British Columbia has both an ever-increasing population and a prevalent lack of saleable, privately-owned land. The province’s 4,650,00 citizen count has shown steady growth, with an increase between five and seven per cent every five years since 2001. All those new citizens need places to live, work, shop and play, and the buying pressure on the existing landholdings has produced the high-priced market we currently have.
Policy makers have implemented several ineffective, short-sighted courses of action to make housing more affordable, including: the foreign buyer speculation tax, the B20 mortgage stress test, the shared equity mortgage provider fund, and the first-time home buyers incentive program. Unfortunately, owning even a small property title and home has become unattainable for many hard-working B.C. citizens.
There is another simple, viable option for the provincial government to explore that would balance the affordability of market prices and increase the accessibility of land ownership to all British Columbians. That option is to release specific crown land holdings into the privately-owned provincial percentage. Increasing the amount of private saleable land would help to alleviate the current pressures facing our real estate market. There are land holdings in B.C. that do not fall into the Agricultural Land Reserve, Indigenous Land Claims, or Federal Parks and Interests that could be released to increase availability and decrease pricing pressure.
At this time 94 per cent of the land in B.C. is provincial crown land, two per cent of which is covered by fresh water. Federal crown land makes up a further one per cent of the province including Indian reserves, defence lands and federal harbours. The other five per cent is privately owned. As a whole less than 11 per cent of Canada’s land is in private hands; 41 per cent is federal crown land and 48 per cent is provincial crown land.
The B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has a mandate to ensure that the public benefits from the use or sale of crown land. This Ministry issues crown land tenures and sells crown land on behalf of the Crown in Right of British Columbia. The 94 per cent crown land distribution in B.C. is broken down into regions, and regional municipal planning takes a precedence in consideration. Crown land provides the country and the provinces with the majority of their profits from natural resources. Crown land may also be rented or leased by individuals wishing to build homes or cottages.
Why isn’t the provincial government exploring this option, to help correct market growth and pricing by offering citizens a stake in province they work hard to live in? According to the Ministry, crown land is a public asset and the province has a responsibility to ensure it is managed to maximize and sustain the flow of economic, social and environmental benefits to British Columbians, now and into the future.
An additional two per cent release of Crown Land into the private holdings would have an immediate and lasting impact on the market as a whole. The uplifting economic benefits to the entire province would be incalculable. The released Crown parcels could be ear-marked for specific types of qualifying multi-unit and single-family affordable housing which could actually be affordable.
The land itself should not be more valuable that the well being, health and economic growth of its citizens and communities.
It is regretful to conclude that the policies in place have only one purpose, and it appears to ensure that the crown and government collect the bulk of monetary gain from every aspect of the province’s land holdings. Unfortunately, the rapacity of the existing private landowners and governing bodies is ultimately forsaking and eroding the quality of life for young families and aging citizens.
Land in B.C. will always be sought after for its diverse revenue capabilities; it is time for policy makers to look further than new taxes or government-prospering programs to make B.C. landholdings actually affordable.
Freddy Marks, together with his daughter Linda Marks, runs Agassiz’s 3A Group Sutton Showcase Realty. He has been a Realtor in Canada and Germany for more than 30 years, and currently lives in Harrison Hot Springs.