Amid growing tensions over the Vancouver region's runaway real estate prices, the B.C. government says it will commit to the "largest single social and affordable housing investment" in the province history.
B.C. will spend $355-million over five years to construct and renovate more than 2,000 units of affordable housing, Premier Christy Clark said Friday in Vancouver. She did not provide a definition for "affordable," or specifics on where the units might go.
"We are in the enviable position in this country of being able to afford to make big investments, good investments, that are going to change people's lives, because we have looked after the fundamentals," Ms. Clark said.
The discussion over local real estate prices has reached a fever pitch, with multimillion-dollar teardowns making headlines and a younger generation of British Columbians looking outside the province.
The average price for detached houses in Greater Vancouver climbed to $1.83-million last month – up 40.2 per cent from January, 2015 – while the average price for detached houses in the City of Vancouver hit a record $2.53-million last November.
Earlier this month, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson offered $250-million worth of city-owned property – the largest offer of municipal land ever made by the city – in a pitch for $500-million in federal housing money over five years. The property comprises 20 sites, including areas on the north shore of False Creek and the Downtown Eastside.
The newly announced provincial money will be generated from B.C.'s Non-Profit Asset Transfer program, which sees the province transfer parcels of land to non-profit housing providers at fair market value. This grants the housing providers access to equity and new opportunities for development, while money paid to the province is reinvested in housing.
The province has earmarked $50-million each in 2016-17 and 2017-18, $75-million in 2018-19 and $90-million each in 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Ms. Clark said "affordable" would encompass a range of housing, supporting people such as seniors and those with mental-health or addiction issues. Housing is typically considered affordable, according to BC Housing, when costs are within 30 per cent of a household's gross income.
Ms. Clark said the land recently set aside by the city will "absolutely" factor into the government's affordable housing plan, though details will have to be worked out.
"We hope that other cities around the province will come forward with a plan as part of their contribution to doing this," Ms. Clark said. "When cities are there and the province is there, which we are, I think we have a chance to really make sure the federal government makes its contribution as well, which they seem to be hungry to do."
Mr. Robertson he was glad to see the Premier talking about the need for affordable housing in B.C. and welcomes any commitment from the province to team up.
"We have sites ready to go this year and can start construction right away, so I'm hopeful that we can move swiftly to get funds flowing, shovels in the ground and people into homes," the mayor said in a statement Friday.
David Eby, the B.C. NDP's housing critic, called Friday's announcement a "significant reversal" in provincial housing policy.
"It wasn't that long ago that the province said that they were getting out of the business of building new units of social housing and that they would rely entirely on rent supplements," he said. "We told them then that it wouldn't work and now we know that that was right. Unfortunately, they have put half a billion dollars now into rent supplements with no appreciable results except for a vacancy rate of less than 1 per cent."
Tony Roy, CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, said co-operation between three levels of government could signal "a new era for affordable and social housing" in the province.
"What I thought was really interesting today was this growing dialogue about things being a third, a third, a third. The truth is, it's been nobody, nobody, nobody for a long time," he said. "For 20 years, nobody has done anything."
Still, Mr. Roy emphasized that the province's investment is stimulus, which does not take the place of stable, long-term funding.
"At the end of the day, a good economy means that we're a growing economy. There are going to be more people living here, there's going to be more immigration, more opportunities to bring in refugees. Families are growing. If we don't have a stable program, we'll do this work and then we'll dig the hole back again and wonder why we're buried."