B.C.'s Housing Minister promises changes to incentivize cities to create more housing

Housing incentives coming

B.C.'s housing minister says some municipalities need to do a better job of building the housing needed in both the short, and long term.

In an extensive interview with Castanet News, David Eby suggested the skyrocketing prices in both the rental and for purchase market across the Okanagan and the province is due in large part to an explosion in population growth.

During the third quarter of 2021, he says about 25,000 people relocated to the province while in Metro Vancouver, only 6,000 MLS listings appeared...the lowest number since they began collecting data 30 years ago.

That growth is only expected to increase over time, and, without more new housing, the current crunch will only get worse.

Municipalities, he says, need to do a better job approving projects that will create that supply.

"I find it wildly frustrating when I see things like the Chamber of Commerce writing to Penticton, begging them to approve a 150 unit rental building that's badly needed for workers in the area and Penticton council turning it down because neighbours think it will negatively affect their lifestyle," said Eby.

"Especially in a community that's faced such a challenge with homelessness due to pressures put on rental housing.

In other communities they are recognizing population growth, and they want to move faster, they want to approve more housing, but the processes they need to go through to guarantee they are able to collect amenity charges and other benefits for the community so the growth pays for itself are so lengthy, and they are overwhelmed by applications, and they are struggling."

Eby says the system itself is struggling- it's broken.

In order to right the ship, he says two reports, one technical and one structural were completed to try and address it.

He says the province hopes to fix the municipal approvals process and, at the same time incentivize municipalities to approve more housing, and be open to building the housing that's desperately needed.

"The report sets out carrots and sticks. The carrots are things like increased support for infrastructure that communities need, essentially paying them to approve housing and giving the municipality the opportunity to bring in improved amenities the more housing they put in place.

"And, the stick is restricting access to funding for things like transit if a community is not approving housing that drives the need for services like that."

Eby says he wants municipal councils to work with neighbours and provide information about why the city is heading in a particular direction to allow more housing on a particular site and particular area.

To eliminate nimbyism by shifting the conversation to "what does it look like and where is it located, as opposed to whether or not housing should be built."

Eby held up Kelowna as a community on the right track.

Over the past few years, the city has rezoned select neighbourhoods to allow for more density among other initiatives.

"I am really inspired by the leadership of Mayor Basran and Kelowna council on these issues, especially in relation to the recognition of the need for supportive housing as well as more affordable housing options in the community.

"The recognition that if we allow people to build two units or three units on their single family lot, if that increases opportunities for rental housing and affordable entry into the market for first-time home buyers, as long as we are attending to the issues around speculation and owners holding properties vacant, is a really important, and challenging thing for a city council to do."

Creating housing does cost money, and both Kelowna and West Kelowna continue to seek tax dollars collected from their communities from the Spec Tax.

Both cities say they have yet to receive any direct monies as promised, however, Eby suggests the province has, to his knowledge, been meeting or exceeding the contribution from the tax to build supportive housing in those communities.

"I could stand to be corrected, but my understanding was that we worked pretty closely with Kelowna and West Kelowna on their priorities, and delivering where they felt housing should go and what it should look like.

"I see it as a co-operative enterprise, but maybe people disagree about that."

For Eby, the goal is that growth is both understood, and managed so the province doesn't continue to tread water knowing housing is needed, but not being built.

"The outcome at the other end is a housing system that makes sense based on information held by the city, the province and the federal government."

Eby expects new legislation around housing will be introduced sometime after municipal elections are held in October.

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