Richmond businesses negatively impacted by high housing prices

Aug 15 2016, 4:47 pm

It is no surprise that Metro Vancouver is an expensive place to live. But businesses in one city are saying that housing unaffordability is taking a toll on their ability to hire and keep employees.

That’s according to a recent survey of its members that was conducted by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

Approximately 150 of the Chamber’s 1,150 members replied to the survey. The results indicate that the high price of housing in Richmond is pushing people away from jobs in the city.

Employees forced further away

Traffic / ShutterstockRichmond is one of the priciest cities in Metro Vancouver with the average detached home costing $1.7 million.

According to the survey, 65% of respondents said that over half of their employees were commuting to work outside of Richmond.

“For (employers) it’s an issue in a sense that their workers have to go further and further away and that doesn’t lead to a good quality of life. So it’s a challenge,” Rob Akimow, Chair of the Richmond Chamber, told Daily Hive.

Businesses also reported that housing unaffordability was affecting their ability to recruit and keep staff. Of survey respondents that kept specific data, 60% said that the housing market had a direct impact on employee retention rates.

Akimow said the survey was conducted because the issue was a “hot topic” amongst Richmond Chamber members.

“Given the fact that the community at large was speaking to this we felt that it would be best to survey our members and hear what they had to say from the business perspective,” Akimow said.

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According to Akimow, there are small incentives that businesses are offering employees to get them to stay in the city.

“We have heard of some of our members (offering) flex-time, flexible hours, transit passes, and things like that. But those are little band-aids for now,” Akimow said.

Survey results not surprising for housing expert

Condo construction in Vancouver

Condo in Vancouver (Caley Dimmock/Daily Hive)

Dr. Tsur Somerville, a professor at the UBC Centre for Urban Economics and Real Estate,  says the results of this survey are not surprising.

“Most people who work in Richmond don’t live in Richmond. That seems eminently very reasonably to me. People commute from one location to another all over the Lower Mainland,” he told Daily Hive.

But he says that the survey does highlight concerns economists may have around housing getting so expensive that firms will be unable to hire and remain competitive.

“Any firm that is hiring and trying to bring people here faces this conundrum if their employees are ones who wants lots of housing. So I think it’s a bigger issue for some firms than perhaps for others,” Somerville said.

Foreign buyers tax a questionable solution

Members of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce were given the opportunity to voice what steps of action they would like to see taken to combat high housing prices in the city.

Over 60% of respondents said they wanted various levels of government to consider the effects of foreign ownership on the city. The survey was conducted before the provincial government announced that there would be a 15% tax on foreign property buyers.

Image: Richmond Chamber of Commerce

Image: Richmond Chamber of Commerce

Akimow says the tax is a solution that Chamber members support.

But Akimow himself is not sure if the 15% tax is the best resolution because of possible unintended effects it could have on the market. Moreover, he believes that the tax could have an impact on industries like the tech sector that try to recruit international workers.

“A lot of our members and the community thought that (the tax) would be good. But it all kind of comes back to supply and demand,” he told Daily Hive.

“We would love to see all levels of government working together and either permit or have some sort of agreement for sustainable, affordable housing,” he said.

Simran SinghSimran Singh

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