VANCOUVER — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh left his political rivals to trade barbs Saturday, focusing instead on affordable housing policy in a key battleground where his message had supporters flocking in droves to hear him.

He spoke with young people Saturday morning in Vancouver struggling under the weight of the housing market there. The NDP is starting to see some traction in the polls and Singh said he believes his message is resonating because he rejects the idea that Canadians should settle for less.

“I think we’ve captured the imagination of the country because we’ve asked Canadians to dream bigger,” Singh said.

“I’m fighting for them with everything I’ve got, and my team is fighting for them because we know they deserve so much more. We can deliver it. That’s the positive thing in all of this. We got here because of choices that were made by Conservatives and Liberals. We can get out of here with choices that are made by New Democrats, for people.”

Singh had so many people turn up to an afternoon rally that they were lined up all the way around a downtown city block, clamouring to join the hundreds already inside the venue.

The leaders of two of the other major parties, meanwhile, focused on each other Saturday. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer warned, without evidence, that a hypothetical Liberal-NDP coalition would raise the GST and personal income taxes, and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau spoke of stopping “Conservative cuts.”

The NDP is proposing to build 500,000 affordable housing units over 10 years, with half of the units coming in five years, at a cost of $5 billion in the first year and $3 billion in subsequent years. The NDP has also proposed a rental subsidy of up to $5,000 for half a million families and individuals.

Experts have warned the rental subsidy proposal could spell trouble in markets with low vacancy rates, where rents could end up getting hiked.

As for the pledge for half-a-million new affordable homes across the country over the next decade, including half of that amount in the first five years, federal programs show a three-year timetable to build multi-unit projects after funding is advanced.

Just how he plans to hit the 250,000 mark in five years, when three of them would likely be taken up with construction while federal infrastructure programs usually take between two and three years simply to get off the ground, remains unclear.

“We need to be ambitious,” Singh said. “We are in a crisis and when we are in a crisis we can’t respond with half measures.”

The New Democratic leader met Saturday with residents of the Mole Hill neighbourhood, a non-profit housing community in the west end of Vancouver, and listened as they told him stories about their struggles finding affordable housing.

After aging out of the foster care system in B.C., Star Martin, 23, ended up in several precarious rental housing situations, including an apartment from which she was “reno-victed” — asked to leave by the owner so they could renovate the building.

“We have a really nice place (now) but we’re paying way too much for it,” she said. “It’s just not really fair. What is the point of working 40-plus hour weeks and coming home and wondering if I’m going to eat tonight?”

Martin said she was working so hard to afford her apartment, it triggered an autoimmune disease that may not have happened if she had more affordable housing options.

“I had to quit my career that I had two diplomas for because I can’t do it anymore.”

Alysa Huppler-Poliak is living in an apartment with a mould problem and bad insulation, but she and her boyfriend are afraid to talk to the landlord or leave because there might not be anything else out there they can afford.

“The young people right now that I’m sitting with — we don’t have a future in the housing market,” she said. “I have so many friends that are still in school and they’re living 12 students to a house, and that’s not OK.”

Others told Singh about how the housing crisis is so bad in Vancouver, young people are taking jobs where they are being treated badly because they need to be able to afford rent.

Buying or owning a home is not even a dream, Martin said.

“It’s like some weird fantasy land, it’s like thinking I’m going to go live in a castle. It’s not going to happen, it’s just not possible.”

Singh is spending the waning days of the campaign targeting a key issue in a key battleground — his party is thought to be in a tight race with the Greens in several British Columbia ridings. While there are Canadians across the country struggling with housing, the average home sale price in Metro Vancouver is nearly $1 million.

The NDP is also promising to introduce a national foreign buyer’s tax and tackle money laundering.

The provincial NDP government in B.C. launched a public inquiry after commissioning two reports that revealed an estimated $5 billion in dirty money was funnelled through real estate in 2018, driving up prices by at least five per cent.

Real estate is useful to money-launderers because even legitimate transactions can involve large sums and it’s hard to say definitively when a price is inflated.

This report by The Canadian Press was originally published on Oct. 19, 2019.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press