Taking steps to support renters in British Columbia

Mar 3, 2021 | 42-1, Blog, Governance, Video | 0 comments

More than two years ago I had the honour of participating in the Rental Housing Task Force with Vancouver West-End MLA Spencer Chandra-Herbert and Courtney-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard.

We held community engagement sessions across the province and heard from both renters and landlords as well as other stakeholders. In the end, we gave Minister Selina Robinson 23 recommendations.

Bill 7 takes important steps to support renters by capping rent increases, protecting renters from illegal renovictions, and increasing the capacity of enforcements and penalties. Here is my 2nd Reading response to Bill 7.

[Transcript]

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s wonderful to see you in the Chair again.

I rise today — or I sit today — to speak to Bill 7, the Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, from my office here in the Legislature.

I’d like to start today by acknowledging Mr. Beads. Mr. Beads is an individual in the town of Sidney that many people who live on the Saanich Peninsula would know. He passed away recently. He spent a lot of time on Beacon Avenue in Sidney beading beautiful pieces of art and selling them there. Mr. Beads is going to be missed in Sidney. He was a homeless gentleman who had his fair share of struggles — more than his fair share of struggles. But every day he sat on the street and shared his kindness with people who passed by, sometimes not even looking up but just acknowledging every set of feet that passed by him with a “Have a nice day” or “Have a great day” or “Have a wonderful day.” Mr. Beads is going to be missed in the town of Sidney.

I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to speak to this bill. I’d like to acknowledge the Attorney General for his effective work in the past as a minister. I’m thankful that he is now holding the housing portfolio and responsible now for developing programs and policy to help what is a very challenging housing market.

The housing market, as many British Columbians know, is red hot. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver says that the market is heating up so fast that “home sales in the region doubled between January and February and have climbed by more than 70 percent since last year.” The board revealed that February sales in B.C. totalled 3,727, a 73 percent increase from the 2,150 recorded the year before and a 56 percent spike from the 2,300 homes sold the month before.

In a rare move, the Victoria Real Estate Board said that more work is required to make sure housing prices were brought back down after it says the provincial government had failed to improve the market conditions. “Demand-suppression measures have not worked and their failure to moderate housing prices in our community has only exacerbated the pressure on the supply that was constrained ten years ago but is now at historically low levels” — speaking to the desire to have more supply being brought into the market, as the member was speaking before me.

It’s not just the real estate market that’s hot. The rental market has also seen some changes over the last few years. We’ve seen vacancy rates increased in Metro Vancouver and in Victoria, while in other markets, like Vernon and Nanaimo, the rental market is much, much tighter.

We’ve seen, over the last number of years, policies that have been focussed on supply and also policies that have been focused on demand. We saw the speculation and vacancy tax that was to address the superheated real estate market. We’ve learned that, actually, addressing this market and these challenges is going to take more than just tinkering around the edges.

Ensuring that housing is more than just units tabulated by accountants and a measure of success or failure counted by politicians and bureaucrats, we have to focus on what I think the member for Stikine was talking about, meaning homes for people who live in our communities. I think that this does. To get us out of a supply and demand kind of conversation about housing requires a systemic shift in our approach.

I like the type of language around talking about “homes for people.” As a participant in the Rental Housing Task Force, we worked very hard to find the balance that the member for Skeena was talking about between the rights of landlords and tenants — the reality that every landlord needs a tenant and every tenant needs a landlord. This is an incredibly important relationship that the Rental Housing Task Force that I sat on with the member for Vancouver–West End and the member for Courtenay-Comox…. We did that work together, and I participated in that work because I believed that the greatest value a house offers individuals in communities is exactly what the member for Stikine was talking about, and that’s as a “home.”

People say: “Well, this is obvious. You know, no doubt that this is about homes.” But unfortunately, we refer so often, when we’re talking about housing…. We talk about units — 114,000 units, 10,000 units, five units. The language around housing in the political landscape is not about finding homes for people or creating homes for people. See, homes are about the stability of individuals in communities. It’s about the safety of individuals in communities. It’s about creating a safe and stable base for individuals to then be able to fully participate in their communities.

I heard a CBC story recently on local CBC Victoria about homeless residents here in Victoria who started a podcast. What really struck me in that story were the comments from the host of the podcast on how exhausting it is to be homeless. The lack of stability, the lack of safety, the lack of security, always having to keep one eye on your belongings because there’s no safe place to store them, always trying to protect your space, must be absolutely exhausting — so exhausting that it becomes the entire day’s work. The entire day’s effort is to just protect your space and just to protect your belongings. That speaks to the security and safety that a home creates.

Yes, we can create units as government. But I think that once we shift our focus away from the conversation being about a housing unit, or 114,000 housing units, and we start talking about what it means to help create a home for somebody, now we’re moving in the right direction.

The Rental Housing Task Force is one of the more positive experiences that I’ve had as an MLA, not because it was easy work, but it was rewarding work. It was a joy to work with the members from the West End and Courtenay-Comox to navigate these challenging issues and to put forward for government a series of recommendations that the government has put their mind to putting into legislation and starting to work on. Part of the reward, of course, of that work is to see when government trusts the quality of that work and begins to start to legislate it.

I think that that is one the most positive aspects of the job that I’ve had here as an MLA, and it’s a tribute to our now Minister of Finance for her foresight to be inclusive and her trust in me to add value to this work. So, I raise my hands to the Minister of Finance for welcoming me into the Rental Housing Task Force.

Unfortunately, I think, as the member previously stated, this debate has featured too much blame. There’s no doubt that policies form the past have impacted the housing market and that this bill that we’re looking at today is a good bill. However, I encourage the Minister Responsible for Housing and the Attorney General to go further, to reach into his history as a housing advocate, past his experience as a B.C. NDP politician, to make the systemic changes that are needed.

While this bill is making important changes to protect renters from illegal renovictions, to provide some stability for residents of mobile home parks, capping rent increase to provide more stability for renters and to increase the capacity of the enforcements and penalties, these changes are important to protect homefulness for our residents — in the COVID-19 times but also in general, once we’ve passed COVID-19.

We all benefit from the greater stability that homes provide our family, our friends and our neighbours. However, while these changes have an impact for many British Columbians, the government needs to go further, with comprehensive changes that are needed to ensure that British Columbians can benefit from the stability of a home.

I strongly encourage the minister and the cabinet to get the housing hub project financing program back on track. This is an important program that supports the missing middle. Our housing programs need to be a full suite, from housing solutions housing the homeless to low-to-moderate income, to moderate- and middle-income homes. It needs to be a full and comprehensive program, not just falling into the trap of focusing on a singular demographic within the full range. We need to be developing programs that are covering the full range. That’s why that financing program to finance the capital builds of projects for the missing middle is so important and why it must not be abandoned at this point.

I’m thankful that this is the first bill that we’re debating today and that we’re debating in this part of the session. It’s a tribute to the collaborative work accomplished in the 42nd parliament and that’s being fulfilled now. It’s a tribute to the member from the West End, our Deputy Speaker, who has always been a strong advocate for renters, and I look forward to supporting this legislation.

With that, I’ll just stay in my seat and thank the Speaker for the opportunity to speak on Bill 7. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.

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