B.C.'s housing affordability crisis needs leadership

Housing leadership needed

As average home prices across communities in British Columbia continue to reach above $1 million, including in Kelowna, the provincial government remains unwilling to take action to address the issue.

When the NDP came to government in 2017, it was clear, its solution to B.C.’s housing crisis revolved around taxation and cracking down on speculators. That’s why it introduced vacancy taxes, forced speculation taxes on communities that didn’t want them and introduced surtaxes on homes valued more than $3 million.

Despite those actions, housing prices have continued to rise with the NDP’s Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing, David Eby, finally admitting earlier this year that “no tax policy is going to put a roof over someone’s head.”

Now that the government has admitted tax policy and foreign speculators aren’t solely responsible for rising real estate prices, what has it done to address the issue? The answer is unfortunately, nothing. Rather, Eby has declared he will introduce legislation after the municipal election in October—because if you can’t afford a roof over your head today, what’s waiting another several months as to not inconvenience our local municipal officials during an election?

It appears as if the government is simply out of ideas for tackling the housing affordability crisis.

I believe part of the lack of innovation we’re seeing from the government can be pointed to the fact that there is no true Minister of Housing. David Eby is the Attorney General first and foremost. After that he’s the Minister Responsible for Housing, not the Minister of Housing, Minister Responsible. There’s an important distinction between the two. This means there’s no full-fledged political office working to tackle the housing crisis, nor is there a full-fledged public service for housing behind the minister.

In fact, there’s not even a deputy minister (the top civil servant for each ministry), rather there is simply an associate deputy minister, who’s responsible for housing, multiculturalism and anti-racism all at the same time.

Without proper staff assigned to actually tackle one of the most important issues facing British Columbians, it’s no wonder we’re seeing little action from the provincial government.

Since the introduction of tax policy solutions to attempt to tackle the housing affordability crisis, mostly introduced in the NDP’s first mandate, we’ve seen few new initiatives.

By contrast, when I worked for Ontario’s municipal affairs and housing minister, we introduced nine individual pieces of legislation over four years to make systematic changes to everything from development charges to municipal government efficiency to community housing and tenant’s rights.

In fact, Ontario’s minister has promised to introduce a new piece of housing legislation each and every year in order to address the recommendations made by Ontario’s Housing Affordability Task Force.

It’s unfortunate we don’t see the same level of commitment from our provincial government here in B.C.

The efforts of Ontario’s minister centre around the idea that the number one impediment to housing affordability is the lack of housing supply. In fact, Canada has the lowest number of homes per capita amongst G7 nations and Ontario has the lowest number of homes per capita in Canada.

Ontario is now seeing record levels of new home starts and completions, as well as quarter-century high new rental home construction levels. The progress is obvious.

In B.C., after several years of hoping the housing affordability crisis would right itself based on the NDP’s tax changes, Eby finally admitted the government must tackle a shortage of housing supply to solve the affordability crisis.

British Columbians require bold new leadership to tackle our housing affordability crisis, and unfortunately with the (current) provincial government, we do not have that leadership.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Adam Wilson is from Kelowna and has an educational background in urban planning, where he published his research on the politicization of cycling infrastructure in the Journal of Transportation Geography. 

Adam was named as one of Kelowna’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2017 for both his research into cycling infrastructure and a number of political interviews he had done with Macleans, the National Post and CBC News. 

He previously worked as an urban planner in Toronto, where he focused on provincial legislation and municipal approval processes.

Most recently, Adam worked for Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, where he held various positions, including as the minister’s executive director of policy and strategic planning, and the minister’s director of communications. 

Adam now lives in Kelowna with his partner and works in the health care sector, while running his own consultancy that provides strategic advice on local municipal issues.

Email Adam at: [email protected]

His website is adamwilson.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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