It almost seems Utopian: Clean air; little traffic; low crime rates; tree-lined streets; beautiful bike rides along an estuary, looking at distant, snow-capped mountains; flowers blooming; a glistening, historic fishing community; and, of course, a seemingly endless rise in one’s home equity.
Who wouldn’t love living in the riding of Richmond-Steveston? Why would anyone upset this apple cart?
I ask BC NDP candidate Kelly Greene, while knocking on doors in this predominantly single-family home riding, with her highly organized volunteer team, replete with voter ID lists and orange umbrellas.
This is, after all, hardly a battleground riding given its historic Liberal pedigree. Or is it?
Greene’s word-du-jour is “affordability.”
“Home equity is a double-edged sword,” said Greene, 37, a homeowner herself, whose plot of dirt has benefitted financially by a number of BC Liberal, federal and municipal policies and regulations — or lack thereof — in the real estate market.
Greene strips away the riding’s shiny attire.
She points to the emptying of children in neighbourhoods, forcing an underfunded school district to close schools.
“Are you aware, your child’s schools are facing a $10.5 million shortfall this year and programs will be cut?” she asks one resident, with children.
The mom-of-three activist forged her name into the community by calling out the BC Liberals for failing to seismically upgrade the numerous schools in the riding, and adequately fund education.
Greene is also appealing to the rising tide of empty-nesters, who, while on the outside appear to be benefitting from the status quo, have several concerns — namely the fact their now adult children are having to move to distant communities or out of province, to raise their grandchildren. Or, they’re forced into inadequate housing as speculative forces — driven by what Greene says is poor government management of the real estate industry — create an empty-home syndrome and population decline across West Richmond.
And yet, many want, and need to maintain, home equity.
So, Greene walks a tightrope when confronted in a Seafair neighbourhood by a 40-something woman, with children, who “is at the brink” in meeting her bills (higher MSP fees, Hydro charges, ICBC rates) and yet concerned the recent foreign homebuyers’ tax has “messed everything up.”
The woman speaks to how there are no more children in the neighbourhood she bought into five years ago for $800,000.
“I’m banking on home equity,” she said.
“People can’t just move away,” and going into debt with a reverse mortgage or property tax deferrals isn’t palatable, said Greene
The NDP is proposing new measures to cool down the housing market, namely with an annual “absentee speculators’ property tax” and money laundering task force.
Greene told the woman the NDP is tackling affordability as a “global response.”
The conversation concludes with the uncommitted voter telling Greene there’s no need for another bike lane.
“Something’s gotta change,” she said.
Across the street, her neighbour begins barking about a bunch of nearby, three-level homes being built. Granted the issue is largely municipal (“I get this a lot,” said Greene), Greene noted it’s symptomatic of a red-hot real estate market, that is clearly a hot topic in Richmond-Steveston considering the effect it is having on the community at large.
Greene maintains a positive demeanour at the doors, with little mention of her opposition, but rather what the NDP intends to do.
“We’re going to accelerate fixing the schools,” she said (no definitive timeline).
“We’re freezing Hydro rates, ending MSP,” by raising corporate and high-income taxes and taxing speculators.
Nevertheless, few give Greene a definitive thumbs up. Rather, as the polls indicate, there appears to be a large contingent of engaged free agents (about 1/5).
If Greene convinces them social and community issues trump the Liberals’ broader economic goals of free trade and economic diversity, this one-pony contest could become a hurdle race.