MLA Column: Province lacks the data to back up housing investments

May 9, 2023 | Blog, Community, MLA Column | 0 comments

The housing crisis has been growing since before the 2017 election.

In 2018 and 2019, as part of their 30-point plan, the BC NDP tightened rules on reno/demo-victions, capped rent increases, introduced the speculation and vacancy tax, and the multi-billion dollar Housing Hub. Following that the BC NDP required local governments to keep an updated housing needs assessment, then last fall they introduced the Housing Supply Act, which gives the provincial government additional powers to ensure local governments are making decisions to create supply to meet the housing demand. This fall we are expecting legislation that overrides local zoning bylaws — effectively turning single-family zones into multi-family zones.

Recently, I had an hour in budget estimates with Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon. I asked Minister Kahlon how many housing units existed in the province. I noted that the province has been collecting data and should have a sense of the profile of our housing stock across the province. I was shocked to learn that the minister did not have access to those numbers.

The focus is on increasing supply, Minister Kahlon noted that the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates British Columbia needs 570,000 units by 2030. It is important that we add supply; we don’t have enough homes, and we need more. But the type of supply is important, to understand what type of supply to build and where to build it, we need clear data about our existing housing stock.

As I drilled further into the issue, I was hoping to gain confidence that the decisions about supplying the demand are driven by a clear understanding of the current housing stock. Unfortunately, it appears the BC NDP government is just counting units. The Homes for People plan announced in early April outlines plenty of actions, many of which are greatly needed, but the plan is clearly not data-driven.

For context, the plan’s baseline is 114,000 new housing units. That was the BC NDP election promise in 2017. It is unclear what that number was originally based on, and it is doubtful that the number is still relevant.

We often hear rhetoric such as “the government has doubled the number of units” but they never offer the full context. For example, what if we were only previously delivering 10% of what was needed? Minister Kahlon noted that the proposals considered by local governments come from developers and are driven by the real estate market. He highlighted the many factors out of the control of the provincial government such as inflation and migration/immigration.

I don’t doubt Minister Kahlon when he assured me the real estate market will provide housing for a portion of the needs. However, as we know there will be parts of the housing continuum that will be overlooked by the market because it’s not economically profitable to build. This is where public investments are critically needed to fill in the gaps.

In 2018 the BC NDP invested $7 billion in housing. In Budget 2023, they added $4 billion more, and if given the chance that will grow to $12 billion over 10 years. That is a lot of money, so I was looking for the confidence that our government was making data-informed decisions.

It is disappointing that the BC NDP are trying to solve the housing crisis with a communications document founded on a six-year-old election promise, and they don’t have the data to back it up.

Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.

This column was originally published on May 6, 2023 in the Peninsula News Review.


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