Who wants to be a millionaire?

When I bought my home 8 years ago, I felt sick. The woman I bought it from was delighted when we signed the paperwork—so delighted I knew that I had been had.

I hope she’s still smiling now—she’s a wonderful woman, by all accounts—but I certainly no longer worry that I overpaid. According to the MLS, I could sell my house today for more than double what I paid for it; and small, conventional, solid-but-unexciting houses like mine now sell for nearly a million dollars in Weston.

So now I worry for other reasons.

 

House values over time

Let’s be clear: This is bonkers. No normal people can afford an $875,000 home (the average selling price). The mortgage alone would eat about 60% of a typical family’s after-tax income. That does not include repairs, taxes, utilities, or, heaven forbid, daycare or a car.

Of course, some people can afford it: the well off. Weston, with the excellent UPX and connection to highways, will see more upper-middle-class people moving to town as they are driven from the city proper. Doctors, dentists and lawyers need places to live, too, after all, and they’re not the worst thing that could happen to Weston; but middle-class working people, working regular jobs as nurses, daycare providers and project managers, will be priced out. You can expect the neighbourhood to change. I, for one, don’t like the direction.

And make no mistake: we will be in danger. RBC is worried about “unexpected shocks” and “destabilizing developments”. A housing downturn would crush the economy. This should worry everyone.

But I worry about something more local and subtler. The divide between the haves and the have-nots (and have-lesses) is going to widen, and it’s already bad enough.

Most people in Weston aren’t millionaires—not even close—but some of us are, and don’t kid yourself: the wealthy don’t deserve it. The rich (me, weirdly, among them) merely had the good fortune to buy a house at the right time. The implications of this might be hard to take. Inequality probably reduces trust, social participation, empathy, and happiness, capacities I’d say we are already short enough of.

Will it be hard for the daughter of millionaires to go to school with the kids of those frozen out of owning? Will the son of lessors feel lesser? Will they both join student council, run for valedictorian, join the Scouts, and worry about the state of the city? Or might one of them feel just a little more invested, like she has a greater claim on the city around her—while the other feels like the room, the city, is always just a little bit colder, a little greyer?

So yes, I worry.

Of course, there are no easy answers (except the foreign-buyer’s and vacant property taxes). But here’s one nobody wants to hear: an increase in property taxes. Because frankly, if you write a check for property tax, you should fall to your knees in gratitude. You own your house.

And now, our property tax system is simply perverse. The rate on older apartments is 2.5 times the rate on freehold homes. People living in older, high-rise apartments (who are disproportionately poor) actually pay a higher tax rate than millionaire lawnowners.

This is unconscionable.

I propose something simple and fair: the tax rate on all properties, old or new, rented out or owned, should be exactly the same. Lawnowners will pay more, as will those building new developments. Renters in old buildings will pay less.

Will this solve our problems? No. Only interest-rate changes will, and that will be ugly. But taxing equally and fairly will make renting more attractive and buying less so. And it would go some very small way to saying that we are all in this together.

 

 

 

Building licensing on the books

ACORN, a local anti-poverty group, may score a big win in City Council this week as a 17 year-long struggle to license landlords comes to fruition.

On the 28th, Council will decide whether to make landlords more accountable by:

  • Making them register with the city
  • Track issues in the building
  • Have a notification board
  • Manage pests and garbage

The new laws will apply to all buildings with 10 or more units and 3 or more floors. It will improve on the current system by not being complaint driven.

ACORN  got its start in Weston in 2004, and has been pushing for landlord licensing since.

 

Foreign money pushing up house prices.

The logic-defying and alarming increases in Toronto’s housing prices have affected us in Weston to some extent. The boom is largely taking place outside our borders. While we still live in an affordable area, interestingly the net effect of the current market is lower property taxes for us. This is because higher assessments in other parts of the city mean that those residents are taking a larger share of the total assessment. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that housing prices (and rents) are rising at an unsustainable rate. What are we being told about the rise in housing prices? The big lie is that it’s simply a lack of supply and that more housing is needed. Based on this lie, there are proposals to eat into Toronto’s Green Belt and put more housing there.

A new report issued this week from the Ryerson’s City Building Institute tackles the housing shortage theory and disproves it. While there is enough housing for residents, the seeming shortage is likely caused by money looking for a safe haven in Canada. According to the report, it’s hard to trace foreign money that’s causing the boom but unless we do something about money flooding our city (such as a foreign buyers’ tax or a progressive property surtax), a lot of (especially) young people will be putting themselves at risk, saddled with an impossible debt. This could trigger a financial crisis, once the bubble inevitably bursts causing even more turmoil.

Over to you Province of Ontario.

Weston icon for sale

The Olympic Variety building, but not the business, is for sale for just shy of a million dollars. The owners of the variety store and office will stay “or vacate”, and the building could, the listing says, be converted into a medical or law office.

Your humble correspondent would be heartbroken if May and Steven left. Olympic Variety is a community fixture and my pantry.

Olympic Variety

Thanks to L for the tip.