We’re in the midst of election season in British Columbia, with Premier John Horgan seeking a second term after his minority government electoral victory on May 9th, 2017. After cobbling together a working coalition government with Andrew Weaver and the BC Greens after what was a very close election, Horgan returns to the campaign trail seeking a new mandate. Both the BC Liberal and BC Green parties come into this election with new leaders seeking to carve out gains in a difficult election during a pandemic. This article will go over one of the main issue areas of the election, the BC housing crisis, laying out each party’s position.
According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, average housing prices have grown across Canada since post-financial crisis lows in 2009. In British Columbia, housing prices have more than doubled, appreciating by $1 trillion in inflated-adjusted value. This is of particular concern with growing indebtedness and fewer young British Columbians entering home ownership. As Michal Rozworski (an economist and research associate for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) states, there a paradox within the crisis that “has literally created wealth under the feet of one set of Canadians and foreign property owners — many of them already wealthy — while making simple existence for another set, in particular the urban poor, increasingly difficult.”1 In an Angus-Reid poll, the housing crisis and housing affordability ranked as the third most important issue in this election at 31%, only slightly behind health care (32%) and response to the COVID-19 pandemic (33%).2 Each of the main parties have outlined their ideas on how to tackle this pressing issue.
The Greens approach this issue with mindset that everyone should have a home that ‘they can afford and that meets their needs.” Their concept of ‘home’ encompasses both home-ownership and renters in what is a wholistic approach to the crisis. They outline three focus areas: reducing rental rates, lowering the costs of housing insurance particularly on condominiums, and expanding the supply and diversity of affordable housing while closing loopholes and reducing market speculation. To achieve these goals the BC Greens propose introducing rental supplements that will close the gaps between affordable rent and current rental rates though a means-tested grants geared towards low- and moderate-income earners. They will also convene a taskforce of insurance brokers, insurers, and strata owners to develop solutions to tackle raising insurance costs. Lastly, the largest part of their platform on housing affordability outlines increasing the supply and diversity of the affordable housing market. The BC Greens propose supporting co-op housing options, and working with local governments to expand the ‘missing middle’ in the housing markets which comprises of moderate dense residential projects such as townhouses and triplexes. Additionally, the BC Greens would establish a capital fund to non-profit organizations to acquire and maintain affordable rental units. Lastly, a Green government would work to close the bare trust loophole and exemption loopholes in the speculation tax for foreign and wealthy buyers. Overall, the BC Green plan on affordable housing focuses reducing the costs of housing to middle- and low-income earners through more and subsidized rental housing, as well as going after foreign and wealthy home buyers who are inflating the market.
The BC Liberal approach to affordable housing focuses on addressing high insurance costs and market support in the development of new housing using increasing the supply of both rental and market housing. To do so, a series of policies proposals are focused on fostering development and construction of new housing in BC communities. The BC Liberals propose working with local governments to adjust property taxes to encourage development, create incentive programs for the building of new homes, support zoning reforms which protect property values and provide more inclusionary zoning, and leverage provincial and municipal lands for affordable housing projects. Like the Greens the BC Liberal also propose more support for alternative ownership models, such as co-operatives. The BC Liberal also focus on reducing the costs to rental unit owners through rebates for energy-efficiency renovations, reconfiguring assessment practices for rental buildings to one based on actual rental use, and improving the effectiveness and promptness of tenancy dispute process. The BC Liberal platform specifically addresses housing concerns for vulnerable groups, in particular the homeless and persons with disabilities. They proposing investing in programs which connect the homeless to housing, health and social service support programs. They also propose increasing the supply of fully-accessible units for persons with disabilities in newly built multi-unit residential buildings as well as changing the BC Building Code to address issues of accessibility province-wide. Lastly, the BC Liberal specifically mention economic supports for home owners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to enable people to afford to say in their homes. Overall, the BC Liberal platform takes a heavy focus on supports for developers, existing homeowners, and rental property owners. However, the platform also seeks to address the needs of vulnerable groups with supports for the homeless and persons with disabilities.
Taking a page from both the BC Liberal and BC Green platforms, the BC NDP platform approaches the housing crisis with proposals focusing on both developers and renters. The BC NDP propose a number of policies which would increase the supply of houses through reduction in costs and obstacles to developers including reducing parking minimums for projects close to public transit, streamlining approval processes, and merging planning, building, and engineering staff into a single development department making permitting easier and more efficient. Additionally, the BC NDP would continue to invest in their 10-year housing plan which works with developers to build 114,000 new housing units as well as more supportive housing units for those in need. For renters, the BC NDP propose new rental supplements to help those transitioning from supporting housing into independent living. They would also freeze rental rates until the end of 2021 and cap further increase after that. Additionally, the BC NDP would provide renters a rebate of $400 a year for those households earning less than $80,000 annually. Working through Housing Hub, a program the BC NDP introduced in 2018, new and existing affordable housing project will be built through cooperatives and non-profits, with new initiatives on new pathways to homeownership through rent-to-own and other equity building programs. Lastly, the BC NDP seek to address Indigenous housing issues with a $550 million dollar investment to build 1750 new homes in both on and off reserve Indigenous communities. The BC NDP approach to housing affordability tries to take a balanced approach between its main to competitors with supports for both developers and renters in the housing market.
When compared, each of the three major parties are proposing similar policies to tackle affordable housing crisis in British Columbia, each with its own ideological bent. All three parties are seeking to relieve renter’s costs of living by introducing more affordable rental units into the market and providing reductions in rent through either direct subsidies, rate caps, or by reducing the costs of rental building ownership (and therefore rental rates in theory). Similarly, all three parties approach the supply side of affordable housing in similar ways with support for developers, again informed by their ideologies. The Liberal approach focuses on the reduction of obstacles to development, while the NDP propose direct investment into the construction of new affordable housing; the Greens, meanwhile, focus on alternative housing arrangements such as construction of townhouses and triplexes, the ‘missing middle’, and partnerships with non-profit and cooperative housing.
When making a vote choice, BC electors will need to consider the ideological motivations behind each party’s approach to affordable housing. Certainly, all three parties take affordable housing as a serious issue and each in turn have proposed well reasoned solutions to address the issue. However, the motivation behind each is informed by each party’s ideological underpinnings, and as such the voter should consider these ideologies when picking which party best represents their interests and ideals on affordable housing.