Michael Lee’s Plan to Make Housing AffordableMy leadership is grounded in five key values - Community, Compassion, Inclusivity, Accountability and Integrity. As with all my answers to policy questions, my approach to the tough problem of housing is to view the problem through the lens of those values.
In my experience, communities are enriched when folks can live, work and play in them. Whether enjoying family, exercising, pursuing hobbies or volunteer activities, or running errands in the neighbourhood. In our cities and suburbs, that means gentle density increases and embracing work from home. In more rural parts of the province, that means increased access to high-speed internet and ensuring workers have access to affordable housing close to where they work.
Compassion means striving to ensure that everyone, regardless of circumstances, has a safe place to stay if they want one. It means working with communities to ensure they have the resources to address the gaps in local housing and sharing best practices. It also means good landlords should have recourse to deal swiftly with negligent tenants while irresponsible landlords should be swiftly penalized for mistreating tenants.
Inclusivity means listening to all voices, identifying cultural, systemic, and structural barriers to housing and finding ways to remove those barriers. It means not applying the solutions of urban BC to rural BC and vice versa.
Accountability means setting out targets, and reporting to the public on the progress or lack thereof. A Michael Lee government will do just that on housing, as it will on other policy fronts.
Integrity means setting out a path, making the tough decisions needed and leading from the front. The policy positions Michael Lee is outlining on housing will be carried out in a transparent and open way once he is elected Premier.
Housing in British Columbia: The problemThere is simply not enough housing in British Columbia for all of us to have the affordable housing options we need. We aren’t building enough units to tread water, let alone start improving the situation. That is to say nothing of the vast numbers who will move here in the coming years, with one million more people expected in Metro Vancouver alone by 2050. Once again this year, despite the pandemic, BC led the country in interprovincial migration. Over 34,000 net new inhabitants. We’re also a favourite destination for international migrants and estimates are we should expect on the order of 40,000 a year for the near future.
This policy failure has cascading impacts across our lives in myriad ways. It truly is a tough problem - one that doesn’t have a silver bullet solution. There are a complex set of political, regulatory, social and economic factors that combine to create the housing crisis. The solution will be complicated, frustrating and disruptive. It needs true leadership at all levels of government, societal buy-in, and shared effort.
Homelessness is just one symptom, with more and more couch-surfing, living in vehicles, in shelters, or on the streets. The NDP has promised to end homelessness with no tangible result. The increase in tent cities and encampments throughout BC during COVID is a direct result of their inaction.
Grandparents are living far away from their grandkids, because the middle generation can’t afford to live in the neighborhood they grew up in. That removes childcare options for some, elder care options for others, and reduces quality of life for everyone involved. Family traditions get disrupted, cultural heritage is weakened, and our society is increasingly full of people who say they experience feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Young people can only afford to buy homes further and further away from where they work and their preferred neighbourhoods. That increases time spent on carbon-intensive commutes, further ramps up our dependence on automobiles and makes it harder and harder to attract young professionals to our cities. The financial hit ensures people wait longer to start families, put off saving for retirement, and increases the number of us living paycheque-to-paycheque.
In tourism-reliant communities like Tofino, Vanderhoof, Nelson, Fernie, and Whistler, the labour shortage is exacerbated because there is nowhere for service and hospitality sector workers to live that they can afford. Agricultural communities are finding it difficult to house the temporary workers needed for seasonal work.
At the same time, many of us who are lucky enough to own our own homes are dependent on the equity in those homes for our own retirement, and to help our kids as they find their way in the world.
As with so many tough problems, those impacted most are usually those already vulnerable and marginalized. Lower income employees, women and younger British Columbians.
In summary, BC needs to build a lot more places to live than we’ve built in the past and a whole lot more than we are building now. We need to build rentals as well as owner-occupied homes. We need homes for seniors, for young families, for students, for low-wage workers, healthcare workers, tourism employees and teachers. We need more condos, more townhouses, more shared accommodation, more duplexes, more in-law suites, more laneway homes, more mobile homes and just more warm places with a locking door where people can take a breath and feel safe.
The biggest barriers to building more housing in BC right now are threefold. The first is the maze of municipal regulations and the incredible delays projects face as a result. The second is a labour shortage. The third is financial - how do we pay to build the homes and how can people afford to buy or rent them?
It is past time for municipalities to streamline their permitting processes. A Michael Lee government will cap development approval timelines across the province. Municipalities which fail to meet guidelines will face penalties and increased oversight by the province. In order to increase transparency, municipalities will also be required to track development activity and post it publicly. Michael Lee will also strongly encourage municipalities to move to flat-rate DCC (Development Cost Charge) fees to simplify the process and increase cost certainty for everyone involved in building much needed new housing. A Michael Lee government will also help municipalities provide supply-side fixes with mandated municipal housing targets.
Transit improvements and infrastructure investments will not receive any provincial funding under a Michael Lee government unless they incorporate density requirements and pre-zoning around any new infrastructure. This will help ensure transit development and housing development happen in a coordinated manner.
On the labour front, a Michael Lee government will work to increase the exposure all high school students get to Red Seal trades and to expand apprenticeship programs across the province. We will work with the ITA, all labour organizations and educational partners to ensure that new green building techniques that utilize made-in-BC solutions are front and center in training. Indigenous and municipal leaders will be asked to partner with the government to ensure that the skills needed to support local business are available locally. We will work to increase the number of immigrants with experience in skilled trades and ensure access to credentialing programs are available.
Buying a home is often the single biggest purchase made in a lifetime. In today’s hot market, that sometimes means blindly bidding in hopes of winning a pricing war. That can create upward pressure on prices in some cases and incentivizes risk. Michael Lee will review the practice of blind bidding and shady real estate practices on residential properties.
Renters are in crisis because local municipalities fail to add the needed rental homes for all the new renters moving into BC. Each year BC comes short - by over ten thousand rental homes - of building enough rental homes to meet incoming demand. Currently, more renters are fighting over fewer rental homes and the problem is only getting worse year after year. We need a crisis level addition of new rental homes to get our province to a healthy vacancy rate, fix the rental supply gap, and ease pressure on renters.
The NDP has long viewed homeowners as revenue sources and views landlords with disdain. That will end under Michael Lee. Increases in the value of your home will never be taxed by his government. Rent increases will be tied to inflation and the cumbersome and inefficient residential tenancy process will be reviewed. Dispute resolutions will be subject to timeline guidelines to ensure neither landlords nor renters are left in uncertainty for months on end.
All three levels of government need to step up to the table and work together to boost housing. Michael Lee will be a champion for BC in that discussion. Michael Lee will restore BC’s fair share of federal funding. Every community has different needs, the housing supply in demand in Kitsilano is different from that needed in Kitimat. Instead of imposing top-down solutions from Victoria, a Michael Lee government will work with local elected officials to find solutions that work while leveraging support from Ottawa.
Michael will also advocate to ensure that large transit projects require density increases along routes in order to receive funding. He will work with municipalities to develop density targets for their communities and ensure those targets are met - with financial benefits for success and penalties for failure. Michael will hammer out deals with resort municipalities and major employers to support the development of workforce housing wherever it is needed.
By the end of his first term in government, British Columbia will be the jurisdiction North America looks to for pragmatic solutions to the housing crisis. He will build the homes we need to ease the supply crunch that underlies so much of the problem.
- Support for homeowners: value gains on your home will never be taxed. Our homes are not to be used as BCNDP lending centres to fund the growth of government bureaucracy.
- Attack the labour shortage through education and promotion of skilled trades to students and those re-skilling for new careers.
- Ensure balance and adequate supply in the rental market - tie rent increases to inflation, fix the rental supply gap, and the onerous residential tenancy process.
- Provide supply-side fixes: more density on transit lines, mandated municipal housing targets and timelines with teeth for development processes.