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Premier John Horgan answers questions during a press conference following the speech from the throne in the legislative assembly in Victoria on Feb. 12, 2019.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

More affordable housing is needed to keep British Columbia’s economy booming, says Premier John Horgan.

B.C. boasts Canada’s strongest economy and lowest jobless rate, but growth is threatened by a shortage of affordable housing for workers and their families, he said Tuesday.

He said if a community can’t provide housing for workers then they can’t build much needed housing or sustain local economies.

It’s a puzzle the provincial government is trying to solve through last week’s budget and the $7 billion investment it promised last year in a decade-long affordable housing strategy, Horgan told the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

“If you don’t have an affordable home to live in you don’t have much going on,” he said. “If we’re going to just build single room boxes in the sky we’re not going to be able to meet the needs of growing families.”

Horgan said the government’s affordable housing plans involve building more rental units, increasing housing for post-secondary students and supporting home-building partnerships with community and church groups. Modular homes are also planned for homeless people and the government is working with Indigenous communities on social housing investments.

“If you are going to recruit and retain the skilled workers you need, we as a province have an obligation to make sure we’ve laid the foundation for your growth and success,” said Horgan. “That means housing people can afford to live in, not just housing that can be part of the speculator’s dream of flipping property as if it’s just a commodity. It’s not.”

Horgan said the city of Victoria recently put a modular housing project on hold because it can’t find the skilled workers to build it.

Mayor Lisa Helps said a recent regional study concluded the Victoria area will need 34,000 more rental units by 2038.

Catherine Holt, the chamber’s chief executive officer, said she agreed with Horgan about the housing problem, adding that the Victoria area needs affordable housing for workers bypassing good jobs because they can’t find places to live.

Businesses are closing early and in some cases shutting their doors during the week because they can’t find enough workers, she said.

“We have the problems of a full employment economy,” said Holt.

She called on the federal government to increase immigration numbers to bring more workers to Canada and the province to stimulate more growth of affordable housing.

“The real estate is not affordable for people in our region any more,” Holt said. “If we are going to have workers here we need housing. The government has to invest in nonmarket housing solutions to enable that to happen.”

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