Provincial housing forum presents different options to address housing affordability

Over a hundred housing stakeholders met in New Westminster for a Provincial Election Housing Forum on April 12 to hear from the BC Liberal, Green and New Democratic Parties on how they plan to address housing affordability issues in the province.

BC Green Party

David Wong (Green Party candidate, Vancouver-Hastings) said,

“The Green Party plans to expand the Metro Vancouver foreign buyers’ tax to the entire province and double the rate of the tax from 15 per cent to 30 per cent and increase the Property Transfer Tax (PTT) rate on properties over $3 million to 12 per cent from the current three per cent.”

Wong added that as an architect who works on affordable housing projects, he’d like to:

  • tweak existing zoning to allow multiple conversion dwellings
  • evaluate the social impact of social housing
  • invest up to $750 million per year to create about 4,000 units of affordable housing per year
  • review the structure of property taxes to cool down market speculation and make the taxes more fair and equitable
  • evaluate aging housing and existing support programs
  • protect the rights of tenants and landlords

BC Liberal Party

Rich Coleman (BC Liberal Party candidate, Langley-East; former Deputy Premier and former Housing Minister) acknowledged that BCREA would like the provincial government to reduce the PTT but the tax funds many government programs.

While explaining the Metro Vancouver foreign buyers’ tax’s ability to curb speculation and the success of the new BC HOME Partnership interest-free loan program in attracting about 1,000 applications from first-time homebuyers so far, Coleman said,

“My vision (for affordable housing) is about people. It’s about the woman who wrote to me about rental housing, the lady who gave a speech on rental assistance with six children – it’s about trying to change the lives of individuals trying to find affordable housing.”

If the BC Liberal Party forms the next government, they plan to:

  • build 5,000 more units of affordable housing as part of a three-year, $855 million dollar plan on social housing
  • continue existing social housing programs
  • continue existing rental assistance programs
  • close the fixed-term tenancy loophole some landlords are using to raise rents
  • help homeowners pay their mortgage and add to the rental supply by expanding the existing home renovation tax credit to up to $20,000

BC New Democratic Party (NDP)

The NDP plans to keep the 15 per cent foreign buyers’ tax but also add a two per cent property tax for property owners who do not earn an income in Canada or leave their property vacant. The funds collected by both of these taxes would be used to build more affordable housing.

David Eby (NDP candidate, Vancouver-Point Grey; former Official Opposition Housing Critic) said,

“The province isn’t doing so well – homelessness has gone up by 30 per cent over three years and homeless camps have set up in many communities. People are trying to save for a downpayment and trying to make their rent payments. When they can find an affordable rental property, they’re afraid of losing it if they can’t afford the rent. British Columbians should be able to find affordable housing.”

In order to help renters, the NDP would also:

  • introduce a $400 per year tax rebate for renters that is similar to the $570 homeowner grant
  • increase protection for renters, including prohibiting landlords from using renovations as an excuse to evict tenants and increase rent
  • allow municipalities to zone areas for rental housing only
  • allow post-secondary institutions to borrow money to build student housing, freeing up off-campus rentals to increase the supply of available rental properties

The legalization of marijuana and how it affects housing

When the panelists were asked about the federal government’s plans to legalize marijuana in 2018 and how this could impact housing, the BC Liberals were the first to respond. Coleman thanked the real estate industry for including a question on the Property Disclosure Statement several years ago on former grow-op and illegal drug manufacturing activity. He reported the provincial government has already been in conversations with the federal government on the rules around the legalization of marijuana, such as how many plants one can grow in their home.

David Wong said he felt the process for disclosing grow-ops is already in place so people know what they’re getting into when they buy a home.

According to David Eby, the provincial government needs to discuss the rules with the federal government so there is a standard for remediation and so information on grow-ops is removed from a property’s title. In his opinion, legalization won’t change the ongoing issues with grow-ops being grown in homes.

Although the three speakers presented different views on housing, they agreed with many of the suggestions in a position paper they received as part of the housing forum. The paper identified several measures the municipal and provincial governments could work on to increase the supply of affordable housing, including:

  • addressing the “missing middle,” ground-oriented housing that provides an option for families and/or downsizers between a traditional single-family home and a high rise condominium
  • increasing density for both owners and renters
  • ensuring predictable fees, charges and timelines
  • focussing on retrofits for existing homes

Read the position paper here.

The Provincial Election Housing Forum and position paper were organized by BCREA, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, Urban Development Institute, Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association, Canadian Home Builders’ Association (Fraser Valley), Canadian Mortgage Brokers Association of BC, Landlord BC and the Real Estate Institute of BC.

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