As we get to the last week of the Fall sitting, the BC NDP government tabled amendments to the Strata Act to remove rental and age restrictions.
This was a recommendation of the Rental Housing Task Force I participated in in 2018. This recommendation has not been acted on until now.
It was one of the more contentious recommendations and may very well be a useful change, that is why we suggested it. However, we did not do extensive research on the policy at the time and it is important that the Minister of Housing has completed the technical work to understand the impact of this policy change.
By moving this so late in the session gives us very little time to get the details. We will ask the questions and I certainly hope we get the answers.
I’m pleased to rise to speak to Bill 44, the Building and Strata Statutes Amendment Act. Every day, we hear from our constituents stories from all corners of the province about the impact of the housing crisis, from young people forced to leave the province to businesses who are struggling to pay rent and attract workers due to the costs of housing. It’s not healthy for our economy and it’s not healthy for our communities. Our communities should be places where people of all ages and walks of life can thrive.
Removing age and rental restrictions from strata corporations is a small step that this government is taking, but it’s not an uncontroversial one, I should point out. As the member from Richmond just mentioned, it’s only been less than 24 hours, but we have heard from our constituents from across the province about the potential impacts that this change that the government is making may have.
My concern is that there’s no real method for measurement in this bill. No planned review to see if the changes that have been made are effective or if the outcomes that the government expects to happen are actually being achieved. Removing age and rental restrictions was one of those recommendations that was made on the 2018 Rental Housing Task Force.
It was a bipartisan working group that was created by the former minister responsible for housing. It was one of those pieces that was, as that report was tabled, one of the more controversial pieces that we heard about, even though it did not show up in the former Minister of Housing’s 30-point action plan to address the housing crisis that we are still addressing here today.
This government clearly needs to articulate a vision for housing in this province. I spoke to this in the previous bill earlier today, as we’re in this race to get through this legislative agenda. We’re speeding through important housing policy, including changes to the Strata Act that has had a tremendous response from people. A mixed response from people. People are challenged with this piece of policy, but yet it shows up at the end of this legislative agenda that is in full speed ahead movement for this debate today.
Much of this new legislation is not straightforward, and it’s unclear how it will impact my constituents and people across the province. That’s the reason why I wanted to stand here today and acknowledge the fact that this bill is on the table and that we are going to be doing the best we can to get some of the questions that have been asked out loud in the second reading stage of this debate answered.
Because actually, this change might be part of solutions to housing. In fact, it ended up this change might be part of a solution to housing. In fact, it ended up on that report because we agreed that it was potentially a solution. However, there are nuances and potential adverse impacts that could happen, and it’s important that we have the opportunity to be able to canvass that.
[S. Chandra Herbert in the chair.]
I have questions about what will happen to the units and stratas that become available for rent. How many units will be added to the rental market? Clearly, the Minister of Housing must have done some of this analysis work. It’s possible that new strata rules that are contained in this bill could drive up the cost of housing. Has the analysis been done on that? Resulting from, maybe, some increased speculation and corporate investment…. What kind of safeguards are being put in place to ensure that that doesn’t happen? How will the province ensure that REITs, or real estate investment trusts, don’t prey upon these units and strata complexes for them to be corporatized?
The greatest loss of rental units identified in the past ten years is attributed to short-term accommodation, short-term vacation rentals. It’s time that we, as a government, take a much more serious look at that than we have. This legislation does not deal with short-term vacation rentals.
This legislation potentially also impacts volunteer-run strata boards, who will now act as de facto landlords. This legislation will, ultimately, download the workload of management of tenants, the tenant relationships, onto volunteers. I wonder how the government has considered and accounted for this. Perhaps there is a plan in place, and if there is, that’s great. It would be important for us to be able to understand that.
There is limited data on how many units this change will make available — no plans to review the legislation in the future. Another issue that needs to be addressed is that there is no method of measurement and no planned review to see if these changes are as effective as the government hopes that they will be. I’d like to see a commitment from the government that data will be collected and a review of these legislative changes within a transparent timeline.
I understand that many strata corporations are concerned about the impacts of these changes. Indeed, I’ve had constituents emailing me about this ever since that 2018 report — well before the new Premier floated these ideas in the leadership event that just ended. So, I think that it’s important that we are clear to our constituents and to the 900,000 people who occupy the 900,000 units that are within stratas. But we are in a housing crisis, and it is good to see that changes are being made to account for concerns of stratas, such as allowing them to apply to the residential tenancy branch for dispute resolution.
While I welcome the changes and the opportunities to address the housing crisis, this government cannot expect to solve the problems with the same thinking and approaches that created them. We need to meet the needs of a public crisis. Tabling this legislation at the last minute and stifling democratic debate is not a good way to hear the concerns and meet the needs of the public.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak to this bill. HÍSW̱ḴE.
Thursday November 24, 2022
A. Olsen: To the minister, quickly, if the information could be accurate, if there could be a mechanism that’s put in place to get the information accurately recorded, wouldn’t this be information that’s valuable to government, just in terms of the overall success or evaluation of this program, the overall makeup of units of housing and homes in stratas — how many are being lived in by owners, how many are being lived in by rentals?
From a data perspective, it seems to me that rather than removing this from the legislation, enhancing it and making it a requirement might actually be able to inform future decisions that the minister and the Premier may want to make with respect to housing.
Hon. M. Rankin: I welcome the member for Saanich North and the Islands, House Leader of the Third Party, to the debate.
The answer is I think that this particular provision was about information to an owner, not to government. It was ensuring that the owner could know how much rental was in a particular unit in a particular strata and the like. There was never a reporting requirement for the strata corporation to make information available of that sort — how many renters, how many not — to the government. That was never (a) intended by this or (b) seen as an additional burden that one wanted to impose on strata corporations.
I take the member’s point that that information, in terms of assessing how this legislation is working and so forth, could be valuable — but also to say that Stats Canada, through census data, is already providing that to the provincial government. So we have some pretty good idea, I’m advised, as to the number of renters in various units.
A. Olsen: With respect to the comments that have been made on the age restrictions….
Certainly, one of the more devastating impacts of having age restrictions in buildings is exactly as the member for Peace River South just mentioned. That is that people who want to start a family are not able to start a family in a place that they own. That really is…. Well, it’s sad and not something that we should support.
I’ve heard some of the same comments made — that this is something that people would consider in a strata. I’m wondering if the minister has any thoughts or any initiatives, going forward, that are going to measure and report if that, in fact, indeed, is happening. Part of this is…. It’s fine for us in here, as we’re making this change, to say…. The supermajority is difficult to achieve. It’s unlikely to achieve.
[S. Chandra Herbert in the chair.]
What are we doing to ensure that we are understanding the impacts that these decisions, which we’re having, are going to have and that those unintended consequences, which were outlined, are not, indeed, occurring and actually making it more of a challenging place for young families to live?
Hon. M. Rankin: I want to start by saying to my colleague and friend from Saanich North and the Islands…. Thank you for your apparent support for the notion that people who own condos and want to have children should be allowed to do that in the property that they own. I think that is something with which, I gather, everyone in this place agrees.
The answer is no. We haven’t thought of collecting that data. It might be a good idea. I take it under advisement. We do have census data, as was said — that’s more at the macro level, I concede — that will allow us to see whether this happens. We’ll certainly get anecdotal stories of the kind that have already been recounted by the member for Peace River South.
If this does become an unintended consequence, then, of course, we’ll have the ability to address it.
A. Olsen: I’d just like to say…. I remember when I first got elected in Central Saanich in 2008. I would bring my son with me to committee meetings because I didn’t have child care.
When I first brought Silas in, he was one. The assumption was that he was going to be total destruction in that meeting. He was going to disrupt everything. These chambers — it was the council chambers at the time, or it was down at the CRD or at the Greater Victoria Public Library — aren’t built for kids. They’re not built as a welcoming environment for children to be in.
It took a while. In fact, I had to convince a couple of the chairs of committees that I was on to allow Silas into the room with me. I let them know: “We’ll leave if he becomes disruptive.” But what I saw at that table when Silas was in the room was dramatically different than when Silas was not in the room.
We’ve started to allow so-called strangers into this chamber, people who…. Anybody who is not an elected member of this place is, I think, identified as a stranger.
What happens when the children come in here is a remarkable feeling. It reminds us of who we’re making decisions for, not just for now but for the long term.
I stand to raise this point to add emphasis to the measurements and reporting aspects of this as being necessary so that, then, we can start to build and have that data and have that information about the consequences, positive and negative — the word “consequences” — and the outcomes of the decisions that we’re making here and to ensure that we are achieving what is expressed as the intent of this bill and that we’re achieving those things.
Hon. M. Rankin: I appreciate the point. I appreciate the story, for emphasis. As I say, it’s a matter that is well worth taking under advisement.
A. Olsen: There’s a whole lot in what has been said just in the last few minutes.
Yeah. If I can just give my experience as an MLA whose…. Part of my constituency is within the speculation and vacancy tax, and part of it is out.
When the speculation and vacancy tax was first brought in back in 2018, I met with a lot — many, many, many dozens, maybe hundreds — of people who were being impacted by the SVT. There was a variety of different types of people in different situations that were being impacted by the tax. Some of those folks are folks that live part of the time in one part of our country and part of the time in another part of our country.
I guess what I have a difficult time with, in the government using the number 2,900…. This is aside from the policy itself, I think, that we’re moving here and that we’re amending. Using the number 2,900 units in buildings in SVT areas as a way to build momentum on a policy….
When you get underneath the surface a little bit, you realize that, actually, there are a number of those units that are not empty, as the SVT criteria outlines. They’re empty because…. For six months of the year, people don’t live in them. So they’re charged the SVT.
Now, what has happened here is…. The minister is conflating that situation as an opportunity for future rentals. What it’s done…. I’ll tell you what it’s done. It’s made life really difficult. It has left the impression that we’re doing something that we might not be doing. It’s got a whole lot of people excited who are actually scrambling to find houses. It’s, potentially, got their hopes up that something is going to be coming of this that may not actually be there.
My question to the minister is this. How many units of…?
We collect the SVT in a number of areas. The minister and the Premier yesterday…. They have all identified that there are 2,900 units in pre-2010 buildings that have rental restrictions on them that will be available for rent — this is their language — starting tomorrow or starting whenever this bill comes into force. That’s the rhetoric behind the promotion of this bill.
How many units identified in the SVT tax of post-2010 buildings that are empty, not the condominium association or owners association numbers, the Ministry of Finance numbers, post-2010 buildings that are paying the SVT and that have to fill out the paperwork and pay the SVT…? Exactly the same number that the minister is using, for clarity…. Exactly the same criteria that the minister is using to talk about 2,900 pre-2010…. I’m looking for that exact same number post-2010.
Hon. M. Rankin: I thank the member for the question.
Draft Segment 034
Hon. M. Rankin: I thank the member for the question. I think the point that I would try to emphasize is that we’re trying to use this as merely one indication of what might be out there in potential rentals, given that, post 2010, members of strata corporations could rent, and are allowed to rent freely, their units.
So we’re dealing with a universe that’s pre-2010, I think, to a large extent. We said that we have people who are in the areas such as where the member represents, who are part of the strata, who are applying for an exemption under the speculation and vacancy tax, and 2,900 of those people have done so, but they are all in the pre-2010 strata corporation world.
I understand that there are single-family issues and so on, but this is only with respect to strata corporations. That is merely a point of departure as we try to get a handle on just how big an issue this could be. It’s one indicator, but we expect — since there are many other condos that predate 2010 and that are subject to rental restrictions — that others will now take advantage of the opportunity to rent them.
I don’t want that to be the sole issue, because that’s only the first point of departure to answer the question that was asked — about how many people are there likely to be helped as a consequence of this amendment. It’s not easy to know that, because we don’t have all the data. So I use that as merely a point of departure. What I do know is that many people who are in the real estate world have said very positive things about their predictions for success.
I have another Re/Max agent, a real estate agent in Vancouver, who, again, on CKNW on November 22, said this — Glenn Warren: “Buildings that are 20, 30 or sometimes 40 years old — most of those are very restrictive on renters, and it’s very hard to rent those units. There are lots of empty units in those buildings, just because people can’t rent their unit out.”
We are expecting this to create more units. In a housing crisis, I can’t predict with accuracy — any more than anyone else in this place can — exactly how many units would be liberated and available for rent, but I reiterate: we have a housing crisis. This is merely one tool in the toolkit to make a difference in people’s lives
A. Olsen: I don’t dispute that. That wasn’t the point of the question, and I think the minister understands that he just answered a question that I didn’t ask. At least I hope he does. What I was trying to identify was that the approach that has been taken here is to dangle a large number in front of British Columbians and say: “These are the potential number of units that we are going to liberate, because these are units that are currently behind rental restrictions.”
We are then supposed to follow the logic that the government is using that, then, by removing those rental restrictions, those units will become available for rent. That’s the thing that people who are looking for a place, specifically an affordable place, are latching onto. But I’ve sat for many, many 30-minute meetings in my constituency, knowing that many of those people — not all of them — don’t have any intention to rent it. They have an intention of living in one part of Canada for one part of the year and another part of Canada in the other part of the year.
That is their intention; they are bitter about having to pay an SVT. That’s why they came and met with me in my constituency office. But suggesting that those people’s units are available for rent after this…. Yes, we can suggest that that’s the case. The point that I’m making, in asking the question…. Again, this is not about the policy. This is about making a point, about how the government is communicating this.
Yesterday we had a Premier that stood up, pointed across and said: “Yeah, you didn’t support a housing initiative.” So it has been politicized. There has been treachery created in this, and part of that treachery is in how the numbers are being framed.
The reason why I asked the question about how many empty units are paying SVT in post-2010 buildings is because I want to be able to put one number here and one number next to it, to show that there are people in our province that are making a choice to own a building and pay the SVT, even in buildings where there’s a potential for rental.
That doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not I’m going to support or not support this initiative. That’s just to show that this government’s communication of this is what is dangerous. It is the politicization of a very, very challenging and desperately challenging housing crisis that people are experiencing every day in our province. For us to put a number out there — 2,900 — people go: “Wow, we’re going to have a massive solution to a problem.”
What I am trying to get to in this bill at the very last few moments of the waning hours of the waning minutes of this session is what kind of analysis was done. Frankly, it’s coming out that not much analysis was done. Maybe the point only was the point that was made at the end of question period yesterday in this, where we have a Premier that stands up and says that there are members in this place that voted against housing — at second reading, by the way. They voted for housing later.
But not the point. The point is political communications, right? The point is political communications.
How many units within the SVT area post-2010, the equivalent to the 2,900-unit number that the Ministry of Housing received from the Ministry of Finance? Please get the other number from the Ministry of Finance of the post-2010 buildings that are remaining vacant for six months less a day, or whatever that exact frame is, so that we can put these numbers side by side. Again, this is just about the numbers.
Hon. M. Rankin: To the member, thank you. I regret if the communication was problematic in the member’s eyes. We’re trying to find a particular answer to a question that is at the core of this, which is how many units will be liberated as a consequence of this.
We took one measure from one data set that we did have. Other measures are hard to predict because we do not, I believe, know exactly how many units are subject to rent restrictions at the present time in all parts of British Columbia.
But people, as the member will well know, with empty units can choose to add their units to the rental market or pay the speculation and vacancy tax.
Hon. M. Rankin: Sorry, the people with empty units can choose to add those units to the rental market or they can choose to pay the speculation and vacancy tax begrudgingly, as the member has acknowledged. Of course, when they do that, that goes directly into funding. Both of those options are helping us in the housing crisis.
But to the numbers, we expect that there will be many, many people who will take advantage of this new ability to rent condos. I’ve given examples just from my circle of people who are now able to do that, who weren’t before.
A. Olsen: I think this is probably where we depart from the comments that have been made by the official opposition, because I actually think that there is potential for this to be part of the supply response — potential for this. What I’ve been trying to get to is to understand the numbers that the government has been putting out as the potential supply that’s there.
The analysis has been done to understand what the real supply is. I think that if a law is changing that removes a restriction on a certain part of the housing stock and puts them into rentals, that is actually increasing the supply. I think that’s probably what the minister has been saying all along in this.
However, I guess the…. In addition to that, I think that when it comes to this policy, probably the most effective communications tool — and you’re welcome to borrow it if you want — is the post-2010 condo units, strata units, that are in stratas. They are the greatest example of the success of what this could be.
We’re getting these emails from people. They’re saying to us that they’re uncomfortable with this change, fear of the unknown. We don’t know what the world is going to be that we live in after this. We can say look to the post-2010 buildings, because I can tell you as a constituency MLA, in my constituency I have not had an overwhelming number of people coming to me and saying that all of the issues that have been raised here as concerns are a massive amount or a huge burden, some amount of concerns, on my constituency.
Now, I might be inviting a whole pile of emails that I hadn’t previously…. But I think that the problem when…. I really want to put this out there, because the big issue in terms of supply of affordable rental housing in my riding is not in this bill; it is in short-term vacation rentals. This government has not moved to regulate short-term vacation rentals. Inside the SVT area, outside the SVT area, in the southern Gulf Islands, short-term vacation rentals are eviscerating the long-term housing stock, and this government has done nothing.
If we want to put units of housing into the market for renters long term, we would be moving with great speed, much greater speed that we’re moving on this bill even, to put meaningful restrictions on short-term vacation rentals. But we’ve not done that. Why has this minister chosen to deal with this particular policy area in removing this and not have in this bill…? This bill is dealing with two policy areas. Why not make it a third policy area and also include restrictions on short-term vacation rentals, which would do a great deal of help in my communities in the southern Gulf Islands?
Hon. M. Rankin: I just want to start by saying thank you to the member for such a clear presentation and one that I sympathize with a great deal, I just want to say. And I want to thank the member for the advice, frankly, on how to better communicate the need for this. The world didn’t come to a screeching halt in 2010 when rentals were allowed in condos. I haven’t got any note. I have not received a single letter about that. So I tend to share the perspective and the experience that the member has.
I also would take advantage of this opportunity to thank the member again, because I believe — he will correct me if I’m wrong — he was a member of the Rental Housing Task Force in 2018, and that recommended banning rental restrictions at the time. So I appreciate that when the member said he may be parting company from the official opposition, I suspect that may be what he was signalling. I don’t know. But I appreciate his work on this subject.
I have a concern about short-term rentals, as does the government. Two things. One, it’s clear that stratas can still limit short-term rentals should they choose. Two, the Premier has said, as recently as three days ago, that it is one of the things that desperately needs to be examined, and in particular areas. However, he was quick to say…. He referenced, I recall, Tofino as an example where in that community, short-term rentals are important as a component of the tourist housing stock. One size does not fit all.
I know the member represents some of the Gulf Islands, and I’m acutely aware of the problem to which he refers and, frankly, sympathize enormously with the point he’s making. But the Premier is seized with this issue, as he’s indicated publicly, and again, I stress that stratas can still limit short-term rentals, and I hope they do.
A. Olsen: Finally for me on this policy point, I think, as a member of that Rental Housing Task Force, we were seized with a variety of…. We had 30, 40…. There were a lot of recommendations. The enforcement piece that the government did in 2019 was a big part of that, and if I had more time, I would take more time to understand how effective that enforcement body that was brought in, in May of 2019 has been.
The government has not moved on the removal of rentals from the pre-2010 buildings for four years, more than four years. It’s now October of 2022. I think I got that right. But anyway.
I guess for me, when I…. I know that we put that as a recommendation, but we didn’t specifically do much in terms of the analysis of the impact. We didn’t have the capacity to do a deep dive in the analysis of what that impact might be. So when I came here today, I came here prepared to ask questions largely around what work has been done in addition to the work that we did in making those recommendations. We put a suite of proposals. The government took them away and did analysis on them and moved the suite, brought in the 30-point plan, then brought in the enforcement piece a little later on.
My hope was to hear today from the current minister and from the government that there has been some more deep analysis done on what the impacts of this could be. Actually, those emails that my colleague from Peace River South had been talking about are people who are living in a place and who are now experiencing fear that the place that they’re living in is changing. We have a duty, as people in this place who are responsible for making those laws, to be able to clearly articulate to them information that will ease their fears.
There are people that purchased a situation. They purchased a dream. I used the example yesterday. What ethical responsibility do we have as legislators when someone buys a blue cube with hopes and dreams filling it and we tell them now that it’s a yellow pyramid with undefinable content inside it? That’s essentially what’s happening here. We as legislators need to be able to explain to people what the impact is, and we need to be able to reassure them, when we’re making these changes, that we’ve done the necessary analysis that things are going to be okay with their living situation — with, as has been pointed out, their number one investment and, in many cases, the only thing that they have.
I think that’s the duty that we have here when we’re making these changes, and fear is driving a lot of the emails that come in about the unknown. What we are hoping to do in the committee stage of these debates is add a little bit of definition and contour, a little bit of texture to the unknown so that we can go back to our constituencies when this place adjourns, in just a few minutes, and reassure people that government has done their work, done their homework, answered the questions and gave us the reassurances.
Hon. M. Rankin: To the member, again, I know that he was a core member of the 2018 Rental Housing Task Force, which made recommendations to no longer allow strata rental restriction bylaws. I thank him for that.
I know he, in the process of that, did a considerable amount of consultation with not just the rental community but the strata community as well. Certainly, staff consulted with key strata organizations since then and conducted additional research and policy analysis.
I should tell you that ministry staff, however, got somewhat deterred or diverted along that route because of COVID. Of course, their responsibilities for finding housing, particularly for the homeless, etc., became a key priority. That was something that might…. Perhaps this could have come in earlier without the COVID pandemic. I’m not able to speculate on that, but I suspect that’s the case.
The member talks about the fear of change that people are responding to here and a need for better communications to address those fears. I think that’s fair commentary, and we will take under advisement the member’s suggestion that we can do better on that. The most significant part of that is…. After 2010, this has not been a thing for any condos that have existed.
The fear of change, which this member is pointing to, is something we need to do a better job of alleviating. I can say that we have that point. We understand that. No one is requiring anyone to rent their condo units if they choose not to. However, we expect that, given the housing crisis, many people will stand up and do the right thing and assist us, on a one-to-one human basis, to address that.