A Home for Everyone
As mayors of BC communities, we listened to Tuesday’s throne speech with great hope for the future of British Columbians. “Home is at the heart of belonging – to a neighbourhood, a community, a province or country,” read the Lieutenant Governor. “Home is the place to hang our hat, to raise a family, to feel safe and secure.”
Communities across the Province are faced with insecurity and instability because there’s a mismatch between housing need and what’s available. Our economies are suffering as hard-working people can’t find rental housing or affordable homes to purchase. To address this, the Union of BC Municipalities recently released a housing strategy, “A Home for Everyone.” It makes clear recommendations for improvements across the housing continuum so all residents of British Columbia have access to the housing they need at every stage of their lives.
Despite the willingness of many local governments to step up with solutions, targeted investment in workforce housing by senior levels of government is critical to accelerate construction of affordable rental housing. Local governments like Tofino are primed to construct housing for workers and families on municipally-owned land. Yet even with no land cost, due to the high costs of construction, a significant ‘affordability gap’ still exists between what a tenant can afford to pay and what rents would have to be charged to repay construction loans.
Affordability is not the only challenge. A 2017 study by UNBC’s Community Development Institute found that northern communities face a mismatch between housing stock and household size. One and two-person households are becoming more common in the North, yet housing stock has not shifted to meet this trend. The most dramatic example of this is Kitimat, where the study found 68 percent of households have one or two people, but only 19 percent of the housing stock has one or two bedrooms. In addition, the study highlighted another issue: housing in the North is mostly over 35 years old, therefore more likely to be energy inefficient and in need of repair.
Meanwhile in Metro Vancouver and quickly spreading to Greater Victoria and beyond, home ownership is at a crisis level. The increase in housing prices has significant spillover effects into the limited rental market, creating an affordability emergency. Some people are renting longer than they wish because they cannot afford to buy, and others are buying beyond their means because they cannot tolerate insecure tenancies.
Data available demonstrate that foreign and domestic speculative demand is a major factor in the increase of BC housing prices. We are pleased to see the Throne Speech addressed the “results of speculation in all parts of our province – distorted markets, sky-high prices and empty homes” and that there’s a commitment in Budget 2018 to put forward new measures to address the effect of speculation on real estate prices. The main role of housing is to provide homes for our residents to live in, not to flip for profit; a Speculation Tax is critical to discourage property flipping.
Further, the proliferation of short-term rental businesses in residential dwellings is impacting the availability and cost of housing throughout BC. In tourism communities, this has had a profound effect on the ability for local workers to find accommodation. We applaud the Provincial Government’s recent announcement to start taxing short term rentals, though this does little to open up housing stock in our communities. Many communities are tackling short term vacation rental regulations using their land use authorities, but still need comprehensive taxation policies and regulatory tools across the province, looking to other jurisdictions for best practices.
If Tuesday’s throne speech is any indication, hope is on the horizon. But hope is not a strategy. To address the complexity of the housing crisis and the stress it’s causing our residents, we need a Provincial budget that is courageous, that enables creative risks and that pilots new approaches. As local government leaders committed to the health and well-being of our residents and the prosperity of our economies, we urge bold action and we are here to help.
Mayor Taylor Bachrach, Smithers
Mayor Lisa Helps, Victoria
Mayor Greg Moore, Port Coquitlam
Mayor Josie Osborne, Tofino