot of people in need of somewhere affordable to live in Cowichan. Rents are astronomical ($1,000-$2,000 a month and up is not uncommon) and part of the problem is that good, safe places are scarce as hen’s teeth.

Hundreds of people are living full-time in recreational vehicles, either in RV parks, people’s driveways, or as nomads moving from place to place ahead of bylaw enforcement. Others don’t have the luxury of a roof over their heads at all.

A recent independent review found that the tax is helping to keep housing prices and rents lower in the places where it has already been implemented. In Metro Vancouver, thousands of condos have been added to the rental market. While we don’t expect anything so dramatic here, we do hope to see the needle move.

With the housing situation the way it is, we need to prioritize the needs of those who don’t even have one home, let alone two or more.