B.C. Continues Its ‘Procedural Bungling’ And Looks To Build A Lack Of Housing Supply

On Saturday, the provincial government announced the formation of a housing committee to “review current housing-related policies and policies that are associated with housing and homeless in the province, and to make recommendations to the government.”

To be more specific, the province says it’s asking the private sector “to take the lead in delivering options, solutions and services that are affordable, efficient and equitable for B.C.’s seniors, low-income renters and First Nations.”

The announcement continued, “The housing committee will engage in dialogue with industry, public sector agencies, non-profit organizations, local governments, local housing authorities, the private sector and other interested groups, over the course of the coming months, to collect data and build on research completed by the Expert Panel on Housing, which was established to assess the impacts of government-sponsored rental and housing programs on the B.C. rental market.”

True, the committee won’t be led by the B.C. government itself. Rather, it will be chaired by a three-person advisory board—Cornelia Elmsma, Jennie Iams and Kim Bittle—who are already working as government spokespeople. The province has yet to appoint the lead analyst who will head the committee. That role could fall to either a staff member of the Royal Bank or the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, but it doesn’t appear the government will hire anyone else.

The announcement therefore doesn’t provide much in the way of transparency or say how it will end, or even if it will, except to establish the committee and begin soliciting ideas from developers, public servants and bureaucrats.

The government’s announcement may even be a case of window-dressing for the incoming Clark government, on the last day of the outgoing government’s mandate.

The experts—farmers, economists, municipal planners, aboriginal leaders and realtors, for example—who served on the housing panel were focused solely on the actual state of the B.C. rental market.

Related show: “B.C.’s Housing Policy is a Mess” See documents from our show here.

None of them examined the role of government in the scheme of things, such as building more affordable rental housing or improving the supply of rental housing.

Yet previous housing panels in Ontario, Alberta and Newfoundland had similar goals, which basically amounted to leaving the building of more rental housing alone. All were simply tasked with providing input to policy-makers, much like economists providing economic and market analysis.

That said, Ontario’s housing experts concluded in a 2016 report that the government had failed to address a basic problem in Ontario: lack of affordable rental housing. The panel—a group of experts from a wide variety of backgrounds and education levels—was left to observe that “an unequal distribution of housing units, often over the age of 65, has driven up housing costs, and propelled the rise of poverty among Ontario’s many vulnerable segments of society.”

Yet that’s exactly what has happened in B.C., as private developers turned away from subsidized housing because they didn’t see enough demand for affordable housing. Nor did the province offer big tax breaks or other incentives for those wanting to build new housing units.

Indeed, the province’s Housing Policies were perceived as inept and ineffective. A former housing board chair wrote in a recent CBC column that “throughout the housing crisis of the late 2000s, with the exception of two waves of speculation, there was little effort to provide housing for seniors and people of low income… The outcome has been suffering and poverty for most people.”

While the provincial government is clearly going to start looking at whether it needs to increase production of new rental housing, it isn’t going to pay much attention to the underlying causes.

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This story first appeared in the January 11th print edition of the Centre for Dialogue magazine, with an additional online story appearing on the same date.

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