A new report praises parts of a new government plan to create more housing, but also calls “a work in progress” with key details yet to be announced.
Marc Lee, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said in an analysis of the Homes for People plan that it marks an important step forward towards better managing and regulating housing in the province, adding it contains some “key new measures” in a positive direction.
Premier David Eby and housing minister Ravi Kahlon announced the Homes for People plan in early April.
“Read with a broader historical view, however, the 2023 plan is still playing catch-up on B.C.’s worsening affordability and also with the government’s own promises from its previous … Homes for BC housing plan in 2018,” Lee said. “B.C.’s housing market, particularly from the perspective of renters, remains extremely unaffordable.”
New figures released this week underscore Lee’s point. May figures from Rentals.ca show Vancouver the most expensive rental market in Canada with a one-bedroom apartment renting for $2,787. Four other B.C. communities make the top 15, with Burnaby ($2,330) recording the third-highest rents in Canada. Victoria ($2,005), Kelowna ($1,952) and Surrey ($1,930) rank 12th, 13th and 15th respectively.
Key elements of the Homes for People plan include allowing three to four units per single-residential lot, legalizing secondary suites across the province, and a “flipping tax” on the short-term resale of housing, among other elements.
These elements exist among already announced policies: the Housing Supply Act requires binding new housing supply targets from local governments; a $500-million Rental Protection Fund helps non-profit housing providers purchase existing rental buildings; and a renter’s tax credit offers up to $400 per month. Other measures are in place to speed up approvals and resolve disputes between tenants and landlords.
On balance, Lee praises these measures, while pointing out areas for improvement. For example the renter’s tax credit is based on income, the provincial home-owner grant is not.
“Going forward, the province should develop a harmonized and income-tested housing grant for renters and owners alike to better level the playing field,” he said.
Lee also calls on government to step up support for non-market housing.
“Building new housing that is genuinely affordable for low- to middle-income households is not profitable for developers,” he said. He added that government can support non-profit developers and cooperatives by providing land and better financing options for new housing.
“The province can also act directly as a public developer,” he said. “The Homes for People plan takes steps in each of these areas, but ultimately the effort needs to be an order of magnitude greater given current needs.
“Non-market housing needs to be a much bigger part of the solution. There are some positive steps in the provincial government’s new plan, but they are only an echo of the heyday of publicly supported non-profit and co-op housing development during the 1970s and ‘80s.”
Lee’s assessment also points to one “major outstanding piece” in the provincial plans, the BC Builds program.
“Little information is available about the size and nature of this program, only that it will involve ‘public lands, low-cost financing, faster provincial and local government approvals, and innovative tools,’” he said.
”Until we get more details on BC Builds and on many other measures proposed in the new housing plan, it is still a work in progress.”
Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said his government recognizes that that costs have been increasing, especially when it comes to housing, across B.C. and around the world, adding government has taken action.
“Housing starts are at record highs, after years of low construction,” he said. “We have introduced new laws to build the homes people need, make it possible for homes that are vacant to be rented and remove discriminatory age and rental restrictions in stratas that hurt young families. This also includes the recently passed Housing Supply Act.”
He added that the act will come into force this spring through regulation and ten municipalities will be selected and announced very soon.
“In this year’s budget, we committed $4.2 billion over three years to build thousands of new homes — on top of the $7 billion we’ve already committed to housing,” he said. “Since 2017, 74,000 new homes are open or underway for people throughout B.C.”
He added later that housing pressures will intensify as more and more people move to B.C. “(We are) working with local governments to ensure we’re narrowing the gap with the growth we know is coming,” he said. “We also recognize that people and families, are struggling with the rising cost of living, which is why we are introducing new initiatives to help people with costs and put a bit more money back in people’s pockets to help with essentials like groceries, rent and gas.”