I’ve been saddened lately by how few neighbours I know, never mind how few I would even recognize if I saw them somewhere else. Our next door neighbour walked right by us a few weeks ago and I had no idea she was our next door neighbour. Don’t blame me; she didn’t even say hello to prompt me that I should know her. In fact, I’m pretty sure she glared at me, but maybe I’m just making that up to be dramatic.
I blame all this on the continuously inflating housing bubble. Nobody can afford to buy houses in the Greater Toronto Area anymore… except for foreign investors. They are buying up our properties with bully bids, no conditions, full cash payments, prompting greedy realtors to go on a door-to-door expedition, practically begging homeowners to sell. And after these foreign investors have successfully purchased, they leave the property to rot, feeling just fine that their money is now safe. ok, now I’m definitely being dramatic, but it’s much more interesting this way.
But here is what is really happening in many neighbourhoods across the GTA, like mine. These foreign investors don’t live in the houses they buy, or they buy them so their barely-adult children can live there. Why should I care? I care because often, these owners do not take proper care of their property, and more importantly, they don’t participate in my community. They don’t support retail services and use the infrastructure that is around us, and when that happens, local businesses suffer, municipalities think that there is no need for any further infrastructure development, and I – who live here every day and maintain and take care of my home and need retail and infrastructure – suffer. The worst part is: I don’t feel like I’m a part of something, I don’t feel like I belong in a community where everyone cares and looks after one another.
One evening, I was sitting on my front landing enjoying a summer evening, and was amazed as all my Asian neighbours gathered around on the street chit chatting and having a grand ole time. Meanwhile, the neighbour who lives directly next to me, will not even make eye contact to acknowledge that I am human. I know he talks, because he has nice conversation with the Asian neighbour who lives across the street from us. Even if you cannot converse in English, you can at least say “hello”, or maybe just nod? You don’t even have to do it with a smile if you don’t want to. No, instead, when he waters or mows the small patch of lawn that our two properties share, he makes sure to water or mow only his little half of lawn.
Another house on our street sold recently, and no sooner were the sellers out of the house that a “For Lease” sign went up on the lawn: another investor who had no plans to actually live in the house.
At the risk of sounding like Donald Trump (no, please, no!!), this is not the Canada I want to live in.
What is also worrisome is that as these foreign investors with no shortage of money buy up all our homes and drive prices through the roof, what will happen when it’s time for my daughter to buy a home? As I’ve said to many: I cannot imagine being a first-time homebuyer in this market, just starting out with my career, my marriage, my family… DQ is priced right out of the market, and she was born and raised here. Shouldn’t the “American Dream” be accessible to her, first and foremost?
I’m not suggesting that I have the solution, because I don’t. What they are doing is not illegal; they pay their property taxes (I hope). But it just doesn’t feel good for community. I’m not sure adding a 15% surtax to foreign buyers like the British Columbia government has done is the answer. However, I would say to these homebuyers: if you buy a home in Canada, live in it, take care of it, and be a responsible and participatory citizen – that’s kind of the whole point.