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Geoff Johnson: High real estate prices make it hard to attract leaders

No successful organization would have become successful in the absence of ­effective leadership. That’s axiomatic. Leadership means creating a vision and planning how to execute it, securing resources and seeking and remediating errors of the past.
Skyrocketing real estate prices on the Island and in the Lower Mainland mean that too often, the best people ­available simply can’t afford to move here, writes Geoff Johnson. Jonathan Hayward, The Canadian Press

No successful organization would have become successful in the absence of ­effective leadership. That’s axiomatic.

Leadership means creating a vision and planning how to execute it, securing resources and seeking and remediating errors of the past.

Leadership is about motivating people to work together and co-operate with others as the organization hopefully moves toward its goals.

School districts or other ­organizations looking to fill leadership positions from ­outside their immediate geographic area have always encountered numerous ­obstacles if the objective is to hire the very best person possible, no matter where they are found.

Right now, on Vancouver Island and B.C.’s Lower Mainland, that’s all but out of reach.

Too often, the best people available ­simply can’t afford to move here.

To begin with, at least as far as school ­districts are concerned, excellent candidates for senior leadership are well into their careers, have all but paid off a mortgage and are not interested in moving from where they can afford to live into a high-priced, extremely competitive real estate market.

A version of the same applies to other organizations looking for leadership ­expertise that may bring a fresh perspective to their business.

The problem is that for highly qualified and experienced candidates, real estate prices here make finding an affordable place to live extremely difficult or even financially perilous for anyone moving here from elsewhere in B.C., let alone the rest of Canada.

So how big is the difference between house prices elsewhere in B.C. (or other provinces) and here on the Island and in the Lower Mainland?

According to Royal LePage, during the third quarter of 2019, the median home price in Kelowna dropped 3.9 per cent year-over-year to $617,899. In Kamloops, house prices average between $550,000 to $750,000.

The average house price in Vancouver is $1,175,500, with many going for as much as $200,000 or more over the asking price.

In fact, the price of a single-family home here and in the Lower Mainland has increased by 22% since September 2020.

On Vancouver Island, especially south Vancouver Island, quite ordinary houses are going for as much as $250,000 over ­asking price — and that’s with asking prices for standard houses often starting at just around $1 million.

As one Vancouver Island real estate agent explained: “We are seeing multiple offers on almost every reasonably priced detached listing. There simply isn’t enough inventory to meet the demand.”

According to another agent with whom I spoke, people who moved here from ­outside the province when prices were down are now cashing out in today’s hot market and taking their profits back to their home provinces.

A second influence on house prices, alien to people of my generation, is that many younger folks have been willing to incur mortgages they never intend to fully pay out and are willing to go “all in” on a mortgage no matter what happens with interest rates.

Thirdly, real estate inventory here was down nearly 30% in the early months of 2021 compared to the previous year. There just weren’t enough houses for sale over the year to meet buyer demand.

It’s a sellers’ market.

That automatically eliminates any thought for most mid-career people of ­moving to the Island or Vancouver.

Why is any of this problematic for the future of business organizations and school districts on the Island and in the Lower Mainland?

First, there is the business of picking up the pieces after COVID is eventually defeated by a combination of persistent epidemiologists and a population willing to make some sacrifices for the greater good.

The post-pandemic era will require organizations, especially school districts, to embrace new definitions of leadership —and apply new approaches to teaching and ­learning.

The COVID pandemic has also had an effect on other institutions — banks, the hospitality and tourism industries that are central to our economic system and communities are all having trouble attracting experienced leadership.

The unanswered question is about what kinds of leadership skills will be needed in order to navigate complex organizations through the post-COVID world successfully.

Sounds like time for government, the real estate industry, the affected unions and business organizations, and especially school districts, to close the meeting room door, get their heads together and address what could become a problem that redefines their mutual futures.

Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools.

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