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How is government responding to rental crisis in Metro Van & the CRD?

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.


Question


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?


Answer


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.


Supplementary 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?


Answer


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.


Video from Question Period


Statement on B.C. Home Partnership

Media Statement, Dec. 15, 2016
Statement from Andrew Weaver on B.C. Home Partnership
For immediate release

VICTORIA B.C. – Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party, is calling the B.C. Home Partnership a populist, short-sighted, and irresponsible move.

“The cost of purchasing a home has gone through the roof in this province because of irresponsible speculation and government inaction. The reason people can’t afford a home isn’t because the downpayment is too big – it’s because the average home in Vancouver costs more than $1 million. That’s the real problem, and this government is avoiding it entirely.

“Instead of tackling the real problems that are causing out of control housing prices – like deregulation and speculation – the government is announcing a band-aid solution that will build an even bigger housing crisis down the road

“We have seen the dangerous consequences of this type of policy in the United States. It became easier and easier for people to take on unaffordable mortgages, leading to crippling debt, the collapse of the housing market and first-time home buyers losing their livelihoods. The whole point of having a downpayment is to protect people from unmanageable debt. That’s also why the federal government recently increased the stress test for high ratio mortgages.

“The fact is, people should not have to take on a dangerous amount of debt to afford a home. The only reason they have to do that right now is because the B.C. Liberal government failed to act to keep housing prices affordable. Now, they are choosing to implement populist, short-sighted and irresponsible programs that download risk on to vulnerable people who are just looking for a way to improve their lives.”

– 30 –

 

Media contact
Mat Wright, Press Secretary, Office of Andrew Weaver, MLA
+1 250-216-3382 | mat.wright@leg.bc.ca

Constituency Report – October 2016

Constituency Report is a public service that Shaw TV graciously offers MLAs. This month’s video is provided below.

Judy Fainstein and I once more tried something different. The first segment follows the usual discussion of legislative issues relevant to Oak Bay-Gordon Head and British Columbia in general. In the second segment, I introduce Maxwell Nicholson, Director of Campaigns & Community Relations with the University of Victoria Student’s Society. We explore a number of issues facing students in Greater Victoria.

As always, I’d be interested in your feedback on this constituency report.


Constituency Report


Highlights from Housing & Affordability Town Hall

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who attended and participated in our recent Town Hall on Housing and Affordability. We were lucky to have a diverse range of panelists bring their own perspectives and insights to our discussion about the complex challenges facing our housing market. In the Q&A period following the presentations, audience members provided their personal perspectives on how the housing and affordability crisis has affected them, asked a number of insightful questions and offered some creative potential solutions. It was a lively and informative discussion.

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Cairine Green, a Community Housing Advocate and volunteer Board Director for Our Place Society, spoke about some of the causes and the effects of the housing and affordability crisis in Victoria and across the Province. The BC Non-Profit Housing Association defines affordable housing as requiring 30% or less of gross household income (in 2012); two other factors are suitable housing, where there are enough bedrooms for the size and make-up of occupants, and adequacy, where a home does not require major repairs. Increasingly, fewer and fewer people in Victoria live in housing that meets these criteria. Cairine highlighted the importance of affordable housing in maintaining healthy and sustainable communities, and the concerns of low-income seniors who want to be able to stay in their homes as they get older. She outlined the actions that municipalities can take to stem the tide of rising housing costs, and the need for different levels of government to work together to implement solutions.

30385634136_ff4d3d5a96_zAlex McGowan, Chairperson of the Alliance of BC Students and President at the Kwantlen Student Association, emphasized the challenges facing students looking for housing, as well as the steps that Universities can take to address student housing needs, thereby benefitting the rental market more widely. His comments were supported by Maxwell Nicholson, Director of Campaigns & Community Relations from the UVic Student Society who was also in attendance.

In the last ten years, the number of full-time students in B.C. has steadily grown and the number of international students has nearly doubled, yet very few new residence spaces have opened. There is a high demand for student housing: the Alliance of BC Students estimates that Universities in BC need to double their stock of student housing to meet the need. In 2014/2015 there were 10,900 students on waitlists for campus housing in B.C., nearly 3,000 of which were on the UVic list alone. Student housing is cheap to build, and would play an important role in easing the pressure on the rental market, creating space for those who may be currently in unaffordable housing or squeezed out of the market all together. A serious problem is that the Province won’t allow post-secondary institutions to take on the debt needed to build more student housing on their land. Yet debt undertaken to build campus housing in B.C.’s desperate market would not impact the government’s credit rating as it would be self-supporting through residence fees.

30385632556_da0cf05d74_zKyle Kerr, a licensed Realtor with RE/MAX Camosun, Associate Partner with Tony Joe and Associates, and a Director of the Victoria Real Estate Board, brought his insights from his experience in real estate to bear on the crisis in Victoria. He highlighted the factors that make Victoria such an attractive place to live and have led to an increase in net migration here, such as the industries here (including Government, military, tourism and technology), our educational institutions, and the lifestyle that Victoria offers. These strengths make it unlikely that we will see a significant housing crash or a “bursting of the bubble” in Victoria. Kyle also discussed the need to build more affordable housing, and to increase density, to meet demand.

30305066552_c036472a40_zEric Swanson, Executive Director of Generation Squeeze, showed how the odds that young Canadians face in getting into the housing market and purchasing their own home are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. He highlighted the differences in the magnitude of the challenges faced by young Canadians today versus forty years ago, in 1976, showing that average earnings have decreased, student debt has increased, and the average housing price has more than doubled, leading to a situation where young Canadians in BC have to save more than three times as long for a down payment on a house today than in 1976.

Potential solutions to the crisis highlighted by the panelists and explored in the Q&A period include actions that different levels of government and members of the public can take.

The Provincial Government can offer support for co-housing or blended housing, to allow seniors to stay in their homes, while providing an affordable rental option for low-income individuals, families or students. As an essential step in addressing student housing needs, the Province could reverse its stance on preventing universities from acquiring debt to build more on-campus housing.

Municipalities have a number of tools at their disposal that they can use to address the housing crisis. These include:

  • Removing minimum unit size requirements;
  • Reduce parking requirements for units;
  • Removing re-zoning requirements for garden and laneway housing;
  • Reviewing housing reserve fund guidelines for grants to developers of affordable housing projects;
  • Supporting the conversions of older hotels/motels to housing units;
  • Establishing land trusts, in which municipalities contribute publicly-owned land at no cost or at a reduced market value for the development of affordable housing projects;
  • Demanding more from developers, such as higher percentages of affordable units to meet community need;
  • reducing unnecessary regulations in building codes.

The City of Victoria has already implemented some of these measures, and is considering more, such as “an inclusionary housing density bonus policy” where new housing has to represent the income distribution of the area in which it is built.

Individuals can become familiar with their official community plans and local housing strategy. An important action that individuals can take is to attend council meetings to express their thoughts on proposed projects, especially voicing their support for projects that would result in more affordable housing.

I am grateful for the commitment and ongoing concern so many in our community are giving to this crucial issue facing our Province. There are few topics of more importance facing our Province today.

MLA Town Hall on Housing and Affordability

On Tuesday, Oct. 18, I’ll be hosting a town hall on housing and affordability with four expert panelists. Each speaker comes from a different housing-related background, so they’ll bring a diverse range of perspectives and considerations to our discussion about the complex, multifaceted challenges facing our housing market.

Over the course of the evening we’ll discuss policy and market conditions that have led to our current situation, analyze the immediate challenges we face and look at where we can go from here. We’ll explore what can be done now to increase housing and rental stock and how we can prepare for the future. And, the fundamental question that underpins everything, what do we want our communities to look like in coming years?

Everyone is more than qualified to speak to the concept of a community vision, and I want to give you the opportunity to do so. Reserving plenty of time for audience questions, comments, and discussion is a priority for the event.

In addition to a community housing advocate and three-term municipal councilor, the Director of the Victoria Real Estate Board and the executive director of Generation Squeeze, one of our panelists will be Alex McGowan, chair of the Alliance of B.C. Students. McGowan and his colleagues recently released a report on the influence student housing demands have on a housing market in crisis. They urge the B.C. government to amend existing restrictions on public entity debt that prevents post-secondary institutions from building more on-campus residences.

“We know that as students, we often occupy the low end of the rental spectrum; what we might not realize is who we may be squeezing out of the market altogether,” McGowan said. “Getting students on campus and out of the rental market helps everyone, including the single parent struggling to find housing, the minimum-wage worker who can’t find a rental they can afford, and those who are currently in housing, but spending more than 50 per cent of their income on rent. Our proposal could go a long way to helping B.C.’s rental market come back to a normal level, and at very little cost to the government. It’s time to help students, improve the quality of education and help alleviate the housing crisis that is hurting everyone.”

Preventing post-secondary institutions from taking on the debt to build more housing on their land is defended by the need to protect B.C.’s high credit rating. While that is indeed important, debt undertaken to build campus housing in B.C.’s desperate market would not impact the government’s credit rating as it would be entirely self-supporting through residence fees.

In the last 10 years, the number of full-time students in B.C. has steadily grown and the number of international students has nearly doubled, yet very few new residence spaces have opened.

In 2014/2015 there were 10,900 students on waitlists for campus housing in B.C., nearly 3,000 of which were on the UVic list alone. UVic has 2,481 residence spaces and in 2014 had 16,649 full-time students. With a rental vacancy rate around 0.6 in Victoria, there is clearly an unsustainable discrepancy between the demand for affordable housing and the supply.

As McGowan and the Alliance of B.C. Students have noted, building more student housing is not just about students. It is about alleviating some of the pressure on an overstretched rental market in a timely and responsible manner.

I hope you’ll join us on Tuesday, Oct. 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Gibson Auditorium at Camosun College (Landsdowne Campus Young Building 216) to discuss this, and other solutions, in greater detail.