Today in the legislature I was up in Question Period. I took the opportunity to question the Minister of Advanced Education as to what he was doing with respect to allowing universities and colleges to build additional on-campus housing. My MLA colleague Rob Fleming also wrote about this last fall. We’ve offered a way forward and I’m pleased to say the government has finally agreed that this is a direction it is heading.
I have been waiting to raise this issue in the legislature since last spring (as I suspect Rob Fleming has). Unfortunately, with no fall session I did not get the opportunity to do this until today.
Below are the text and video of the exchange. I was disappointed with the answer to my supplementary question as I was hoping to get a more thoughtful response as to what is being done to address the extraordinarily low rental vacancy rates in the Capital Regional District and Metro Vancouver.
A. Weaver: Students at British Columbia’s post-secondary institutions are struggling to find affordable rental accommodation. Yet at the same time, colleges and universities across B.C. are desperate to build more on-campus housing. The barrier to building such housing is access to capital and government concern about increased public debt and how it will affect our triple-A credit rating and, hence, the cost of servicing existing debt.
But if an external organization were to own the debt, there would be no risk to B.C.’s credit rating. Colleges and universities could service it through operating revenues generated from on-campus residence fees — a very captive audience that exists there. Housing more students on campus frees up off-campus rental units, thereby easing upward pressure on rents.
Will the government commit to exploring the creation of an external non-government organization that would own the debt, thereby allowing colleges and universities to build more on-campus housing?
Hon. A. Wilkinson: I thank the member from Oak Bay for his thoughtful and productive question, which distinguishes it from many in this room.
Now, the member is known to be a very clever man, but the ministry staff are at least a year ahead of him on this question. It’s actually interesting that yesterday I met with the president of the University of Victoria to discuss this very issue, because the prospects there are very strong for this exact opportunity to build student housing which will not form part of government debt.
The details of this arrangement need to be worked out. There are arrangements that need to be set up for the deal structure, for the financing vehicles. But I think the key point here is to congratulate the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head for his insight, for his dedication to good public policy. I’m sure he’ll be so persuaded by his own genius that he won’t need to ask a follow-up question.
Well, I must say that was a somewhat patronizing response to a serious question. I would point out, in fact, that this lone B.C. Green MLA was several years ahead of the B.C. Liberals in identifying an affordability crisis in the province that they refuse to deal with.
There’s an ongoing affordability crisis not only in Metro Vancouver but here in the capital regional district. For many living in our two largest cities, home ownership is simply not an option for the foreseeable future. Yet at the same time, the private apartment rental vacancy rate in Victoria is 0.5 percent and in Vancouver it’s 0.7%.
My previous question offered one possible way for the government to reduce pressures on the existing rental stock, and I’m glad to see that they’re taking it up. But the question that I have is this: What other steps is this government taking to address the vacancy rates in Metro Vancouver and the CRD? And an answer that’s saying “build more stock” is simply not going to deal with the issue in the time required to deal with it. What is the government doing?
Hon. A. Wilkinson: The question actually reflects well into the member’s first question in that the novel housing arrangements for financing that we have come up in this government, courtesy of the Minister Responsible for Natural Gas Development and Housing, have provided this financing vehicle that’s provided 800 non-profit housing providers in more than 280 communities across British Columbia with support for more than 104,000 households.
The plans that the member calls upon are already being implemented. Since 2001 we have completed close to 24,000 new units of affordable housing, with more than 5,000 more units in development or under construction.
Thank you for the question. If you have any further, we’d be glad to answer them.