MLA Column: Bold changes needed to address affordable housing

Nov 2, 2021 | Blog, Governance, MLA Column | 0 comments

In the 2017 election, access to affordable housing was a ballot box question. Going back a decade, when I was a councillor in the District of Central Saanich, the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce was sounding the alarm bells that there was a lack of affordable workforce housing in our communities.

Since then, the housing market has become even less affordable, and the price of housing in our region is so inflated that homeownership is out of reach for many British Columbians.

In Question Period I asked David Eby, the minister responsible for housing, if his government considers housing a human right? Yes, they do.

It is on this foundational principle that the provincial government must construct their housing policy if we hope to see this crisis addressed.

The housing crisis is a global issue. While Vancouver has been singled out as one of the least affordable cities in the world, the cost of housing is causing chaos in communities everywhere.

We have often heard that a lack of supply is the main culprit. One of the programs currently administered by BC Housing is called the Housing Hub.

The goal of the program is to invest billions of dollars of public money into building affordable rental housing and homeownership options for low to moderate income British Columbians.

Non-traditional partnerships are encouraged between non-profit, government and the private sector to combine land and expertise to build these new projects.

This is a good program, if there are appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that our public investment is not further inflating an already out-of-control housing market.

For decades governments and politicians have left affordable housing to the private sector to build. That has been a total failure leading to the chaos that millions of British Columbians are feeling personally and the chaos that is having devastating social consequences in our communities.

The next actions of governments are critical. That is why public investments in housing should be strictly in non-market solutions.

In my follow-up to Minister Eby I asked about the safeguards that are in place to ensure the Housing Hub is not part of the problem. He assured me that he is working both with a private firm and our auditor general to provide oversight of this program.

The Housing Hub is just one move of many that we can expect from a government that considers housing as a human right.

I expect them to begin talking with British Columbians and local governments about zoning bylaws (specifically about the single-family zones and densification) and the vast array of other policy measures that progressive jurisdictions around the world are taking to address the housing crisis.

Solving the housing crisis in British Columbia is going to require the provincial government to be committed to bold changes in economic and social policy. As I have come to understand in my time as the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, the Gulf Island communities face a series of issues that make the housing crisis unique and even more acute.

Addressing the housing crisis in British Columbia will be a challenge. I am encouraged hearing Minister Eby acknowledge housing is a human right, now the provincial government must move quickly to create progressive policy measures that reflect that.

Article was originally published in the Black Press on October 30, 2021.

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