Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon faced a wide range of questions about housing in B.C. from elected municipal officials across the province at a townhall that also included two other ministers holding portfolios related to housing.
A standing-room-only crowd of some 250 delegates attending the Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference in Vancouver participated in the townhall session that also included finance minister Katrine Conroy and addictions minister Jennifer Whiteside.
UBCM President Coun. Jen Ford of Whistler moderated the session, another sign of the session’s significance.
Questions covered high-level issues such as future levels of provincial support for physical and social infrastructure such as pipes and schools, support for people with mental health issues, short-term-rentals, secondary suites, evictions and the availability of skilled labour to build homes.
Other delegates raised more specific questions about potential changes to the building code, tiny homes and the residential tenancy act while others used their time in front of the trio to ask about projects in their communities.
The trio also heard complaints about public safety, the funding freeze at BC Housing and what Oort Moody Coun. Haven Lurbiecki called the “commodification” of housing in lamenting the dominant role of private investors.
Perhaps the most significant piece of news coming out of the event was Conroy’s announcement that the provincial government is open to expanding the vacancy tax to the more rural regions of British Columbia currently not covered by the tax or slated to be covered in the future.
While Conroy acknowledged that the tax is not politically popular in parts of the province, municipalities currently not subject to it have approached her ministry for inclusion, adding it is hard to get rid of something that is working.
“If you are interested in it in your community, come talk to us,” Conroy said in a response from New Denver Coun. Danika Hammond, who lamented that many homes in her community owned by outsiders remain vacant for several months, while locals are struggling with finding affordable housing.
Conroy also said government is looking at introducing a flipping tax in confirming earlier government signals with legislation coming forward in the spring 2024.
Kahlon also used the occasion to defend his government’s plan to increase density on individual lots.
While he declined to discuss pending legislation, he stressed the need for more density. “We want to see this type of housing,” he said. But he also promised that the increased density would not lead to more sprawl.
Kahlon also defended his government’s recent decision to cap allowable rent increases at 3.5 per cent.
If the province had stuck with the previously established formula, the increase would have been 6.5 per cent, a figure that would have hurt many families, he said. Kahlon said government was trying to find a balance, noting that the decision upset both renters and landlords in calling it a case of “good policy, bad politics.” He added that he hopes that B.C. will return to the original formula next year.
More broadly, Kahlon repeated his calls for greater involvement by the federal government and his government’s promise to work with all relevant partners, including the private sector.
He also signalled a greater financial commitment and role for government in the housing file.
“It’s going to require money,” he said. “It’s going to require government directly being involved.”
Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas said the presentation was good, because it gave delegates a chance to directly ask questions. He acknowledged that he did not learn much new from the session.
“We have been very, very involved in this area,” he said. “We have been speaking with Minister Kahlon continuously, we have been speaking with Minister Whiteside continuously…there wasn’t anything new that came about in the discussion. But what it did, it just reconfirmed the problems that we are having, are problems that many municipalities are having across the province and they are continuing to hear the same message. “
Dyas added the best-case scenario would see government bring forward and implement promised new legislation as early in the fall as possible.