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.
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.
Alex 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.
Kyle 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.
Eric 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:
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.
Many might not be aware that an emerging, and entirely preventable, crisis in affordable rental accommodation is developing in the Burnaby Metrotown area. Perhaps the reason for this is that neither the government nor the official opposition has been raising this issue publicly. That’s one of the reasons why I accepted an invitation from the Metrotown Residents’ Association to tour the region on August 18th. While my visit to the area generated some excellent local media coverage in Burnaby Now and Vancouver 24 hours, I thought it was important for me to expand upon what I learned from my tour.
The issue that Burnaby is now facing has arisen from recent and imminent changes in policy. The first concerns legislative changes to the Strata Property Act that were passed in Bill 40, Natural Gas Development Statutes Amendment Act, 2015. An obvious question concerns why changes to the Strata Property Act were passed within a Natural Gas Development Statutes Amendment Act. There is, of course, no justifiable reason for this to have occurred. My own opinion is that it was done simply because Richard Coleman is the Minister of Natural Gas Development and also the Minister Responsible for Housing. By burying housing amendments in a natural gas bill the minister was able to deal with his entire portfolio at once. Bill 40 contained provisions that allowed Stratas to be dissolved (and hence the property sold) with only 80% instead of 100% of strata owners agreeing.
The second important policy change is that the municipality of Burnaby is moving towards rezoning low-rise areas to mid- and high-rise in and around the Metrotown skytrain station. While in and of itself this might sound like a fine idea — by increasing density you increase availability of housing stock — the reality is that it is compounding the affordability crisis in the area. Below I’ll attempt to outline why this is the case.
But first, I’d like to thank the Metrotown Residents’ Association for inviting me to participate on the tour. I’m also grateful to the residents of the Maywood, Marlborough and Cedar Place who took the time to speak with me.
In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of demolition permits that have been issued by the City of Burnaby. Older, low rise apartment buildings are being bought up at an alarming rate by developers whose intention is to demolish them and turn them into high end condominiums. Now in theory, as I note above this might sound like a great idea. The current stock of rental housing is dated and densification increases housing supply. But in reality, what is happening is that lower income rental housing is being replaced by higher income luxury condominiums. The result is that these lower income people are displaced and have nowhere to go. This is particularly troubling as Burnaby is ranked dead last in terms of affordability in the Canadian Rental Housing Index.
Metrotown mall and the Metrotown skytrain station are immediately adjacent to the neighbourhoods that are being affected. The proximity of rapid transit is particularly important to the residents living in the area who rely on it to get to their employment. At the same time, it was evident that the residents moving into the newer high-end condominiums are far more affluent. One can readily see this simply by looking at the cars parked along the residential streets immediately in front of the new constructions as opposed to the older ones.
The response by Burnaby’s Mayor has been to blame the provincial and federal government for the problem. I find this odd in that zoning falls squarely within municipal jurisdiction and that municipalities have the power to create standards of maintenance bylaws which can incentivize upkeep of existing stock. They also have wide discretion as to how they use funds acquired from developers through the granting of increased density. Of course, the development of affordable rental housing, like Cedar Place in Burnaby, often requires the investment of resources from multiple levels of government, but it’s simply not good enough to pass the blame to someone else.
Residents in the area that I talked to spoke of the constant stress that they are living with as they wonder if their apartment building will be next. They have tried to organize and meet regularly. Unfortunately, several of them told me that whenever they put up posters advertising their next gathering, the posters are quickly blacked out, like the example shown to the right.
So what is being done for those being evicted. The honest answer is that virtually nothing is being done. Burnaby council seems to be turning a blind eye as the demoviction problem gets out of hand. Rather than recognizing that the municipality has a moral obligation to look out for the best interests of their constituents, they seem content with the knowledge that property taxes and developer funds acquired through granting increased density will increase the City’s coffers. In fact, Burnaby’s Mayor has been reported to have said “he’s not about to give in to downloading what he says are provincial and federal responsibilities.”
Burnaby council doesn’t have to look far to get a sense of what they might do. Under the leadership of Gregor Robertson the City of Vancouver has taken numerous steps to incentivize the development of rental houses. At the same time they successfully petitioned the provincial government to bring in enabling legislation that would allow Vancouver to introduce a vacancy tax that would penalize those purely speculating in the marketplace.
Burnaby did not. In fact, I wrote to Burnaby Mayor and Council in May asking them for their views on the vacancy tax. As I have written about earlier, the addition of the vacancy tax only into the Vancouver Charter and not the Community Charter as well (which other communities like Victoria and Oak Bay have been calling for) makes no sense at all. For example, on one side of Boundary Road (in Vancouver) a vacancy tax could be applied; on the other side of the street (in Burnaby), it would not. I never received a response or even an acknowledgement that my letter was received. In addition, Burnaby has the jurisdictional ability to slow the pace of demovictions to ensure that the construction of affordable, rental accommodation keeps pace with the increased densification.
Unlike the more progressive housing approach of Vancouver, Burnaby’s response to the affordability crisis has been to call on the BC government to allow municipalities to introduce “rental-only” zoning. The BC NDP have also been musing over the possibility of introducing legislation that would allow rental-only zoning options for municipalities. In my view this is not a solution. In fact, I would argue that this has the potential of being disastrous as it would potentially lead to the development of big city ghettos as found in other jurisdictions world wide.
Since introducing my private member’s bill Bill M212 — Animal Liability Act, 2016 earlier this month I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of individuals and my office has been in contact with various organizations and concerned constituents.
There has been overwhelming support for the notion that BC needs some sort of legislation to encourage responsible pet ownership. Dog attacks happen every day and for the most part it is from irresponsible owners. To begin the conversation as to how we can more effectively deal with irresponsible pet owners I introduced a bill in the Legislature on April 6.
We’ve received numerous emails and comments on our proposed bill and while virtually all the correspondence is from people supporting the bill, a number raised some important concerns.
One concern has been around provoked attacks. Obviously pet owners may feel concern that they would be held liable if their dog was provoked into attacking someone. While ultimate liability would still rest with the owner, the bill I introduced clearly states that the actions of the plaintiff must factor into any decision. Section 2 of the bill I introduced states, “the court shall reduce the damages awarded in proportion to the degree, if any, to which the fault or negligence of the plaintiff caused or contributed to the harm.”
Simply put, this does not, nor is it intended to, put full liability on pet owners if their dog acts out of self defence or in response to aggression. The context that led to a bite is as important as the fact that a bite took place.
As with any piece of legislation, the regulations behind this bill are integral to its operation. The bill itself assigns liability but should also be considered enabling. For example, regulations could provide more context around defining important terms such as an “unprovoked attack” or whether specially-trained dogs could limit their owners liability (such as guide dogs for instance). Regulations could change the rules around pet ownership, and there is ample room to have the regulations address dog-training programs to encourage more responsible ownership. There could also be increased penalties for repeated offenses of irresponsible pet owners.
Indeed, regulations, if developed properly with consultation and forethought, could address many if not all of the gaps in this legislation. Pretty much every piece of legislation introduced has a number of regulations that are behind it, and if enacted this bill would be no different.
One final concern that has arisen is how this legislation might affect the adoption of rescue animals. Some might see this bill as increasing the barriers to adopting an animal, however, I think it ensures that animals that need additional support and help are going to families that understand their responsibilities and are prepared to provide what is needed. In my view, this is a positive step as I don’t think it is wise for irresponsible pet owners to adopt rescue animals.
Ultimately I brought this issue forward because there is a gap in our legislative framework in BC regarding pets and pet ownership liability. Other provinces have addressed it, and while I don’t think it is wise to follow Ontario’s lead in banning certain breeds, we do need something to ensure that pet owners are responsible for the behaviour of their pets and that there are stiff penalties for not being a responsible pet owner.
Since introducing the bill my office has reached out to a number of organizations and we have been in contact with the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development as a way to move this issue forward.
I welcome discussion on this topic and I am hopeful that the interest that this bill has generated gives the government the push it needs to start working towards a solution for British Columbians.
Today I had the distinct honour of addressing delegates to the 67th Annual General Meeting and Convention of the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) in Nanaimo. As noted on their website, the AVICC
“… is a body formed for the purpose of representing in one organization the various municipalities, regional districts and other local governments of Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast, Powell River and the Central Coast.“
The AVICC has 51 member municipalities, districts and local governments from these regions. Below I reproduce the text of my speech.
Please let me start by thanking the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities for granting me the opportunity to speak with you today.
The last time I addressed the AVICC was at the 62nd AGM and Convention on April 8, 2011 at the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. I spoke as a UVic-based climate scientist on the challenges and opportunities associated with global warming.
If someone had told me then that I would be standing before you five years later as the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head and leader of the BC Green Party, I would have told them that they must be crazy.
But here I am. And here we are.
Ultimately the reason I got into politics is probably very similar to the reason why you got into politics.
I cared deeply about my community and I wanted to do what I could to better it for present and future generations.
I was profoundly troubled by the direction this province was heading.
I could no longer stand on the sidelines and watch the dismantling of British Columbia’s provincial leadership on the climate change file as our government pursued an utterly unrealistic fossil fuel windfall from a hypothetical Liquefied Natural Gas sector in a desperate attempt to win an election that nobody thought they would win.
Well we are already seeing these promises unravel as the province chase a falling stock, doubling down and selling out future generations along the way. And I’ve been saying the same thing now for more than three years. The market did not, does not and will not, any time soon, support a BC LNG industry anytime soon.
Rather than chasing the economy of the last century we should be positioning ourselves as leaders in the 21st century economy.
We have a unique opportunity in British Columbia because of three strategic advantages that we have over virtually every other region in the world.
But for British Columbia to actually capitalise on our strategic advantages, we must ensure we protect them.
A quality public education is not the luxury of a strong economy. A quality education is what builds a strong economy.
A Loraxian approach to resource management does not protect our renewable resources, natural environment or build public support. We need to move away from the professional reliance model and ensure our regulatory framework is complied with and enforced.
And we must start thinking about the long-term consequences of our decisions, decisions that put people, rather than vested interests or re-election goals first and foremost.
We should be using our strategic advantage as a destination of choice to attract industry to BC in highly mobile sectors that have difficulty retaining employees in a competitive marketplace.
We should be using our boundless renewable energy resources to attract industry that wants to brand itself as sustainable over its entire business cycle, just like Washington and Oregon have done.
We should be setting up seed funding mechanisms to allow the BC-based creative economy sector to leverage venture capital from other jurisdictions to our province.
Too often the only leveraging that is done is the shutting down of BC-based offices and opening of offices in the Silicon Valley.
And following the recommendations of both the B.C. Mayors Climate Leadership Council and the BC Climate Leadership team we should continue steadily increasing emissions pricing.
By doing so we send a signal to the market that incentivises innovation and the transition to a low carbon economy.
And the BC Greens have a plan about what to do with the revenue. The funding would be transferred to municipalities across the province so that they might have the resources to deal with their aging infrastructure and growing transportation barriers.
By investing in the replacement of aging infrastructure in communities throughout the province we stimulate local economies and create jobs.
By moving to this polluter-pays model of revenue generation for municipalities, we reduce the burden on regressive property taxes.
Stable, local jobs give rise to vibrant, resilient municipalities. Yet, building strong municipalities is about more than making smart economic choices at the provincial level.
It is also about ensuring that municipal governments are empowered to make the investments their communities need. It is about asking ourselves: “How do we finance our municipalities now and how might we better finance them in the future”.
It’s critical to immediately initiate a provincial dialog on the future of municipal financing. There is far too much downloading and deregulation that is putting increased pressure on municipalities.
Whether it be dealing with the failure of issues that fall under provincial or federal jurisdiction, pressures on municipal spending through the introduction of regulations that they have no control over, programs paid by municipalities for which they have little control over costs, or the cancellation of funding of programs that are still require to be offered, municipalities are often left on the hook.
Take an issue that affects everyone here. Coastal communities often need to step in to clean up derelict vessels. They often bear the cost of the clean-up even though it falls in the jurisdiction of higher levels of government. This is a glaring example of a dereliction of duty exhibited by both provincial and federal governments.
Is continuing to burden homeowners with property tax increases year after year really the best approach?
Or, could provincial and municipal governments instead work together to create a more progressive financing system that promotes, instead of impedes, the type of fundamental economic activity that we all value, such as buying a home.
It’s also critical that we bring the typically urban-based tech and rural-based resource sectors together. Innovation in technology will lead to more efficient and clever ways of operating in the mining and forestry industries.
I was recently told the story of a BC-based technology innovator partnering with a local mine to dramatically improve the efficiency and environmental footprint of their mining operations.
Rather than hauling thousands of unnecessary tonnes of rock to a crusher for processing, the new technology allowed the rocks to be scanned for gold content on site. This meant that prior to trucking, the company could determine if it was more cost-effective to simply put the rock to one side for use as fill later.
We should be investing in innovation in the aquaculture industry, like the land-based technologies used by the Namgis First Nation on Vancouver Island who raise Atlantic salmon without compromising wild stocks.
These are just a few of the many ideas that could help us move to the cutting edge in 21st the century economy.
Fundamental to all of these ideas is the need to ensure that economic opportunities are done in partnership with First Nations. And that means working with First Nations through all stages of resource project development – from conception to completion.
The Green Party of BC is a solutions-oriented party — one that fundamentally believes that policy should flow from evidence. I like to call this evidence-based decision-making, as opposed to what happens too often in politics today — decision-based evidence making.
We have a vision of a compassionate society that lives within its means while preserving the environment around us. It is a vision that guides us to think about the long-term consequences of the decisions we make today.
If you’ve been watching the BC Greens in the Legislature over the last three years you’ll see I’ve tried to offer government solutions to problems that are facing all of us.
As I learned in my scientific career, and as I tried to teach my students, criticism is easy. But what’s more difficult, yet far more valuable, is being constructive in one’s criticism.
If you don’t like my idea, tell me what you would do instead. That is the approach I have taken in the legislature. That is the approach of the BC Greens.
MSP reform, housing, affordability, and sexualized violence are issues that we’ve been able to make significant progress on this year.
I believe that the BC Greens have helped to shape the narrative and in a not insubstantial way have been strong agents of change on these files.
Most recently it was announced that another one of my private members bills is supported by the government — a bill requiring responsible pet ownership.
So what are the essential traits of a successful leader? I firmly believe is that it is being principled, honest, authentic, trustworthy and having integrity.
Leaders must have the courage to be honest with British Columbians about the risks and consequences of any government decision.
Leadership builds public opinion – it doesn’t follow it.
In the shadows of the massive challenges that we face, our province needs new leadership.
Leadership that offers a realistic and achievable vision grounded in hope and real change.
Leadership that places the interests of the people of British Columbia — not vested union or corporate interests— first and foremost in decision-making.
And it’s not only today’s British Columbians that we must think about, it’s also the next generation who are not part of today’s decision-making process.
We need leadership that will build our economy on the unique competitive advantages British Columbia possesses, not chase the economy of yesteryear by mirroring the failed strategies of struggling economies.
Leadership that will act boldly and deliberately to transition us to 21st century economy that is diversified and sustainable.
Yes BC needs leadership. But leadership doesn’t just rest with one person. Everyone here has the opportunity and responsibility to take this mantle of leadership on.
Leadership means inspiring others to act in ways that contribute to the betterment of their society.
We are all here because we believe BC has the potential to show this leadership.
I hope to offer that vision and that leadership to the people of British Columbia over the coming years and I look forward to working with all of you to make that a reality.
The fact is, very few of the important challenges facing our society can easily be placed within the traditional left-right political spectrum.
Addressing these challenges requires us to come together from across the political divide. It requires us to cooperate and collaborate across all levels of government. And it requires us to develop a social license before, not after, a policy pathway is chosen.
I’m asking everyone in this room to consider working together to find real solutions to the important problems that face us today —problems in affordability, homelessness, poverty, climate change, education and health care.
To conclude, I leave you with what Stephen Lewis stated at his UBCM speech in 2012. He noted that British Columbia has the most lunatic political culture in Canada. Everyone laughed.
But quite frankly, I think we should all have been ashamed.
We can do better. We will do better. And I commit to you today, on behalf of the BC Greens, we will to do our best to work with you to solve the challenges each and every one of your communities face.
Thank you and thank you to the AVICC for giving me the opportunity to present to you today.
Today in the legislature I had the great pleasure of introducing Denis Canuel. Denis runs a professional gardening business here on southern Vancouver Island. He was the recent victim of a vicious dog attack featured in the Saanich News.
Later in the afternoon I introduced my private member’s Bill M212 — Animal Liability Act, 2016. Based on similar legislation in Manitoba, this Bill will ensure that owners of animals are held liable for the actions of their animals. Below I reproduce the text and video of my introduction of the Bill. I append our media release at the end.
A. Weaver: I move introduction of the Animal Liability Act, 2016.
A. Weaver: I’m pleased to be introducing a bill intituled the Animal Liability Act. Earlier this year a number of vicious dog attacks occurred in the Lower Mainland. Over the years, British Columbians have called on B.C. legislators to act.
According to the Canada Safety Council, more than 460,000 dog bites occur in Canada each year. Just last week, there was a case of unprovoked dog attack reported in Saanich, an attack that nearly left an individual without his employment for years to come. In this case, the dog was a repeat offender.
Here in B.C., we do not have adequate laws that ensure owners are liable for the actions of their animals. Indeed, we only have liability being imposed on the basis of scienter doctrine, negligence or, in some cases, the occupier’s liability act.
This bill would ensure that owners are liable for any damages resulting from harm that the animals cause to a person or property. This bill, based on similar legislation that exists in Manitoba, is designed to ensure that owners of animals take their ownership seriously and are held responsible for the actions of their pets.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill M212, Animal Liability Act, 2016 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Media Release: April 6, 2016
Andrew Weaver – Legislation needed to ensure responsible pet ownership in B.C.
For Immediate Release
Victoria B.C. – Today Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party and MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, tabled legislation that would ensure pet owners are held responsible for the actions of their animals.
“Thousands of people are bitten by dogs in B.C. each year,” says Weaver. “While provinces like Ontario and Manitoba have enacted legislation to ensure that public safety is put first, BC is falling behind. We need appropriate measures in place to hold the owners of dangerous pets to account.”
Weaver introduced the Animal Liability Act, 2016, which is modeled on Manitoba’s legislation, to make owners directly liable for any damages caused by their pets. The Bill would not apply to damages caused by livestock.
“As it currently stands, when someone gets bitten by a dog the options available for legal recourse hinge on the dog having a previous history of violence. That’s simply not enough,” says Weaver. “This legislation does not affect the vast majority of caring, responsible pet owners. It targets negligent pet owners who are not appropriately socializing, training, or restraining their animals in public places.”
“In most instances I would expect this legislation to be used in situations where an irresponsible owner fails to take appropriate precautions and their violent dog attacks someone. If someone happened to have a particularly aggressive cougar, llama or emu and they let it run around biting people, however, it would certainly apply,” Weaver added. “We need clear liability legislation so that owners are required to ensure their pets behave safely and are held to account if their pet does behave in a dangerous manner.”
Mat Wright – Press Secretary Andrew Weaver MLA
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