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Correcting BC’s Private Land Market with a Crown Land Release.

British Columbia has both an ever increasing population and a prevalent lack of saleable, privately owned land. BC’s population growth outpaced five other provinces and increased by 5.6 per cent over four years from 2011-2016. The provinces 4,648,055 citizen count has shown steady growth with an increase of between 5%-7% every 5 years since 2001. All those new citizens need places to live, work, shop and play, and the buying pressure on the existing available landholdings has produced the high priced market prices we currently have. Policy makers have implemented several ineffective, short sighted courses of action 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 to address the issue and make housing more affordable. Unfortunately, owning even a small property title and home has become un-attainable for many hard working BC citizens.

There is another simple, viable and implementable 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 Columbian’s. Converting renters into first time and lower income home and property buyers that would be contributing to municipal land taxes and helping to sustain and grow communities as “land and business owners”. 

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 BC that do not fall into the Agricultural Land Reserve, Indigenous Land Claims, or Federal Parks & Interests that could be released to increase availability and decrease pricing pressure. At this time 94% of the land in B.C. is provincial Crown Land, 2% of which is covered by fresh water. Federal Crown Land makes up a further 1% of the province including; Indian reserves, defence lands and federal harbours The other 5% is privately owned! That’s right, the privately owned land holdings in this province make up only 5% of the entire land mass. In Alberta crown land is called “publicly owned land”, 60% of which is provincial public land and 28.5% is privately owned, and federal public land covers the remaining 10% of the province. Looking further east, 90% of land in Manitoba is Crown land with the remaining 10% being private. As a whole less than 11% of Canada’s land is in private hands; 41% is federal crown land and 48% is provincial crown land. 

The BC 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% Crown land distribution in BC 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, largely but not exclusively provincial, rented for logging and mineral exploration rights; revenues flow to the relevant government and may constitute a major income stream, such as in Alberta. Crown Land may also be rented/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 2% 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.

In setting prices for Crown land, the province has a responsibility to not distort private land markets, but, if the private land market is in need of a correction, is this not a ready and viable option worth exploring. Everyone including private and government land stakeholders would prosper greatly from an economic boost due to construction of affordable housing. Should only the Sovereign Crown, government, bank/mortgage lenders and the already wealthy prosper and benefit from the land in this province and not new generations of tax paying citizens? 

It used to be the way that young families got their start, they would buy land and build a home and cultivate their properties while helping to grow their local economies where they resided, shopped and lived. No matter which way the pie is sliced, the government requirements to purchase and own bare land holdings are beyond most young adults reach. When buying a house on land, you have to put at least 5% down, or 20 percent or more if you want a loan without mortgage insurance. When you’re taking out a bare land loan, between 25 and 50% down is required. At a time when many millennials are unable to move out their parents homes, let alone save up large cash down payments to buy or build their own.

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 provinces 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 BC 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 BC landholdings actually affordable. 

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