The severity of today’s housing challenges results from decades of inaction. Since the BC New Democrat government was formed in 2017, we have been working diligently to address both the demand and supply sides of the equation.
There is no doubt that soaring housing prices due to speculation, historically low vacancy rates, and unaffordable rental rates have seriously impacted people here in Oak Bay-Gordon Head. I’ve heard from countless people in our community who are concerned about housing costs. This includes students at UVic and Camosun worried about finding a place to live while they study, seniors delaying retirement due to escalating costs, and young families struggling to enter the housing market.
Our New Democrat government has prioritized building more affordable housing, stabilizing the market, and increasing supports for renters. We banned illegal renovictions and capped rent increases to the level of inflation. Last December, B.C. became the first province with 100 per cent provincewide rent bank coverage, providing interest-free emergency loans for low-to-moderate-income tenants who would otherwise lose their housing. We brought 18,000 empty homes into B.C.’s rental market by introducing the Speculation and Vacancy Tax, and revenue from the tax is helping build almost 4,000 new homes.
Students should be able to focus on their studies without worrying about finding an affordable place to live. That’s why we are building thousands of student housing beds, including 620 new student housing beds set to open at UVic this September. The tight market has driven up the cost and depleted the supply of student housing in Victoria, but these new beds are an important step towards reducing rental housing pressure.
Since 2017, we have already opened or started building more than 5,800 student housing beds provincewide, but there is much more work to do since the previous government built only 130 student beds over 16 years. We are also increasing affordable housing for low- and middle-income families, women and children fleeing violence, and people experiencing homelessness. In Victoria, more than 1,200 new affordable homes are open or in development. This includes 500 supportive homes and shelter spaces in Victoria with more in-development, and 160 middle-income housing units through our HousingHub program, which provides low-interest construction loans to developers who then can pass on savings to renters or buyers.
When it comes to building more housing, we need to be asking “what does it look like” and “where is it located” rather than “should it be built.” We are eager to work urgently with local governments, which are on the front lines of the housing crisis. That’s why we committed $5 million to help local governments develop regular housing needs reports, and as a result, Victoria, Saanich, and Oak Bay released reports in 2020 painting a clearer picture of local housing conditions. Victoria has shown great leadership in building affordable homes, and earlier this year, I was glad to see Saanich approve a funding strategy to support its comprehensive plans to increase supply, affordability, and diversity of housing options. Oak Bay is currently working on identifying more housing opportunities and needs in specific neighbourhoods, and I look forward to seeing the actions the District of Oak Bay will take to increase diverse housing supply and allow secondary suites. Last October, we made it easier for local governments to streamline development processes so new housing can be built faster and we will continue to ensure they have the tools and supports they need to prepare for growing demand.
Since my election as MLA in 2020, I’ve been advocating for more local solutions. I will continue to listen to people in Oak Bay-Gordon Head and work with the Ministry of Housing to find opportunities to address the housing challenges in our community.
Murray Rankin is the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.