I love a good riddle, don’t you? Here’s one: “I am valuable, but I am hated. I am sought after, but I am chased away. I am a basic necessity of life, but I am subjected to scorn and resistance. What am I?” Having trouble answering? No problem, it’s a tough one. The answer is “housing”.
Think about it just for a moment. Housing is one of the most desperately sought after commodities in our current economy. I personally know of several young people working full time hours at decent paying jobs who simply can’t afford to move out of their parents’ house. I was working about 35 hours per week when I moved out of my parents’ house. I was single, had no savings, and absolutely no “allowance” from my parents (which I know some people get well into adulthood). Just me, with those 35 hours per week, and I was able to get an apartment and pay all my bills with money to spare each month. This wasn’t very long ago. What on earth has happened to our economy since then?
This has been written about on several occasions in the Times, but it’s worth explaining again. We simply don’t have enough houses and apartments in Canada. When demand is higher than supply, prices go up. Think of it this way: if you had the last slice of pizza on the planet, you’d be rich. Someone who really likes pizza would undoubtedly give you an exorbitant amount of money for the pizza, just for the chance to savour that one last slice. There wouldn’t be anything innately more valuable about the pizza – same ingredients, same cooking process, same product – but the rarity adds value. The true value of a product or service is measured only by what someone is willing to pay.
Housing has become a lonely pizza slice. Same appliances, same square footage, same amenities… but when there are not enough housing units to go around, a person who has been looking for a place to live for months will have no problem paying a price that they know is obviously unfairly high, so long as they have the money. This is why there have been some recent cases of houses being sold sight unseen to the highest bidder. When my wife and I bought our house in 2021, we considered it a miracle that we were actually able to negotiate the price. Very few have had that opportunity in recent years.
Thinking back to our lonely and extremely valuable pizza slice, there is only one thing that could drive the unfair price of the pizza down: more pizza slices. That’s how housing works, too. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers the days when apartment buildings would have a sign out front as a permanent lawn ornament, bearing only the words “apartment for rent” and a phone number. The existence of multiple empty units gives a potential tenant bargaining power. It doesn’t take long for a landlord with vacant units to realize that it’s better to be paid something for them rather than nothing at all, even if the rent being earned is not as high as previously hoped.
In our current economy, it is a privilege for young people to have their own place. People are bunking with friends, couch surfing, or remaining with their parents simply because the alternative is homelessness. This is a reality that can’t last forever. It’s not a happy situation for anyone. I personally know of a few people who have remained in unfavourable living conditions because there is nowhere else to go. A basic necessity like housing should not be for the wealthy only.
Problems are no fun without solutions, aren’t they? The solution to overpriced housing is more housing, much like making a batch of pizza slices would lower the price of the last pizza slice on earth. Is it going to happen overnight? Of course not. Developers know the price they can get for units currently, and so they are going to overcharge for them – such is the nature of business. As time passes, however, and an increasing number of housing units get built, we will eventually return to the way things should be, where both landlords and tenants have negotiating power to settle on rent rates that are fair.
Many agree that supply and demand is the main determinent of housing prices, and most agree that housing affordability is a hugely important issue both locally and nationally. Why then, do we scream at developers to go away any time they come within 10 kilometres of our borders? We want housing, but we don’t want it near us. We want young people to be able to live normal, independent lives, but we don’t want to give them anywhere to do so. We want more stores and amenities, but we resist having new neighbours in our community to help keep these resources open. My only question is… why?
I can understand concerns about massive new housing developments that completely change the character of the community. The recently proposed new development in the Ormond area is not, in my opinion, one that would be unreasonable in terms of aesthetics, but I do concede that it would cause a waste of valuable farmland, and that it could create water supply issues for others in the area. This latter point shows a need for a greater water focus not just for Winchester and Chesterville, but for all of North Dundas, though that is a discussion for another day.
Residents absolutely deserve a say in developments that are proposed to be built near their homes. But developments need to go somewhere, so perhaps with each rejected site, a new one nearby should be suggested instead so as not to scare interested developers away. There is no doubt that new homes are needed, the problem is figuring out where to put them that keeps everyone happy. Perhaps it would be easier to teach pigs to fly.