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B.C Premier Christy Clark speaks at a news conference in Burnaby, B.C., on Sept. 19, 2016.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

The British Columbia government has unveiled its $500-million affordable-housing plan, with half of the 2,900 new rental units earmarked for Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley communities that have struggled with a shortage of low-cost housing.

Premier Christy Clark announced her government's commitment to fund 68 new projects at a news conference Tuesday – the same day Ottawa released a report on its national housing strategy and stressed the importance of affordable units.

Ms. Clark addressed reporters at a child-development centre in Surrey and said the province needs to ensure its strong economic standing "doesn't just benefit the few."

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"We have to keep the dream of having a home within the reach of the middle-class and all British Columbians," she said.

Ms. Clark announced the funding in September amid increasing concern about affordability in the Vancouver region, where home prices had surged more than 30 per cent in a single year and tenants have been squeezed by high rent and low vacancies. The province has announced several policies aimed at addressing affordability, including an overhaul of real estate regulations, a tax on foreign buyers in the Vancouver region, and legislation allowing cities to tax vacant homes.

Twenty-two of the 68 new projects announced Tuesday will be located in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, giving those areas 1,441 new affordable-housing units.

The province said the new projects will serve a diverse group, providing housing options for renters with low-to-moderate incomes, seniors, women and children, aboriginal people and adults with developmental disabilities.

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Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the specific details about who will qualify to live in those units or what they would be expected to pay for rent will vary depending on the project.

Gerard Bremault, chief executive officer of the Centre for Child Development, which hosted Tuesday's news conference, said it was honoured to be chosen for new funding. The province will provide $4.7-million for a 40-unit development at the site, which will offer housing to single women who earn low-to-moderate incomes and have children with special needs.

Janice Abbott, chief executive officer of the Atira Women's Resource Society, in an interview said its container-housing project for women in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside was among those approved. She said the $2.5-million the society will receive from the province – along with its own financial contribution and land – will allow the society to rent the 21 units out at the welfare rate of $375 for a single person.

The province appeared to favour projects that were advanced – the land was secured, money was raised, and rezoning was under way, said Kevin Albers, chief executive officer of M'akola Development Services.

Mr. Albers said his organization worked with non-profit groups on several projects as a development consultant, and all of the projects were approved.

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Kishone Roy, chief executive officer of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, said the influx of money from the province is welcome, but a single-year injection is not enough.

"The 3,000 units are the exact amount that is needed in Metro Vancouver every year to meet our growth projections every year," he said.

Vancouver will get 10 new projects and 611 rental units, while Surrey will get five projects and 326 units. Burnaby, which has increasingly come under fire over the demolition of its rental-housing stock, will get three new projects and 202 units.

Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands will have 774 new units, while the Thompson-Okanagan region will have 256.

The $516-million plan – which B.C. has said is the largest single-year housing investment by any Canadian province – is in addition to a five-year, $355-million affordable-housing investment announced by Victoria in February.

Hamish Telford, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley, said Vancouver's affordability crisis has moved into the vote-rich suburbs, prompting the Liberals to take action.

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The provincial election will be held in May.

David Eby, the B.C. New Democratic Party's housing critic, called the Liberal government's interest in rental housing "long overdue."

Mr. Coleman said some of the projects will get under way in the spring and construction could take 12 to 24 months. He said the lion's share of the funding will come from the province's property transfer tax.

Ms. Clark said the projects are expected to produce 5,500 jobs.

Frances Bula is a freelance writer

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