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B.C Premier Christy Clark walks in the rain with Burnaby North MLA Richard T. Lee to a news conference in Burnaby, B.C. on Monday.Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia announced Monday it would make the largest investment in rental stock in the province's history while also naming a new watchdog to ensure homeowners have more protection against unscrupulous realtors.

Premier Christy Clark acknowledged that owning, or even renting, a home in the Vancouver region is quickly becoming out of reach for many as she announced $500-million to build 2,900 rental units over the next three years. Earlier in the day, the government named a new watchdog for the real estate industry, which came under fire earlier this year after a Globe and Mail investigation found unscrupulous realtors faced little to no punishment in the self-regulating sector.

Ms. Clark's government has spent the summer rolling out policies to address the housing crisis, particularly in the overheated Vancouver market, where prices jumped by more than 30 per cent in a single year. B.C. has already announced a tax on foreign buyers, legislation to allow Vancouver to tax vacant homes, and an overhaul of how realtors are regulated and disciplined.

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The province said the announcement marked the single biggest housing investment by any province in Canada and will fund a mix of housing for low-to moderate-income earners, seniors, students, adults with developmental disabilities, aboriginals and single parents, though Ms. Clark revealed few specific details about where those units would be built or who would live in them. She said the new rental units will be built through partnerships with non-profit groups, local governments, community agencies and the private sector, with projects being approved by next March.

The money will come from a new 15-per-cent transfer tax on foreign buyers in the Vancouver region that took effect in August to target speculation in the runaway housing market. The finance ministry could not provide details on how much money the levy has generated in the past month and a half, but the province had already injected $500-million into the fund to kick-start housing projects.

The leaders of B.C.'s two largest organizations focused on non-profit housing were unabashedly enthusiastic about the announcement.

"It's a monumental investment," said Kishone Roy, the president of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association. "No provinces have made this kind of investment in social housing. This sends a huge message to Ottawa about the quantum of the program."

Thom Armstrong, president of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C., echoed that excitement.

"They've set themselves an incredibly ambitious target. It's a big move," he said.

Both said the $500-million spend is the kind of money B.C. probably needs to see every year, but hasn't been close to for a long time. They also expressed hope that B.C.'s move would prompt the federal government to be equally generous when it finalizes its national housing strategy later this year.

Canada's investments in social housing plunged after 1993, when the federal Liberals ended any new spending on new projects. Many provinces, lacking a federal contribution, scaled back their own spending.

Earlier in the day, the province named its superintendent of real estate.

Micheal Noseworthy, a former real estate lawyer, has left his post as a senior bureaucrat in the Yukon government to become British Columbia's superintendent of real estate. He is in charge of regulating the province's 22,000 licensed realtors and investigating anyone operating without a licence.

Ms. Clark announced the end of self-regulation in June after the release of a report from an independent panel struck to examine the industry in the wake of allegations of realtor fraud and misconduct detailed by The Globe. Ms. Clark said the panel's findings showed the industry had failed to adequately regulate itself, and instead that system would be replaced by a beefed-up superintendent's office and a series of tougher rules for agents.

Mr. Noseworthy was Yukon's superintendent of real estate and insurance and was also in charge of regulating that territory's doctors and lottery system.

"The new regulatory framework significantly increases council's accountability to government and strengthens the overall governance of the real estate profession," the release stated.

Former superintendent Carolyn Rogers, who also headed the provincial financial services regulator, left her post last month to accept a job in Ottawa at the federal-bank watchdog. Before leaving, she oversaw an independent panel that concluded the real estate sector had become dominated by industry members who were reluctant to take disciplinary action.

New Democrat Leader John Horgan said Monday's announcement was thin on details because the rental housing plan is a ploy to get the Liberals re-elected next May. "This is a government that six months ago said there was no [affordability] problem," he said. "And they've got so turned around on this issue . … because they believe their electoral success is in the balance."

With a report from The Canadian Press

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