Premier proposes giving cities building targets in bid to tackle B.C.'s housing crisis

David Eby speaks during a news conference at the University of British Columbia on Oct. 21, a month before becoming the leader of the NDP. On Nov. 21, as premier, Eby introduced two bills aimed to improve the supply of housing in the province. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
David Eby speaks during a news conference at the University of British Columbia on Oct. 21, a month before becoming the leader of the NDP. On Nov. 21, as premier, Eby introduced two bills aimed to improve the supply of housing in the province. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

British Columbia Premier David Eby has kicked off his first full week as leader by announcing new measures to fix what has become an old problem in the province — a lack of homes for both existing and expected residents.

The former housing minister and newly minted leader of the province's New Democratic Party said it was one of the issues he planned to tackle just moments after he was sworn in as premier on Friday.

Eby, who said population growth has never been higher in B.C., laid out his initial plans to tackle the housing crisis during a Monday morning press conference alongside Murray Rankin, the attorney general and minister responsible for housing.

"People are coming to this province in record numbers…and our housing supply is not keeping up," said Eby.

WATCH| B.C. premier explains provincial role in setting municipal housing targets:

Eby told a news conference that two pieces of legislation tabled Monday aim to increase housing supply with measures that will end rental restrictions and force local governments to meet housing growth targets.

Housing Supply Act

The proposed Housing Supply Act is designed to prioritize housing construction in municipalities with the greatest need through better collaboration between the province and local governments.

This, according to the NDP, will be done by building on legislation already in place that requires municipalities and regional governments to provide housing needs reports to the province by April 2022 and every five years moving forward.

The plan is to have those reports reviewed by the provincial housing ministry, which will determine if a housing target should be set for a particular municipality and then work with local government leaders to set that target number.

"Delivering housing is a key role for municipalities, and they need support from the province to achieve the numbers we need," said Eby.

According to a government official, it is expected that eight to 10 municipalities will be initially identified, and, once the target is set, it is up to the municipality to use tools available to them, such as zoning powers, to get that housing built.

Kathryn Marlow/CBC News
Kathryn Marlow/CBC News

If local governments fail to meet the target, the ministry has compliance and enforcement options.

These include appointing an adviser to review the situation, issuing a directive that local governments must act on, or, as a last resort, issue an order in council.

Marianne Alto, mayor of Victoria, praised the act and urged other local leaders to embrace it.

"We must meet those expectations because they are the expectations of our residents and our residents to be," she said.

If passed, the Housing Supply Act is expected to be put into action in mid-2023.

The Union of B.C. Municipalities said local governments strongly support efforts to increase housing supply but, in an initial written analysis of the government's proposal, added, "The legislation leaves a number of unanswered questions."

"How will housing targets be defined?' How will targets relate to current official community plans, regional planning and growth management plans, including efforts to limit urban sprawl and address climate adaptation and mitigation?''

The UBCM said because the target elements of the legislation remain undefined, they could ``significantly affect how the legislation is implemented.''

Prof. Andy Yan, the director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, said the legislation marks the start of a housing supply initiative that could take up to five years to show results.

"I think this is how you open up the process,'' he said. "There won't necessarily be immediate results as opposed to providing direction for those results to come to fruition.''

Reduced strata restrictions

Proposed legislative changes would also remove age limits in all condominium properties covered by the Strata Property Act, although 55-plus buildings would remain to preserve seniors' communities.

A news release from the province says some buildings restrict couples who plan on starting families by having 19-plus age requirements, meaning couples have to move when they are expecting a child.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"The last thing you need to think about when you're preparing to welcome a newborn is finding a new place to live," said Sarah Arnold, an expectant mother and condo owner in Victoria, in a statement.

According to the provincial government, there are approximately 2,900 empty condos that cannot be rented right now because of strata rules. The province says its amendment will enable owners to rent out these homes immediately.

Doug King with Victoria's Together Against Poverty Society called the announcement a step in the right direction.

"I wouldn't expect this to start turning the market in the other direction and to start to see so many rentals hit the market that prices start to go down, but any relief in the current housing crisis is very, very welcomed," he said.

King notes the amendment will apply to condos built before 2010. That year the province changed the rules so new strata builds couldn't prohibit units from being rented. Those newer units, however, may be unattainable for the majority of people, he says.

"It's these older units that have the potential to enter the market and actually drive the market cost down," King said. "That's what we need the most."

Tony Gioventu, executive director of the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C., says the move could backfire by encouraging speculation.

"It is just going to simply mean that when a unit comes up for sale, it's not going to be purchased by another occupant that is going to live there. It's going to be purchased by a speculator who is not going to live there, and we are going to end up having more competition for these units," he said.

If approved, changes to the Strata Property Act will take effect immediately. The province says bylaws restricting short-term rentals, such as AirBnBs, will still be allowed.

Monday's announcement did not include a reference to a tax on flipping houses, an item that was included in the affordable housing plan Eby released during his run for the leadership of the B.C. NDP. Other parts of the plan not directly mentioned Monday include making secondary suites legal in communities across B.C. and allowing home builders to replace a single-family home with up to three units on the same footprint.

Most unaffordable housing in Canada

According to Statistics Canada data published in September, B.C. is leading the country when it comes to costly housing.

The data gathered from the 2021 census said B.C. ranks as the most unaffordable province for housing in Canada due largely to the number of people paying high rents to live in downtown Vancouver.

Eby said on Friday that he planned to "hit the ground running'' and announced two one-time payments for residents to help mitigate inflation pressures for residents.

On Sunday, he announced a new public safety plan to increase enforcement on repeat violent offenders and expand mental-health crisis response teams.