Tech companies have built billion dollar platforms by disrupting traditional markets. We have heard the saying “move fast and break things.”
Well, when it comes to short-term vacation rentals (STVR), what they participated in breaking was the housing market. Now, I don’t believe that STVRs are to blame for the housing affordability crisis, that is a complex, wicked problem to fix, but they are certainly part of the problem.
One of the challenges is that tech companies move fast, government moves slow, and the slow reaction of our provincial government on STVRs has meant the market disruption without appropriate regulation has seen the entrenchment of these platforms making the problem more difficult to address and more painful for people who invested.
I, and my BC Green Caucus colleagues, were advocating way back in 2018 for the BC NDP government to address this and instead of putting serious regulation in they collected a few million dollars from one of the platforms and then sat on the sidelines.
Now they are finally acting and regulating the STVR marketplace.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill 35, the Short-Term Rental Accommodations Act. I think it’s important to acknowledge, just out front here, that these changes that are being proposed — at least the ones that we can see and the ones that have been spoken about — have been supported and are supported by the B.C. Green caucus.
We called for many of the initiatives that have been outlined in this bill earlier this year in alignment with calls from the Union of B.C. Municipalities in order to better support local governments in addressing the impact of short-term vacation rentals in our communities. I have been hearing for the last number of years, since I was elected in 2017, anecdotally and in a lot of information from our communities, about the impact that short-term vacation rentals have had on the housing market and on the housing supply.
Oftentimes when we talk about housing supply in the political sphere, it’s about building new units. This is an example, I think, of one of the areas in which we may be able to take advantage of units that are already built. Part of the challenge with, of course, building new supply…. And I’m not saying that there won’t be new supply built. Of course, that’s what will happen. But if building new supply is the only way that we’re going to get supply online, then it’s going to take a very long time for us to achieve what the people of British Columbia, future people of British Columbia, need in terms of finding stable, secure housing.
Even more to that, or in addition to stable secure housing or the product of stable secure housing, is a sense of belonging in the communities that they’re living in.
I think with that sense of belonging, the sense of being able to be part of the community that you’re living in, seeing yourself being a part of that community — not just today and tomorrow but for weeks, months and years to come, decades to come — means you’re making more than a real estate investment in that community. It means you’re making a much deeper investment in the socioeconomic fabric of that community. You’re volunteering for community organizations. You’re stepping up when the parents advisory committee needs volunteers to support the grads or whatever initiatives they have.
There’s a wide variety of organizations, which I come into contact with as an MLA, who are seeing the stability of their organization erode because of the mobility that exists in our society. There will always be mobility. I’m not suggesting that there won’t be that mobility. But I do want to highlight….
When people are in tenuous housing situations, when they’re renting where they can find a place to rent rather than where they want to live, when they’re unable to grow deep roots in a community, it plays out negatively in all parts of their life. It makes it more difficult to find a job that you can commit to long term. It makes it more difficult for your children to be able to make lifelong friendships like I’ve been able to benefit from. I have benefited from living in the community that I was brought home to as a baby.
One of those reasons why someone like me, who grew up on an Indian reserve in this country and first got elected, across the line, in the municipal government…. It was because of those lifelong relationships that I was able to benefit from. I was able to contribute and give back to the community because my housing, the place that I live, the place that I belong to, was secure.
One of the great challenges that we’re facing with a housing affordability crisis is the displacement of people, the inability to grow deep roots into the community that they’re living in. They’re fearful of the fact that they might one day be uprooted and have to move somewhere else. They might have to move to a place that they can afford because the rents are increasing.
In that context, then…. Of course, their transportation costs will increase, as they spend both more money to buy themselves a vehicle and get themselves insurance or more time on transit, in which investments have languished in recent years.
As we see these threats that people are facing in their lives, the inability to afford the place that they’re living in, the fear that the place that they’re living in…. The costs continue to increase. The further they get away from the places that they work or the places that they recreate or the places where their friends are, the more pressure that comes on to those families and on to those British Columbians from the increased costs of transportation.
When we take a look at supply, part of the equation is going to be: how many more units…? Again, the economic framing of housing is in units. How many more units can be built?
This bill highlights the opportunity to, perhaps, find some…. We’ve heard some numbers be thrown around. I think that it is inappropriate, at this stage, to throw numbers around about how many might be available or how many this bill might make available. That happened when the Strata Act changes came in earlier this year. Numbers were thrown around, assumptions were made, yet the only thing that was really built was expectation.
Knowing exactly how many units came on the market because of that bill is very difficult. Knowing how many units of housing are going to come on the market because of Bill 35 is going to be difficult to understand.
However, we have been experiencing a decade and a half of economic disruption from these largely tech companies. We handled and dealt with this with respect to self-directed passenger transportation. Uber, the Kleenex brand of self-directed…. Airbnb also. They talk more about industry disruptors than individual companies.
I think that it’s important to recognize that as government moves slowly and market disruptors move quickly…. Their whole business model is about moving quickly and breaking things.
What has been broken when it comes to the disruption of moving housing, homes that could be made available for people to live in, to establish their nest, to establish a place to build a life, security…. What we see when that gets broken is all of the symptoms that we see happening when people can’t find a safe place to lay their head at night.
One of the most critical things that human beings need in order to be well balanced is a good night’s sleep, a safe place to go, a safe nest to be able to build a life out of.
By the pure commodification of housing, housing market ruling all, housing market being a primary indicator of the health and wellbeing of our economy…. When we hear that language, when housing units are the primary thing that we are trading, we’re not talking about — indeed, the government called their new housing plan — Homes for People. I think that it’s important to acknowledge that when we start talking about housing as a home, rather than housing as a purely economic unit, we’re beginning to talk about that place in a way that creates that security. I’m very appreciative of that.
But we have seen a disruption, largely by tech companies, as I mentioned, and the short-term vacation rental platforms were exactly that: disruptors. And the government has been incredibly slow to move.
We, at the B.C. Green caucus, going back into the confidence and supply agreement, since 2017, has been advocating with this government to take action to regulate and enforce those regulations at a provincial level. Instead, what we’ve seen is this fragmented approach, leaving it up to local governments and not giving them the tools or access to the tools that they need in order to be able to do the job. We see community after community taking their own approach to it, and it’s a highly ineffective and highly inefficient way to do it.
At first blush, when we take a look at this legislation that’s in front of us, we can see some really important initiatives that are going to be put in place. Unfortunately, much of this bill, or many aspects of this bill, are still left to regulation. We are in a situation, again, where important pieces of this legislation are enabling, leaving it up to the minister to negotiate the final terms and bring them in in regulation.
We heard the Minister of emergency management and climate readiness profile yesterday that enabling legislation allows great flexibility. That’s true, it does. But for members in the opposition and for members of the public, it also creates instability because we have no idea, until those regulations are brought in, what they will be. It gives us no time in the opposition benches to ask questions about why it is the government made one choice over another. It gives us no time to be able to test the quality of the decision that was made, to push it through those tests that we provide, as members of the opposition, to ensure that it can withstand those tests.
Unfortunately, we have a situation where the broad strokes of this legislation appear to be heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, it will be up to us to try to ask crafty questions in the committee stage to get to the bottom of what the intention of the minister is going to be. Thankfully, the minister, in this case, has appeared to be speaking very forthright about what the intentions are, and we hope that that continues to play out.
We are pleased to see a legislation that comes forward that listens to the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ provincial advisory group, that has factored in some of the recommendations that we made in our call earlier this year: platform accountability, regional districts having the ability to issue business license, data sharing, increased fines. These are important initiatives.
We’re pleased to see the government go above and beyond in requiring the principal residence requirement and the noncompliance clause. We’ll have to see how that plays out as the debate of this legislation rolls on.
I think it’s important to acknowledge, as the member that represents the southern Gulf Islands, the critical housing crisis that our communities on the southern Gulf Islands face. I’ve met…. I’m grateful for the opportunities that the minister has given me and my local elected government colleagues to meet with the minister and to meet with their staff with respect to the specific challenges that the southern Gulf Islands face.
The southern Gulf Islands are in this unique situation where they are rural communities surrounded by water, only accessible by ferry, making them making them quite rural. But they’re part of the CRD, which makes them urban.
So there’s this perspective that…. They get caught in this kind of no man’s land in the middle. So we see initiatives that get rolled out by this provincial government, intended to support communities, neglecting the southern Gulf Islands. We saw that with the building communities fund. The building communities fund was a $1 billion that provided local governments the much-needed resources that they needed in order to be able to invest in their infrastructure.
Earlier this session, I called for the provincial government to provide that funding, year over year, until a new fiscal framework had been negotiated with the Union of B.C. Municipalities. Local governments need more than a one-time injection. They need an ongoing injection.
But what we found on the southern Gulf islands…. What my CRD director colleagues in the southern Gulf Islands, Paul Brent and Gary Holman, found was that the money that was then earmarked for helping communities went to the regional district and municipalities that benefited from those funds distributed amongst those communities and also the islands.
So there was no direct access to those funds for the southern Gulf Islands, the per capita funding. Indeed, it was intentionally designed to not support electoral areas like it was designed to support municipal governments. That was incredibly unfortunate, and that left potential resources off the table for local government officials.
We’ve met with this government on several occasions. I say “we” — I and my local government colleagues. They’ve written letters. They’ve passed motions with the Minister of Finance about the speculation and vacancy tax for Saltspring Island. I recognize that each of the islands is different. The community of Saltspring Island — their elected leaders there have specifically requested from this government, two annual cycles in a row, to be included in the speculation and vacancy tax.
Yet this government continues to be reluctant to give the communities a tool that they feel that they need. When we talk to the provincial government about this, when we talk to the Minister of Finance, they provide a response back to us that says: “Just ask.” So they asked. So we asked. “We’ll consider you next year.”
We’ve got all this pressure around Saltspring, in particular, a community with 11,000 or 12,000 people in it. All of this pressure, all the communities around Saltspring are a part of the speculation and vacancy tax. We’ve got this one little area that’s not. That’s what those local government officials have been asking this government to act on, and they’ve been reluctant to do so.
The former B.C. NDP government that created the Islands Trust created it on the principle of preserve and protect. If that was the case, that’s been what my local government colleagues have been pleading. That’s the message that I’ve been bringing on their behalf to this place, to continue to live out the original vision of that trust. One of those ways would be to listen to the local government officials.
Another one of these issues, and I’ve talked to the minister about this recently, is the pilot program for secondary suites. Again, the local governments on Saltspring Island and the southern Gulf Islands have been left out of that the initial first year of this program. I’ve been seeking assurance that they will get access at some point, as this is a three-year program, as it’s been explained to me. But again, they’re excluded from the outset.
I’ve been told that the purpose of this program was to support communities that need housing in more urban areas, where the housing needs are more acute.
I can’t think of a place where the housing needs are more acute than on each of the southern Gulf Islands, where one or two homes for people make a massive difference. We’re not talking 1,000 or 2,000 homes. We’re talking one or two homes that can make a difference as to whether or not the Mayne Island childcare facility, that this government invested in, has ECEs that can live on the island and work in it.
I remember the Mayne Island community coming to me and saying: will you support our request for funds for early childhood education spaces? I said: “Absolutely. I’m all for it.”
I know members who live part-time on Mayne Island, on the other side of the House, were very supportive of it. I raise my hands to the minister for supporting it.
As soon as that was built and as soon as it was opened, I heard immediately from the Mayne Island childcare centre that the next advocacy was we need help getting ECEs. We need to find a place for them to live. We have a school on Mayne Island that has an old house on it, and they’re fundraising, right now, in order to renovate it so that the school can have a teacher. This is a basic need of a school — to have a teacher.
And yet we’ve got this housing unit sitting there, and it’s being fundraised in order to turn it into a place. That’s fine. That’s one way of doing it. However, this is an example of where one unit, where one secondary suite, on Mayne Island — funded by that new program — would have a remarkable difference as to having a spot for an ECE to provide childcare, for having a teacher being able to live on island and work in the community school.
We meet every month, the southern Gulf Islands forum. It’s a forum of the CRD directors, the islands’ trustees, local chiefs of the Nations that are within the southern Gulf Islands. We meet on a monthly basis. We also meet twice per year for four hours. The vast majority of the time that we’ve spent has been talking about the housing woes on the islands.
I need to take some space in this discussion, in this debate about this bill, to just put on the record that when this government is designing housing policy that it need not leave the southern Gulf Islands out because it’s not urban enough.
Indeed, the housing pressures that we’re experiencing on the southern Gulf Islands have been exacerbated by short-term rentals. Both the Islands Trust and the CRD have been looking at each other as to find ways in order to create the regulations that are needed in order to support the workforce on those islands.
People when they get in their car and they drive down to Ganges or when they drive into Village Bay or when they drive to the stores on Galiano, they’re hoping that there will be people there to make the cup of coffee. They’re hoping that there will be people there to keep those stores open, but that’s becoming increasingly marginal. It’s becoming increasingly marginal whether they can find the farm workers that are needed in order to make those farms viable in the southern Gulf Islands.
When we create these housing programs and we exclude…. Or when we create housing programs like B.C. Housing created and the decisions that have been made historically about the project on Drake Road as an example on Salt Spring. It was that B.C. Housing only does purpose-built. That was the decision. We’re going to do purpose-built. It’s like three years ago that we started that conversation. I think it was two years ago that they made the announcement. Two years ago, they made the announcement. Purpose-built, Drake Road — not a unit available yet.
Because building purpose-built based on the model that B.C. Housing does everywhere else in the province just isn’t possible on the southern Gulf Islands. My elected colleagues, my community leaders on Salt Spring, community leaders across the southern Gulf Islands continue to express to this government and to B.C. Housing that the model that works elsewhere in B.C. just simply doesn’t work for the southern Gulf Islands.
So finding ways to be able to repurpose, reuse, take advantage of supply that already exists where perhaps houses are on the market right now — having a fund that can renovate those spaces and turn them into multifamily and strata some of them.
Maybe they can be rental housing. Finding ways to be able to think outside of the current box that B.C. Housing is operating in to look at the places that are already built, to look at the places that have water hookups already attached to them that are already approved, working with the local government bodies there to find ways to repurpose those to create homes for people, which is the name of the plan.
I continue to encourage this government to support those ideas and to think outside the box. I know the impact that short-term rental accommodations on the southern Gulf islands, in particular…. We have them through the Saanich Peninsula as well. This issue has been most acutely felt on the southern Gulf Islands. We know that those STVR platforms have had an impact on accessibility of housing, and they’ve come at a tremendous cost.
As I profiled in the opening parts of this speech…. I talked about the security of housing and the sense of belonging and how we need to return that. But I also want to talk about the fact that this has had an impact on investors as well. The lack of government action on short-term rental platforms allowed, for the last four or five years, for this business model to be entrenched in our society, for entire buildings to be designed and built and then become basically rental platform hotels. Unregulated hotels, basically, is what they’ve become.
A lot of people have invested a lot of money working in that system and operating in that system. Now the government is making change, and I understand, and I can hear the feelings of people who are now caught up in that.
I think it’s a lesson for us, as we’re looking at the response that we have here for this particular platform, this particular disruption and future disruptions, and that the pace of government’s response needs to be quicker. We need to respond more promptly. We need to begin to understand the issues that are being created in real time rather than waiting for them to become entrenched and not putting in place measures at an earlier stage, or not phasing in measures.
We have a highly commodified housing market, and we have it…. It’s intentional. It’s the way it was designed. I’ve seen the impact of this from the other side of the line. I grew up on an Indian reserve in this country. It has been made clear to me since the very first day that I was able to understand these things how the Canadian and provincial governments created a housing market that generated wealth on one side of the line and created a housing scenario, program, that generated poverty on the other.
So it’s important for us to acknowledge that when we talk about the commodification of housing, it is at the root core of our housing philosophy in this country — that it is, and becomes, the primary wealth generator for Canadians. Canadians and British Columbians have been doing exactly what governments have wanted them to do since the end of the Second World War — invest in housing.
Housing starts continue to be one of the primary markers of a healthy economy, the number of housing starts, what the housing market is doing — the real estate market. The income that this government makes off of housing continues to be of the top two revenue streams. The top few revenue streams of this government are in real estate.
So it’s important to recognize that if we are going to deal with housing unaffordability, a housing unaffordability crisis, to understand the problem that we are facing…. And that is a philosophical one embedded in the root of our housing system. If we are going to stand in this place and say that the commodification of housing has created a scenario where people can’t afford to rent the place that they’re living in…
They’re paying 50 to 60 to 70 percent of their income to rent, and that’s causing incredible stress and tension on people, exasperated, fear….
If it’s going to take 20 to 30 years for people to save up in order to get a mortgage, the system that was created decades ago is not working for us. For us to work around the edges of that and not actually attack the core of it, which is that the wealth-generating housing system that has been created in our country is not serving us, if all we’re prepared to do is talk around the outside, then we’re going to continue to face symptoms of this problem.
We need to identify the problem at its core. That is that the commodification of housing is what a lot of Canadians and a lot of British Columbians have bought into, because that’s what these government bodies across the country have wanted them to buy into. It’s at the core of our economy. Changing that is going to be painful, and it’s going to be challenging, and it’s not going to be done easily. But it won’t be done at all if we don’t identify it and name it and recognize that what we are doing is trying to find a way to have a conversation with people who have everything that they’ve earned put in their real estate.
So when we stand up in here and talk about the commodification of housing, what we’re talking about is what British Columbians and Canadians know about their housing system. That is the stability that they have. That’s their retirement. So it’s a wicked problem, and it will not be solved by frittering around the edges. However, that said, I’m thankful that this bill is in front of us. The structure of this bill and the ideas that are put forward for us to debate, we support. With that, I’ll take my seat.