VICTORIA — British Columbia's New Democrats are promising initiatives in Tuesday's budget to increase the supply of affordable homes for families, students and seniors, while also bringing in measures to dampen speculation in the real estate market.
Finance Minister Carole James says her budget will take a multi-pronged approach to creating more housing options in a province where some seniors are forced to couch surf with friends and working couples are living in basement rentals because they can't afford a down payment on a home.
"Housing affordability is in a crisis in our province," said James. "That's clear from anyone you talk to who's trying to find affordable housing, whether they are tenants, renters, whether they are looking to own a home."
Recent statistics from the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver shows the average price of a detached home was $1.6 million, and the average price of an apartment was $665,400. Vacancy rates for renters are at one per cent or lower in most cities across B.C., including Victoria and Kelowna.
The government's throne speech last week promised the largest investment in affordable housing in the province's history, targeting social, student, senior, Indigenous and rental housing.
It also pledged to make more affordable and quality child care available by converting unlicensed spaces into licensed spots.
The speech said the government will bring down barriers to affordable housing including zoning changes to build more rental homes and increasing development at transit zones. The government plans as well to work on potential housing projects with churches and non-profit groups that have land.
"One piece isn't going to fix the housing crisis," James said. "There has to be a comprehensive plan. It has to be long-term. It has to address supply. It has to address demand. It has to address speculation and closing loopholes, and that's what you'll see in the budget."
The New Democrats promised during last year's election campaign to build 114,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.
Housing Minister Selina Robinson said the budget will outline a plan to involve all levels of government and community groups to increase the supply of affordable housing, but the crisis will not be solved overnight.
"It's going to take time," she said. "This is going to take concerted effort over time to deliver housing differently."
Robinson said one aim of the plan will be to boost rental housing in urban areas by increasing housing density along transit lines. The budget will include measures to address property speculation, but she wouldn't discuss the likelihood of a tax on speculation.
"There's certainly going to be some action coming out of the budget that addresses concerns around transparency, concerns around ownership," said Robinson.
The throne speech said the government will address the effect of speculation on real estate prices, promising to ensure those seeking to profit from real estate contribute to solutions.
Prof. Paul Kershaw of University of British Columbia's school of population said the government must make it unattractive to speculate on real estate by looking at taxing housing wealth.
"A principal residence is almost entirely sheltered from taxation in Canada," Kershaw said. "That works for one generation only. It's dreadful for their kids and grandchildren."
Kyle Kerr, president of the Victoria Real Estate Board, said initiatives are needed to increase housing supply, especially for young families. The past two years in Victoria were record sales years, he said, but the city is facing supply shortages.
"Our hope is just that we will see the government come forward with demand side and supply side measures."
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press