How is B.C. tackling the housing crisis?

Together with our sister station OMNI, CityNews interviewed B.C. Premier David Eby about housing affordability and the ongoing housing crisis ahead of a provincial election at the end of 2024. Kier Junos reports.

The legislature was busy in 2023 as the B.C. government threw handfuls of legislation at the housing crisis hoping to change the tide in the notoriously expensive province.

From restricting short-term rentals to increasing density around public transit, and relaxing restrictive building permitting processes, it’s all part of the government’s efforts to increase access to affordable housing across the board.

But in a one-on-one interview with CityNews and its sister station OMNI News, Premier David Eby says there will never be one point at which he considers his work on the province’s housing crisis to be “complete.”

“I think the housing issue, and so many issues, the second you raise the mission accomplished banner, is when people are going to rightly point out there are still major challenges,” Eby said.

“What we’re trying to do is pull every single lever that’s available to address that housing crisis.”

Amid recent decampments in frigid temperatures, some unhoused people in downtown Vancouver have been forced to seek new places to sleep. According to the Homelessness Services Association of B.C., the last Greater Vancouver count of unhoused individuals identified more than 4,800 people experiencing homelessness in 11 communities, a 32 per cent increase compared with the previous count in 2020.

In November, a survey for Habitat for Humanity found owners and renters are reaching a breaking point, especially respondents in Metro Vancouver.

Metro Vancouver at that time was in the top spot in Canada for the number of people (53 per cent) who spend more than half of their household income on housing costs. The region was also number one (48 per cent) when it comes to worries about missing mortgage or rent payments within the next 12 months, and more than eight-in-10 (84 per cent) said owning a home in their community is almost impossible.

To find more housing within B.C.’s cities, Eby says his government is seeking out ways to make sure empty units are never underutilized.

“Do we have empty units that are underused? Yeah, because the strata restricts people from renting out a place, or people are buying places as an investment instead of a place to live,” he said.

“Well, let’s put the speculation and vacancy tax in, let’s restrict the ability of stratas to ban rentals, let’s regulate Airbnb. Let’s compel cities to ensure they’re allowing the kind of housing to be built that people can actually afford.”

Eby says his government is taking every opportunity it has to take action on housing, and his end goal is surmisable in one sentence:

“Every British Columbian, when they’re looking for a decent place to live, that’s close to work or close to a school, or meets their needs, they’re actually able to afford it,” he said.

“We’re not there yet. So we’re going to keep doing all this work, and later we can have a discussion of ‘Have we done enough?’ Because I think it will be quite a few years of this hard work to make sure we’re really pushing back to give people who are, frankly, young people, give them this future they deserve in our province.”

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