Eby announces dedicated B.C. housing ministry, as Opposition seeks audit of providers

VICTORIA — The housing crisis in British Columbia will receive the attention of a dedicated place at the government's cabinet table, new Premier David Eby announced, as the Opposition raised concerns about his own management of the brief.

Eby, who is set to set to announce his cabinet Dec. 7, said Tuesday he would appoint the first stand-alone housing minister to add more focus to the New Democrat government's plan to deliver more affordable housing to the province.

"It is vital that we have a minister around the cabinet table that has one job, and one focus only, which is to deliver on housing," he told housing advocates in a speech in Vancouver on Tuesday.

Eby's pledge came a day after the government tabled two pieces of legislation aimed at working with municipal governments to build homes and increase rental properties by relaxing restrictions at apartment and condominium complexes.

Housing was also under scrutiny at the legislature Tuesday, where Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon demanded Eby launch independent audits at BC Housing and Atira Women's Resources Society after separate reports that Falcon said revealed mismanagement of the social housing providers.

BC Housing is a Crown corporation that develops, manages and administers subsidized housing in the province, while Atira is a not-for-profit housing provider.

Falcon said a leaked 2018 report by accounting firm BDO Canada, commissioned to conduct a financial review at Atira, found "inconsistent accounting practices, lack of budget commitment and ineffective board oversight."

A review of BC Housing by accounting firm Ernst and Young, released last June, found "roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of both the government shareholder and BC Housing are unclear."

It concluded there is a risk that oversight policies could contain gaps that "could result in inefficiencies and additional reporting burden on BC Housing."

Eby was minister responsible for housing at time of the Ernst and Young report's release. Days later, he announced the dismissal of seven members of BC Housing's government-appointed board, said Falcon.

"The mismanagement at BC Housing under this premier is staggering," said Falcon. "How can anyone trust this premier to deliver the housing people need?"

Eby, who did not mention the reports about Atira or BC Housing during his Vancouver luncheon speech, said he wants to restructure the relationship between cities and the province with regards to housing.

He said B.C. is in the midst of a housing crisis and the province needs to increase the supply of homes to meet growing demand.

"We are going to deliver the most ambitious housing plan in North America," Eby said. "We're going to make it happen together."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2022.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press