On the eve of housing talks between federal, provincial and territorial officials that begin Monday in Victoria, federal cabinet minister Jean-Yves Duclos said a national housing strategy could be in place before the end of the year.
"Our objective is to have one designed by the end of the fall – so it can be a very important input into [planning for] budget 2017, which is going to set the agenda for our collaboration over the next many years," Mr. Duclos told reporters following a joint federal-provincial housing announcement, held in a back alley of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
Mr. Duclos, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, is also responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
Housing advocates have for years called for a national housing strategy to help address issues of supply and affordability, which have become a particular concern in Vancouver and Toronto – where skyrocketing prices have squeezed many buyers out of the market and resulted in a recent warning from the Bank of Canada of a possible sharp correction.
A national strategy is expected to be on the agenda as housing ministers meet in British Columbia's capital, where a tent city has provided a symbol of housing problems since last fall.
Perhaps to signal increased federal-provincial co-operation, Mr. Duclos on Sunday joined B.C. Housing Minister Rich Coleman to announce $150-million in federal funding over the next two years for housing in British Columbia.
The funding – part of commitments outlined in the federal budget in March – includes $50.9-million for repairs and upgrades to social housing units. The announcement was made at a social housing project, currently under construction, that has been partly funded by the federal government.
The housing meetings come amid growing public and political concern about the housing market in the Lower Mainland.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said last week that the city will introduce a vacancy tax to penalize those who profit from sitting on housing stock amid a rental crisis, unless the province steps in with a tax of its own.
He said the city would give the provincial government until Aug. 1 to begin collaborating on a new vacancy tax.
On Friday, in a video posted on YouTube, Premier Christy Clark said her Liberal government would take "bold action" on housing in "coming days and weeks" based on six principles: increasing housing supply, expanding smart transit, supporting first-time home buyers, protecting consumers, increasing rental supply and protecting the dream of home ownership.
Mr. Coleman said the government is working on details of housing-related measures in line with Ms. Clark's recent announcement and that new policies could be expected soon. He also praised the federal government, saying it is open to partnerships and innovation, which bodes well for potential new housing projects in B.C. and elsewhere.
Housing concerns include a tight rental market, with a vacancy rate hovering at around zero in Vancouver, and the loss of affordable rentals to redevelopment.
A 2015 city report on single-room occupancy hotels in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside – often the housing of last resort for low-income people in the neighbourhood – found that the number of SRO rooms renting at or below $375 a month (the provincial shelter rate for a single person on social assistance) had dropped from 36 per cent to 17 per cent between 2009 and 2015.
Over the same period, the number of rooms renting for $451 or more per month had climbed from 14 per cent to 41 per cent.
The province has bought and renovated more than a dozen hotels for low-income housing.