Monday November 20, 2023 | VICTORIA, BC
by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
Live action in the BC Legislative Assembly! Late this afternoon the BC United Party MLAs voted against a motion to work past 6 pm in the BC Legislative Assembly.
The extension was to deal with further readings of some of the latest BC NDP housing legislation (with committee debate also going on in separate rooms).
The BC NDP made sauce out of that! When in government (prior to 2017), the BC Liberals (now called BC United) cancelled several sessions of parliament, bringing legislative debate to a grinding halt for a good chunk of 2015 and 2016.
Importance of housing:
The cost of market housing and rentals have escalated rapidly in the last few years, and the overall supply of housing and accommodation falls far short of need. A rapid increase in the BC population is part of this issue, but also the overall affordability crisis made worse by rapidly increased interest rates in the last 20 months.
The importance of housing has been addressed in BC this fall with an astonishing degree of change, as seen in five pieces of significant housing legislation brought in by Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon. Short-term rentals are severely restricted, multi-unit homes can now be built on any single-family lot in the province, amenity cost charges will need to be charged at the start of a housing development project, and more.
Bill 45 was debated this evening. Bill 45 will apply to local governments who seek court injunctions to remove or regulate homeless encampments, with amendments describe ‘reasonably available alternative shelter’ as a staffed place where an individual may stay overnight, and have access, either at, or nearby the shelter to a bathroom, a shower, and an offered meal. These amendments will have significant impacts on local governments and their ability to address encampments in their communities.
“Encampments are not a safe for the people sheltering in them, nor a long-term solution – and we’ve seen municipalities struggle to deal with encampments across the province,” said Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon, back on November 6. “The lack of standard for suitable shelter has both hurt people who have been decamped without proper shelter and created barriers to resolving encampments. It’s not working for anyone.”
This evening in the legislature, BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau said people are being evicted from housing in BC. She added that the government should be immediately invest in non-market housing. People are living in RV’s, camper vans and cars which are “serving as people’s homes”, she noted. People are dealing with “an eroding sense of security”.
“It is not natural or inevitable to have homeless people in our society,” said Furstenau. “Policy and investment choices have gotten us to exactly here. She has chosen to let people suffer from their poor policy decisions.”
“We cannot just keep pushing people out of sight, and rob them of dignity and sense of safety,” said Furstenau this evening. The failure is not the fault of the people who don’t have places to live in, she says. She says the most marginalized people in society for being homeless or on drugs.
“We are an outlier as a nation… allowing thousands of people to live without shelter,” said Furstenau. She notes that newly introduced housing legislation will allow existing homeowners to gain considerable wealth as their properties gain value through instant rezoning opportunities (from single-family to multi-density).
Minister of Post-Secondary and Future Skills Selina Robinson (former Finance Minister and before that Minister of Housing) says thousands of units of housing has been opened up for those who are precariously housed. She blames the affordability crisis and COVID-19 for creating further challenges to housing. She says 5,000 shelter spaces are being funded.
Robinson reminded the House that rental supplements are provided in BC (e.g. for low-income renters and seniors).
Second reading of Bill 45 concluded at 5:51 pm. Second reading passed with a standing vote at 6:02 pm, with MLAs of all three opposition parties having voted against.
Discussion then went on into Bill 44 at 6:04 pm.
Bill 44 will require local governments to shift their planning process to an up-front framework, pre-zone land to meet their housing needs and reduce the use of current rezoning processes.
Opponents have said that will increase the cost of housing in BC, by front-loading the costs for developers.
Housing Minister Kahlon says in small communities there will need to be ‘outside of the box’ thinking about applying regulations around allowing multi-density housing and secondary suites. He said that the multi-family housing expansion plan is to enable getting more housing on already available land.
Municipalities will need to have lot zoning updated by June 30, 2024, said Kahlon, adding that people with newer homes may not readily wish to proceed to with changing the housing on their lot. Changes might not be seen overnight, but happen more gradually in communities. Kahlon called it “gentle density that happens over time” as influenced by market forces and demand.
Kahlon reiterated that communities will “have a say” during the Official Community Plan process, but there won’t be opportunities for developments on individual lots to be debated — something that communities like View Royal are finding unacceptable (a public town hall is coming up November 23 to discuss that). The District of Oak Bay feels this is an encroachment on the power of municipal councils and the overall process of democracy.
The session adjourned at 6:27 pm.