Housing policy still fragmented with weak measures for affordable and special needs housing

Apr 12, 2024 | 42-5, Bills, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Video | 0 comments

The BC NDP continues to deliver fragmented housing policy, addresses part of the problem part way. The changes represented in Bill 14: Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, 2024 and Bill 16: Housing Statutes Amendment Act, 2024 are far from the actions that are needed to support people renting in British Columbia.

I am deeply concerned that we are headed for dark days with respect to housing. Few of the measures taken by the provincial government address the core housing need—the hundreds of thousands of people who are teetering on joining the rapidly growing homelessness crisis.

Additionally, I am wary of a looming reality—especially if housing minister Hon. Ravi Kahlon’s policies are as successful as he hopes they are—a mass displacement of renters in the most affordable housing we have currently, aging buildings set for redevelopment with new, taller, more expensive housing.

I certainly hope I am wrong, but with so few actions taken to protect renters, these bills do not require local governments to have bylaws to create affordable and special needs housing, and potentially open renters from certain demographics to discrimination.


A. Olsen: I am the designated speaker, just in case it takes longer than 30 minutes. I have to apologize to the member for Peace River South who has had to sit through my last speech.

A. Olsen: Yeah, I know. I articulated it. That’s right.

I rise to speak to Bill 16, the Housing Statutes Amendment Act, 2024. I think it’s important to open this response by just acknowledging that, once again, what we have is, frankly, fragmented housing policy, delivered in a couple of bills here.

We’ve got three housing bills in front of us, two of which have a lot to do with rental housing and housing affordability. But again, they’re broken into multiple conversations. As was mentioned by my colleague in the official opposition, we’ve seen this from the fall. It has actually made a coherent discussion about housing to be very, very difficult — to fully understand the scale and scope, the breadth of the changes and how they might impact our communities. Whereas with a coherent housing policy that is brought forward with all the pieces there, we’d have a much better conversation.

However, I would say these bills are designed in their communications exercise to protect renters and produce inclusionary zoning. From a public relations perspective, I think there are a couple of boxes that have been ticked here.

However, when you dig into what these bills actually are, I think what is emerging is a bleak picture and some threats that need to be talked about in this House and what the potential impacts could be. Without a serious attempt to build housing affordability, there is a desperate reality that comes from housing policy this government has introduced, when there’s almost certainly a mass displacement of renters coming in our future.

We’ve spoken with many people who are living in a home right now that they can afford. That is only the case because they’ve been in that home for some time. As we have seen, the costs of housing far outpace the local socioeconomic realities of most communities. People are terrified of their potential displacement from those homes that they can afford.

We’ve spoken to people who are working professionals: engineers, teachers, nurses. People who make a good salary. People who look at the cost of housing around them and realize that if they were ever displaced from their current home, they’d not be able to afford the market, either as a potential homeowner or as a renter. Additionally, they fear being displaced not only from a home they can afford but also a school where their children’s friends are, a commute that is manageable and friends and perhaps family in the nearby neighbourhood.

These bills in front of us don’t recognize any of those concerns that the people that we talk to feel. In fact, what we see with the inclusionary zoning bill is a public policy that is void of the reality that people are part of the communities that they live in. It neglects the reality that people are valuable members of the social fabric in those communities, and displacement comes at a high personal, emotional and psychological cost.

But also, when people leave communities, it’s felt across the community. Friendships are broken, social isolation is created and people lose their sense of belonging. The more transitory people are — or feel they need to be, as the result of housing instability — the less they are willing to entrench themselves and start caring about the community they are living in, the less they contribute to the community garden and the local council, the parent advisory committee and so on.

[6:05 p.m.]

Our government wants to leave people with the sense that the housing policy that they have advanced over the past six months is designed to address these issues. They want people to feel that all these announcements that they’ve been making must be stabilizing the housing market. Their premise is that if they just create more housing supply, it will end up creating more housing affordability. To achieve that, they’ve passed laws that unilaterally require local governments to densify single-family zones and increase density on higher-frequency transit lines.

What they have not factored into this to the extent that is needed is the mass displacement that could very likely occur as people, primarily renters living in homes with rents they can actually afford, will be displaced as their aging building is replaced by newly built units of housing. What’s not being acknowledged is that the only affordable units of housing that exist in our housing ecosystem are the ones that are transforming, the affordable units that currently exist.

If you look at the pro formas of the redevelopments, you’ll most certainly see that the cost of land, cost of construction, profit of the developer, and the current market rate…. Truly affordable housing is being replaced by far less affordable housing, market housing, all on a premise that simply building more means less expensive product. That might be the case if we build them all at once and flood the market. As we know from experience, this overly simplistic view of supply and demand theory doesn’t apply to the housing market quite so simply as some would like us to believe. It’s more complex than that.

What is closer to the reality is that there is a financial interest for developers to hold built units empty, advertised at higher market price, until they can get the price that they believe they deserve. Or they just don’t build the new density until the market returns the profit they believe they should earn.

These initiatives are good feelings that the Housing Minister has predicated on a political response to the housing affordability crisis, and it begins to fall apart. We have not seen a coherent policy response to the housing affordability crisis, not a collective response, at least not for those who need our government to act desperately, urgently: renters and people with special housing needs.

When you consider, as I will in this speech, there are dark days ahead for a lot of people in this province. While the minister advanced housing and land use policy last fall for market housing that required local government to act and comply, when it comes to adding density for affordable and special needs housing, the minister has suddenly reverted back to the approach that existed in this place before that states a government may create a by-law to create inclusionary zoning. Why does this minister require local governments to build more market housing and suggest they may build affordable and special needs housing?

The inclusionary housing policy doesn’t address at all the economic laddering that occurs when you require for-profit private sector developers to subsidize affordable housing on the backs of their market units. In their pro formas, it just advances the too-good-to-be-true illusion that suddenly we can turn an industry geared for profitability into our affordable housing developers. It hasn’t happened. That’s been the experiment for the last 30 years. It hasn’t happened, at least not to the extent that people desperately need it to.

[6:10 p.m.]

When you begin to apply this situation across multiple buildings being redeveloped in a neighbourhood, the price point between the first building and the last building has dramatically increased as has the cost of the so-called affordable housing that this scheme produces.

It’s not that we throw the entire model of inclusionary zoning out. It’s that we need to be honest about the conditions that it creates. It’s likely to produce a percentage of more affordable housing that we need. But it is not the solution to the housing affordability crisis this minister is going to profile it as. Like I said, I feel there are dark days ahead, especially for people who are renters and people who have special needs for housing.

When you look at the rules for supporting the people who are displaced by the redevelopment of affordable housing into market housing, there’s a reality that the measures are going to be entirely inadequate and potentially cause dramatic disruptions in our communities. These measures that allow for communities to leave it up to the developer to determine how and where they accommodate the displaced tenants simply are not good enough.

When we supercharged the market housing approach after the Second World War, we balanced it with a non-market social housing program that created the counterweight to the market housing. It kept the market prices in check. For the past 30 years, we abandoned the non-market social housing programs and turned it over to the private sector development industry, who built profitable housing. Since then, there’s been this rapidly expanding inequality gap, to the point that, now, there are those working professionals that I discussed earlier, people who traditionally represented the middle class…. Those people are terrified.

I know the Housing Minister will point to a few other initiatives: inclusionary zoning, protecting renters from bad-faith evictions — BC Builds, for example — as his response to the reality that I’m framing. I, again, need to note the scale and scope are out of context. While he forces local governments to approve new market housing at a scale like we’ve never witnessed before, the policy moves for non-market social housing counterweights pales in comparison.

Arguably, we needed the province to intervene with the greatest force on the non-market social housing side, while increasing density where it was most greatly needed: for the market housing supply. There is a real threat that the market housing will be built when the profit can be made, and the market will continue to increase while the non-market housing slowly progresses.

I wanted to stand here and just celebrate. When it comes to the housing file, we need something to celebrate in this province. So let’s celebrate. These policy changes for renters and people who need affordable and special needs housing are not nothing. These amendments are better than if the government took no action. But it is not the action that’s needed to protect renters from a predatory rental market, nor do these changes go to the extent that they are as useful as they could be.

I feel like it’s one of those bad days of fishing. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced too many of those in my fishing career — one or two that remind me. The car ride home talking about how we didn’t land any fish, but at least we got some bites. We got action, just not the action we needed to fill the freezer for a long winter.

When you look at the changes to the housing legislation that have been tabled so far in this session and the fall session of 2023, there is a bleak landscape emerging: a long winter, especially for the more than 1.5 million renters in this province. These changes are not nothing, but they are a small concession compared to what is and what is coming from the market.

This bill represents modest steps to protecting renters from bad-faith evictions. However, the proposed changes do not address situations where the landlord claims they need to evict a tenant in order to move a caretaker into a unit. It has been an increasingly common tactic in multi-unit buildings, since other types of evictions have become more regulated, limiting the automatic rent increases for tenants that add a child to their family.

[6:15 p.m.]

The Speaker: I believe the member might be speaking about a different bill.

A. Olsen: I’m speaking about the housing policy that’s been tabled….

The Speaker: I think the Residential Tenancy bill is not on the floor. We’ve got the Housing Statues Amendment Act currently. But….

A. Olsen: I appreciate that. Yeah, there are a couple of pieces of housing legislation that are involved with renters, and I’m bringing them together. So I appreciate that.
Limiting the automatic rent increases for tenants that add a child to their family. Requiring notices for evictions for personal use to be filed through a government website to encourage an educational experience. Extending the timeframe of notice and occupancy for landlords. Evicting tenants for personal use and increasing the tenant dispute window. Like I said, these steps that have been brought forward this session are not nothing.

The way the RTB is set up largely places the burden of enforcing tenants’ rights on the tenant by requiring them to file a dispute if their landlord is not obeying the law or acting in good faith. Requiring landlords to apply for permission to evict with proof ahead of time is a step in the right direction. But without some proactive enforcement to ensure there are penalties for landlords who try to circumvent new regulations, this leaves the most at-risk behind.

The Vancouver Tenants Union wrote on this:

“It’s often the most vulnerable long-term tenants, those with language barriers, seniors, people on fixed income, who are evicted for financial gain. Pursuing an RTB dispute requires a lot of time and energy, not to mention English reading and writing skills, plus understanding of basic legal terms in the RTB itself. But most importantly, you need to know that you have to file a dispute in the first place. We constantly hear of tenants getting a text or a call from their landlords saying, ‘You have to leave,’ and they don’t know it’s not a valid eviction until it’s too late.”

Ultimately, the Vancouver Tenants Union says that one of the most powerful things the government could do to protect tenants is to bring in vacancy control. “The bad-faith evictions that the province has been chipping away at for the past few years are largely attempts by landlords to exploit the rent control loophole, where they can kick out a tenant and raise the rent however much they want for the next tenant.
Vacancy control would remove the profit incentive for bad-faith evictions at the source.”

[The Speaker in the chair.]

However, in the context of the rental market, the changes in these bills that we have in front of us this session are really the least that could be done. British Columbia is the least affordable place to rent with the highest rate of bad-faith evictions, slightly above 10 percent — twice the national average. In Victoria, for example, we see rent increases between tenancies jump 40 percent. These trends frame a desperate situation that calls for urgent action. To highlight that reality, my colleague and I demanded stronger rent controls between tendencies. The housing minister sidestepped and excused his unwillingness to meet the challenge where it is at.

The housing market is out of touch with local salaries and entirely disconnected from the economic and social reality. As landlords scramble to get their rental units to meet the market rate, renters scramble to find second, third and fourth jobs to be able to afford the market rate. Federal finance minister Chrystia Freeland was rightly mocked for suggesting recently that a 330, 350 square foot house for nearly $2,000 — I think $1,600 a month — was an example of government meeting housing affordability.

The suite of housing policy changes introduced since last fall are probably enough for this government to convince voters that they’re taking action on the housing crisis. But it’s like an unfinished puzzle on the table. They have fragmented the housing policy changes into a dozen tiny little pieces. It looks colourful and impressive. However, we’ve yet to put the puzzle together. We have no idea if all the pieces on the table are from the same puzzle and whether they fit together to create a coherent picture.

[6:20 p.m.]

Perhaps the changes to the market housing policy and community planning and development are enough in the short term to convince British Columbians to give this government another four years. However, that will be an increasingly challenging time for millions of British Columbians as the full scope of the housing policy changes really begin to materialize for them. We will see that these changes were not enough to address a housing crisis but rather to ensure the profitability of the private sector development industry.

This government has been legislating and regulating economic advice that demonstrates a lack of compassion and empathy for renters and people who do not own property. As I have witnessed personally, they are quick to judge people who cannot afford to buy property, and it appears they believe these people are to blame for the economic situation and the generation that they were born into.

The advice predicated on this idea is that a result of renters’ own failure to become a homeowner, they do not deserve to have a nice, safe and secure home to live in, because they have not been successful enough to deserve it.

It’s an example of how far apples can fall from the tree. I felt sad knowing that the fate of non-homeowners was in the hands of a government that has been informed by these advisers with this socioeconomic philosophy. I know the Minister of Housing was sensitive to my characterization of his approach to housing policy. He suggested that I was name-calling when I described the government’s policy as orange-tinged Thatcherites.

But we know his response was a self-defence mechanism to factual analysis. It’s clear for everyone to see the housing policy that has been brought forward by this government has been formed by a neo-liberal political philosophy that comes from Thatcher and Reagan. It has deified the housing market — created a golden calf — and this bill is yet another example of that.

This minister’s mass upzoning last fall was entirely market-based. Entirely market-based housing. No controls requiring the development of rentals. No protections against predatory real estate investment trusts. No protection for renters who will face reno- and demovictions, followed by dramatic rent increases as a result of those changes. Wholesale abandonment of local democracy and good planning. BC Builds is focused on household incomes of $84,000, mostly producing at- or near-market product. The market rate is already well above what is affordable for many British Columbians.

There is no indication from this government that they are concerned that the past 40 years, the market economics downstream from Thatcher and Reagan, are a problem. Instead, it’s like we’ve learned nothing from that time. And the solution is to turn to economists from the same theoretical school whose philosophy is responsible for breaking the social fabric we have relied on since the Second World War, and whose advice is to blame those who cannot afford the market for their own failures to effectively pull up their own socks.

[11:40 a.m.]

I think my comparison landed so squarely because the minister and his colleagues have told a different story about who they are.

I think my comparison landed so squarely because the minister and his colleagues have told a different story about who they are, fashioning themselves more in Dave Barrett’s school of political and socioeconomic theory than Thatcher’s.

Jeremy Withers published an important article called “Addressing the Rise of Investor Ownership of Housing” a couple of days ago in Perspectives, a piece that the more academic B.C. NDP members, in their former iteration, as a providential social democratic institution, would have paid close attention to.

He wrote: “Ownership of housing is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of wealthy Canadians, fostering a worsening status quo for everybody else.” Withers goes much further, though. The housing market challenges we are facing are not just the result of wealthy people or people who arranged their birth in the correct generation. Quoting Smith et al., Withers continues: “As housing wealth slips from the hands of home occupiers into the portfolios of individual and institutional rentiers,” the 21st century appears to be set to return to levels of inequality reminiscent of those in the 19th century, “wherein most households rented their homes and owned nearly nothing else.”

Folks, we’re moving into a dark time in this province, and the B.C. NDP’s housing policy changes have seeded those storm clouds. My friends on the political right are going to roll their eyes as I’m again deliberately quoting from an article that comes from a self-described democratic socialist agenda — deliberately quoting, though, because I’m holding a mirror to the government and its 50-plus members to look into, to see themselves honestly, not as the social democrats they believe themselves to be, but as the prototypical neo-liberals that they despise.

The political philosophy they’re legislating is far from the social democratic values they purport to hold. The agenda they have aligned themselves to really doesn’t like poor people. It believes that, at birth, everyone gets the same pair of socks, and some of us pull them up, and some of us choose to let them slouch. They believe everyone is given an equal shot, and some just choose to be economic losers who want a free ride. Like I said, it’s a dark and disturbing time.

As Gordon Hoekstra recently reported in the Vancouver Sun, Vancouver housing is “in a full-blown crisis.” In the last quarter of 2023, Vancouverites with a median income needed 106 percent of that income to afford home ownership, 80 percent in Victoria. Hoekstra writes: “Especially in Vancouver, you need to have a significantly high income or be able to make a very significant down payment to afford a home.” Quoting RBC chief economist Robert Hogue, who said, “It does restrict the pool of potential buyers. It’s not that those who are priced out completely give up on their home ownership dreams. But for now, they’re being pushed to the sidelines and could potentially stay there for an extended period of time.”

UBC’s Sauder business school economist and architect of the report that justifies the Housing Minister’s housing policy changes last fall, Tom Davidoff, said: “It’s gotten worse, and it just keeps getting worse.”
Perhaps when interest rates come down, British Columbians will get the relief. Not so quick, according to Davidoff. “If rates come down, prices will probably rise dramatically. It’s kind of one-sided.”

Deputy Speaker: If I might ask the member to relate this directly to Bill 14, it would help. This is relating to the Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, as opposed to for purchase, which is what we were discussing yesterday. That would be appreciated. Thank you.

A. Olsen: Mr. Chair, I’m talking about housing policy in this province. Home ownership and renters are inextricably linked in a housing policy.

I’m not talking about a different kind of policy here, Mr. Chair. I’m talking about housing policy. Just because this government has decided to fragment our housing policy into 15 different bills for us to debate at different times over different sessions does not mean that the housing policy in this province is disparate.

[11:45 a.m.]

I’m talking about important housing policy and the impact on the people…. It’s unbelievable to me, frankly.
Deputy Speaker: Member, this bill is Bill 14, and as is the tradition in this House, we speak to the content of bills as they come forward. I appreciate the wider context, and I’ve certainly been giving the member much leeway to speak to the wider context. I would just ask the member to consider Bill 14 as the Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, 2024, and to draw his comments towards this bill.

A. Olsen: Regarding Bill 14, Davidoff said: “If rates come down, prices will probably rise dramatically. It’s kind of one-sided. I would have expected the large increase in interest rates to lead to a big reduction in price, but it just hasn’t happened.” So Davidoff’s expectations are not materializing. His analysis is missing something.

For those who are inclined to shift to the comfortable refrain that we just need more supply then, I agree, partly. The problem is much deeper than that, and while I appreciate the sentiment is borne of frustration, that getting governments motivated on supply is an important start, however, there are dangerous repercussions that you will see emerge when we fail to add definition to the supply that we are creating, when we fail to act intentionally in this House.

Reflecting on Bill 14, I know that what I’m about to say runs counter to the urban myths that the housing affordability crisis is primarily needing a supply-side solution, the urban myths perpetuated by the private sector development industry that have effectively permeated this public narrative. I’m bound to sound like I’m uttering madness. I can assure you it’s not madness.

Withers provides data to back up the claims that since 2022 there’s been a noticeable housing supply gap, but prior to that the evidence shows that “Canada-wide, there appears to be no connection over the past two decades between the escalation of home prices and declines in the availability of housing.”

He continues:

“Far more needs to be done than simply slowing population growth and building market housing faster, if Canadians want to see housing affordability return to levels enjoyed by earlier generations. Policies aimed at increasing the number of market-rate homes per person…cannot be trusted to address Canada’s growing array of unmet housing needs. A more targeted approach is required, identifying and supplying the types of housing we need and restricting the speculative demand that we do not need.”

It takes a far more nuanced and thoughtful approach than the one that our B.C. NDP Premier and Housing Minister are prepared to take to create a program that actually “identifies and supplies the type of housing we need and restricts the speculative demand that we do not need.”

Remember the bold claim that I made last fall — that this government wasn’t trying to solve a housing crisis, but they are trying to solve a harmful political narrative germinated by their buddies in the private sector development industry. For the time being, this government has placated much of the political anxiety. However, solving a housing crisis requires interventions at specific locations in our housing ecosystem.

Withers continues:

“There is, of course, a harrowing deficit of certain types of housing across Canada, above all, housing affordable to lower-income communities. As Whitzman’s 2023 report for the federal housing advocate emphasizes, ‘the fact that the vacancy rate for low-cost rentals is zero to 1 percent in most major Canadian cities suggests…a focus on supply, either new-build or acquisition to maintain affordability, will be necessary to address homelessness and core housing needs.’ Supply-side interventions to speed up development and increase allowable densities can and should play an important role in addressing these unmet needs.

[11:50 a.m.]

“However, as Whitzman’s report rightly stresses, it’s imperative these interventions are firmly grounded in supply targets specifying the type and depth of affordability actually needed and the policies and partnerships required to build or acquire them.

“As we will see below, a huge share of newly built housing will likely be bid up and bought out by wealthy investors in the absence of more targeted government interventions.”

I’ll preface the next comments that I make with the acknowledgment of the rental protection fund. This program falls into the purchase-to-maintain-affordability stream. It’s 500 million precious dollars. It is a critical measure from Budget 2023 that, unfortunately, Budget 2024 did not increase. With the scale of displacement of renters that will likely occur in the coming months as a result of the housing legislation that is in front of us, if the housing policy from last fall is successful, as the Housing Minister hopes, then the budget of the rental housing protection fund will be remarkably insufficient in actually protecting the number of affordable rental units that we need.

One thing we know for certain is that new builds are not affordable. With the cost of land, construction and profitability for the developer, new units will look more like the one that Chrystia Freeland was standing in when she claimed that she and her B.C. NDP partners were making housing more affordable again. That makes protecting as many good-quality, lower-cost rental units mission-critical.

Some of the members in here will have been forced, through House duty, to listen to me go on at length about the desperate need to address the core housing need — and that it will not be met by leaning on the neo-liberal economic philosophy that if we build enough supply for wealthy people, eventually affordability will trickle down to everybody else. That’s just not the experience that we have had, is it?

While we need to increase supply generally — we urgently need to charge up some types of supply if we don’t — it could drive up the cost of housing for everybody.

As was made crystal-clear during the debate last fall, the B.C. NDP Housing Minister argued repeatedly against supply specificity, stating: “Requiring a level of housing affordability and the new density he was creating would hamper development.”

Deputy Speaker: The member is going way off of what’s in this bill. The bill is the Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, 2024. It’s been given considerable leeway. I would just remind the member again, we are here to discuss this bill.

A. Olsen: He got it almost right. It would hamper profits to developers.

Withers focuses on the demand-side influences of the dramatic decoupling of the cost of housing from the broader economic reality. He describes how the loosening of mortgage rules increases the ability for people to access more cash debt, which is linked to increasing home prices as competitors bid each other up.
This is our liberalized market system. It is a laddering effect, with lenders and regulators also playing their role in driving house prices up. This fires up the market into a frenzy, and all those behaviours lead to what Withers calls “a housing finance feedback loop.” And he notes: “As the years that followed have…painfully clarified, the decoupling of prices and incomes can be further extended by another factor: rising demand from rich housing investors.”

Now we have a situation where most Canadians are crushed by mortgage debt, and our federal government underwrites it. The government’s presence has only increased the confidence of lending institutions. Withers writes:

“Altogether, these policy interventions have contributed to historic declines in mortgage rates and an explosion in mortgage debt. However, far from making the home ownership more affordable, they’ve ultimately driven those competing to buy market-rate homes to borrow more and bid higher for the same product.”

He continues:

“These policy interventions have facilitated explosive growth in outstanding mortgage debt. Between 2001 and 2023, the real inflation-adjusted value of all mortgage debt in Canada rose from $600 billion to $1.9 trillion, more than tripling. At the same time, the real value of all household disposable income grew far slower, from just over $1 trillion to $1.6 trillion, rising a little over half. This unprecedented leveraging has made Canadian households among the most indebted in the world.”

We face a situation where the salaries required to afford a mortgage in most Canadian cities are two to three times what they are in reality. People who own a home are carrying a huge amount of debt, and those who wish to become a homeowner are, on all sides, forced to rent.

The Housing Minister’s efforts last year were under the guise of helping to make housing more affordable so people could move from renting to home ownership. But that’s unlikely to happen, and it is not happening. This is where we have to come to terms with who is actually purchasing housing units.

Withers writes: “Surging prices have different consequences for different types of buyers. While they’ve made housing decreasingly affordable for prospective first-time buyers, they’ve also dramatically increased the wealth of those who already own housing, ‘supercharging’ their bidding power.”

Remember last fall, when I laid out the potential devastating impact of the mass upzoning, turning single-property owners into multiple-property owners and an almost certain downward pressure renters would feel on their chances of becoming a homeowner, and how Stats Canada evidence shows the life chances of homeowners is orders of magnitude better than, therefore, their renter peers.

Not only are our policies regarding lending and borrowing making life for renters more difficult, but our policies regarding zoning are as well. It’s a double whammy. The result is an unsurprising and totally predictable rise of investors leveraging their borrowing power.

Withers notes: “Census data reveals that between 2011 and 2021, the number of condo apartments and houses rented out as investment properties grew four times faster than Canada’s overall housing stock. Investors almost doubled their ownership of condo apartments and increased their ownership of houses by almost a third.”

All the members of this House, save me and my colleague, are on the record voting against an amendment that limits access of real estate investment trusts, the most powerful real estate investors posing an existential threat to housing affordability and individual property ownership that limits their access to the new housing stock created by the Housing Minister’s mass upzoning last fall.

We have been warning government and demanding they take action that is commensurate with the scale of the impact that these massive property investment corporations, who are continually leveraging their holdings to grow their holdings, but we’ve been brushed aside as doomsayers.

Don’t take our word for it. Withers writes:

“The Bank of Canada is also focusing much attention on the issue through its repeated warnings that investors’ growing prominence in the housing market is contributing to ‘strong demand relative to supply,’ heightened ‘bidding pressures,’ ‘rapid price increases’ and alarming ‘imbalances in prices.’ In 2022, the Bank of Canada reported investors had become ‘much more highly indebted than other types of homebuyers’ and were ‘increasingly extracting equity from their existing properties to support new purchases,’ adding to a ‘feedback loop’ between rapid gains in house prices and the stronger demand for housing that investors generate.”

[1:40 p.m.]

It is important for a well-rounded discussion about housing policy that more voices than that of Tom Davidoff are on the record, that there are other academics who are thinking about these problems and have come from vastly different political, social and economic schools of thought.

However, this Housing Minister and our B.C. NDP Premier have put all their eggs in the basket of the advice that they got last fall and muted the voices of anyone who questions their philosophy. We don’t have an academic debate about housing policy in this House. Politics is about emotions, and I give the B.C. NDP credit that with their announcements and all their fragmented policies, they’ve created an environment where people will most certainly be led to believe that they’re advancing thoughtful and well-informed housing policy. But they’re not. They’re engaged in politics and politics driven by emotions. This government has made you feel like they are serving you, while actually serving the vested interest of the status quo of wealthy and powerful forces that are fomenting long-term pain for short-term gain.

As I begin to dig deeper into the festering underbelly of the darkness that is being allowed to colonize our housing market and how our political system and, specifically, the housing policies that have been put forward by this government have been advancing over the past six months is in trenching it, I could not sit silent. My pushback has resulted in discomfort, but these questions need to be asked. We need to ask and answer: who is actually benefiting from these policy changes? How are they impacting the profitability of the private sector development community? Who is buying the housing stock we are building?

There are a couple of questions Withers asks in the first part of his three-part series:

“Will Canada’s debt-driven and investor-driven decoupling of prices from local incomes come unhinged and crash in the near-term? Will the share of housing owned by multiple-property owners continue to grow in the long-run? The answers to these questions will depend largely on how governments choose to intervene. That, in turn, will depend on the public understanding of how and why they should do so.”

Bill 14 is an example of tepid interventions: a government more seriously considering their own political fortunes than the safe, secure and affordable housing for all of our constituents. Let’s go back to the specific measures that are advanced as initiatives to protect the interests of renters and landlords. Really, it is the 1.5 million or more renters in British Columbia who are most threatened. I think the evidence that I put on the record over the past several minutes has demonstrated the dire need for dramatic intervention.

Instead of dramatic intervention, instead of forcing local governments to protect affordability and special needs housing and support displaced renters, the B.C. NDP government dropped the ball, showing us their true colours and where their interests lie. The province has forced local governments to do many things when it comes to housing over the last six months. They must blanket rezone. They must support transit-oriented redevelopment. Why then, when it comes to protecting the most at-risk people in our communities, does Bill 16 not do the same?

Instead, local governments “can” use inclusionary zoning to require that developers provide affordable housing when building minimum allowable densities in transit-oriented development areas. Municipalities will “have the ability” to enact tenant protection bylaws. These are not the dramatic interventions that we desperately need. Suddenly, in this bill, we get terms like: “May,” “Will have the ability to,” “Can.”

After spending last fall talking about all of the things that this government was forcing local governments and our local community leaders to do, suddenly, when it comes to affordable and special needs housing, we have retreated from that forceful position that this government boldly took. These are not the dramatic interventions we desperately need, as 1.5 million renters or more in British Columbia find themselves living in precarity every day. This will only become more pronounced as the changes from the upzoning and transit-oriented developments start to unfold in the coming months and years.

[1:45 p.m.]

This approach raises questions about the role of the provincial government in being a protective force for public good, for the public interest. Bill 16 appears to offload this responsibility — Bill 16 and Bill 14; both of these bills that we’re debating here — onto developers and local governments rather than take responsibility to remedy the issues that they have created.

We are going to see the mass displacement of tenants in the transit-oriented development and upzoning. Andy Yan, urban planner and housing researcher at Simon Fraser University, prophetically warned that the changes from Bill 47 last fall would result in transit-oriented displacement, not transit-oriented development. Some 50 percent of people who live in transit-oriented development areas are renters. Those renters tend to be middle- or low-income, and about a third of them are living in core housing need, a term referring to people living in dwellings considered unsuitable, inadequate or unaffordable. So these are some of the most at-risk members in our communities.

Seeing the writing on the wall last fall, experts warned that the province’s plan to dramatically increase housing density and transit hubs could lead to mass evictions of renters in low-rise apartment buildings. They feared a repeat of what was happening in Burnaby’s Metrotown and Vancouver’s Broadway neighbourhoods.

I am the designated speaker for this. I’m sorry that I didn’t note that at the beginning of it, but I’ve only got a couple of minutes left.

The Metrotown evictions of 2014-2019 were on a truly vast scale, involving thousands of residents. Developers scooped up walk-up apartment buildings with relatively affordable rents and tore them down to make way for luxury condos. A total of 15 multi-story apartment buildings were emptied in 2016 alone. The Metrotown experience should have been a stark warning sign for a potential eviction maelstrom from the transit-oriented development.

In 2019, Burnaby city council decided to approve a tenant assistant policy, TAP. The policy came into effect in March 2020, and it was a direct response to years of tenant organizing and public pressure. It has been hailed as one of the most progressive tenant rezoning protections in Canada. If protecting tenants is so important to this government, why didn’t the province bring a tenant protection policy as robust and effective as Burnaby’s?

My prediction is that these bills will create a piecemeal approach to protecting renters. Currently, landlords in B.C. must follow provincial rules if they intend to demolish a building, but this policy is too weak to do what it is intended to do. Depending on what city you live in, landlords may be required to provide additional support and compensation.

In 2022, Vancouver implemented strong tenant protections, but only for the Broadway plan area. These protections only apply to about a quarter of the city’s housing stock and don’t apply to the units in other parts of Metro Vancouver. As a result, the Vancouver Tenants Union members have been pushing for protections to be implemented on a citywide level. My prediction is that these bills will lead to more of this, more of a piecemeal protection, the deepening of inequality and the proliferation of a two-tiered housing system.

Andy Yan said that leaving decisions up to local governments raises profound concerns about the potential for displacement and evictions. I echo these concerns. Instead of taking strong leadership roles to protect the most at-risk people in our communities, the province has evaded their responsibility and passed the responsibility onto local governments and developers, and this is unacceptable.

Furthermore, the Housing Research Collaborative from the UBC Allard School of Law has published interesting perspectives on the amendments in these bills. I want to put words in their mouth, but my sense is that they framed the changes for renters in a better light than my “not nothing” assessment. However, I think we have a general agreement that these measures fall well short of the level of intervention that is needed. The HRC raises the important point that it is actually detrimental for government to introduce eviction filing requirements for only some evictions. Why does the province only want data that reveals part of the picture?

[1:50 pm]

Why not require all evictions to be processed through the new evictions platform? Without requiring all notices to be processed through the platform, we create a scenario where we lack context of the full scope of the problem.

The HRC raises the added concern that by only requiring evictions for personal use through the platform, it could incentivize evictions for other purposes as they will be exempt. Further, the HRC notes that by limiting the filing requirement to just evictions for personal use, it becomes the renter’s responsibility to know “when they should be served an official notice.” The burden should be on the landlord, since they are initiating the action.

Additionally, they highlight missed opportunities for government to actually have the tools to “properly monitor eviction filings and create evidence-based legislation.” I try to remain in the critic realm more than the cynic realm, but I have extensively outlined over the past months. I have questioned whether the B.C. NDP government is actually attempting to create evidence-based legislation.

The HRC comments extend to the above-guideline rent increases for households with minors. While agreeing that this is a good measure in and of itself, I agree with their concern, as well, that limiting it to minors fails many other vulnerable demographics that this government continues to leave in the darkness.

Firstly, the narrow application, households with minors, could actually have a detrimental impact on the households with minors. If landlords perceived this policy to be a limitation, then they could be less likely to rent to a household with minors and people who they may consider could become a potential household with minors. Landlords may target single parents, for example.

Extending the criticism further, what about our elders, people with disabilities and other marginalized people? Why did government exclude them from this policy? What about the couple with an elderly parent or grandparent in need of a safe place to live?

The HRC makes a valid point. Just make the change to ensure that landlords can only apply rent increases above the guidelines for the actual expenses they are accruing from the change in tenancy. They suggest time limiting, so it doesn’t go on in perpetuity.

Ironically, this initiative that is designed to make you believe this government is trying to limit discrimination could actually lead to increased discrimination. Perhaps we should have taken the impact of the growing portfolios of individual and institutional rentiers more seriously. Perhaps we should not be too quick to celebrate “not nothing” too vigorously.

The path we are on is troubled. The advice this government is seeking is from a different time. The policy they are implementing is insufficient, and our constituents are getting hurt. These changes are not nothing, but because the government is unwilling to go the full distance, it creates the space for more discrimination. It leaves decision-makers with only part of the picture when we could have the full picture.

The B.C. NDP knew that they could make a headline by taking some action for renters, align it with the federal announcement, and renters will feel relief that finally their federal and provincial governments are acting on their behalf. But the real estate landscape is much bleaker than a part-way policy can address. In fact, the reticence of this government to actually go the distance is likely creating a host of problems that do not exist today and will be added onto the pressures that we’re currently feeling if they’re left unresolved.

I want to be able to celebrate housing policy that has been informed by more than just a few voices that government agrees with. I want to see a housing policy that is informed by a variety of political, social and economic philosophy. Unfortunately, that’s not our experience in current-state British Columbia.
Complex policy that millions of British Columbians rely on for their health and well-being, for their safety, their security, for their ability to flourish is being treated as political leverage in these bills. The hope it gives renters, especially those who just read headlines….

Will it make their rent more affordable? No, it won’t. None of the measures in these bills make rent more affordable.

[1:55 p.m.]

Will it increase their security? Marginally, perhaps.

Like I said, it’s not nothing, but it’s far from what we need. In the grand scheme of things, when you have a government pretending their measures are more effective than they are, the salve to our economic aches and pains, then we are actually further from the serious discussion we need to have in our society about the systems we have in place and the results they are producing.



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