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Premier David Eby acknowledges there’s a backlog in government funding for affordable housing and promises to get more money out the door to start construction of desperately needed subsidized units.

“I know that (B.C. Housing) got five applications for new affordable housing from non-profit organizations for every one that we’ve been able to fund,” Eby told Postmedia News during a year-end interview on Tuesday. “The demand is massive out there for affordable housing.”

Eby was responding to criticism from some B.C. mayors. They are frustrated the province is laying the blame on municipalities for being slow to build housing when shovel-ready projects are languishing because of a lack of funding from B.C. Housing.

Eby said he’ll work with Finance Minister Katrine Conroy to “support more of those applications that are supported by cities that are shovel ready, to respond to the affordable housing crisis.”

B.C. municipalities have applied for funding for 13,000 units through B.C. Housing’s community housing fund. Of those, 2,400 units were approved for funding in 2021, including 579 in the Lower Mainland and 129 in Burnaby, the Housing Ministry confirmed.

Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley last month said he was upset to hear Eby point the finger at municipalities when his city has seven shovel-ready projects with a total of 1,200 affordable units that have been turned down for funding.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West said a below-market-rent 300-unit project in his city was delayed by a year while the developers waited for a provincial environmental assessment permit, a delay that will make the units more expensive.

The Housing Supply Act, which was passed into law but won’t take effect until mid-2023, will set housing targets for municipalities and take a carrot and stick approach to those targets.

The carrot is that the province will provide funding for amenities like parks and public infrastructure to municipalities that hit housing targets. The stick is the province’s power to override municipalities by approving housing projects or rezoning entire neighbourhoods to allow increased density.

The province will select eight to 10 municipalities to test out the housing targets in a pilot project.

Eby said he’s surprised so many mayors have put their hands up and volunteered to be selected for the pilot.

“I thought from early on indications that there would be a lot of resistance to working together in this way, but I’m finding that the challenge may be the opposite, that there are a lot of municipalities that want to work with us,” Eby said.

Eby also recognized the need to overhaul the province’s permitting process to ensure market-cot housing can be built quickly.

Not everyone in B.C. needs subsidized housing, he said, but simply want a place to rent or buy in their price range.

“I can’t point at the cities without recognizing that the province has an important role to play here, too, in our own permitting processes to make sure that we’re not holding up housing that should get built,” he said. “I hope it helps the cities see that we’re not just pointing at them. We’re also looking at what we can do.”

Eby’s mandate letter to Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon tells him to establish a B.C. Builds plan that will oversee the construction of housing for “middle-income families, individuals, and seniors.”

B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau is frustrated the premier isn’t putting enough focus on building more below-market and co-operative housing.

She said a lot of housing has been built in B.C. in the past decade, but too much of it exists as a “safety deposit box” for investors, which leaves lower and middle-income British Columbians behind.

Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C., said the non-profit has co-op housing projects ready to go in Vancouver, Burnaby and North Cowichan that are waiting for cash from B.C. Housing.

Armstrong said while he agrees with Eby that there’s a need for more housing supply “to match every income level … arguably you should be dealing with the most acute need first. Because those are people who are most vulnerable and who have the fewest options in our market.”

Armstrong and Jill Atkey, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, are encouraged to see Eby’s mandate letters to the Housing and Finance ministries include a reference to a rental housing acquisition fund that will allow community housing providers, through government funding, to buy properties slated for development and secure them as permanently affordable housing.

Armstrong and Atkey are alarmed by the rate at which older, purpose-built rentals are being bought by real estate investors and redeveloped into more expensive units.

The older units, which rent for between $750 and $1,200 a month, “are the homes we can least afford to lose,” Armstrong said.

“If we don’t do something to stop the bleeding on the affordable supply we’re losing, you’re just rolling out the carpet in front of you to build new homes and it’s rolling up behind you at an even greater clip,” he said. “So you end up with a net loss of affordable homes. If there’s one thing that we’re hoping 2023 brings, it’s the introduction and implementation of that rental housing acquisition fund.”


Story by: Vancouver Sun