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New B.C. housing laws will set housing targets for municipalities, lift strata rental restrictions

Premier David Eby's proposed measures include laws that could order fast-growing municipalities to meet housing supply targets and end rental restrictions based on age or type of building. 
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B.C. Premier David Eby announces a new public safety plan in Vancouver, on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. Eby is expected to announce his government's plans to take on the housing affordability crisis today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Premier David Eby introduced two bills Monday that will set housing targets for up to 10 fast-growing municipalities, end rental restrictions for about 300,000 condos and ban age restrictions that squeeze out families with children from housing.

The measures come as B.C. faces a housing shortage — 100,000 people moved to the province just last year and rental vacancies are low.

“We need to respond quickly,” Eby said during a news conference with Housing Minister Murray Rankin at the legislature.

Eby said British Columbians envision a province in which young people can move out of their parents’ homes and rent or buy properties: “It’s a vision that feels out of reach for far too many British Columbians because of the pressure in our housing market right now.”

Omama Shoib said while living in Alberta she got an offer to work as a harm-reduction nurse in Victoria and thought she’d have to decline because trying to find accommodations here “was a full-time job.” She eventually found a place but said “it really shouldn’t be this hard.”

If passed, the Housing Supply Act would come into effect in mid-2023; proposed amendments to the Strata Property Act would come into effect immediately.

The Housing Supply Act would require the fastest-growing communities — estimated at eight to 10 municipalities — to establish housing targets in consultation with the province. The flagged communities will be notified after the legislation comes into effect next year and municipalities will decide where and how housing is built.

Victoria, Saanich and Colwood mayors said they are supportive of the housing targets and the potential incentives from the province that accompany them. Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock said transit infrastructure funding, for instance, would be most welcome.

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto said change will be hard for some residents but “thousands of people are coming to Greater Victoria, and we want them to come, they drive our economy, and at the same time we have to be very cognizant of the reality of making room for them, not just in spaces but in infrastructure and support.”

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said he’s not sure there’s any targets or incentives the province could provide to move building along any faster in his city. “Golly, we approve pretty much everything that comes before us if it involves getting a residence in Nanaimo built so I don’t see that that will be overly helpful here.” By year’s end the city might have its ­highest year for building permits, he said.

With about 900 people homeless in Nanaimo, Krog was disappointed not to hear anything for them, but is optimistic that will come soon. “You’re seeing seniors living in their cars now, we have a real crisis. It’s an issue on everyone’s lips and it’s a huge political issue.”

If targets are not met or actions are not taken to adequately increase housing in a given municipality, the proposed Housing Supply Act has compliance steps up to and including the cabinet ordering a city to make approvals or rezonings. Eby said his hope is that never has to happen.

The Strata Property Act amendments, if passed, would end bans on condo owners renting out their units. The province estimates 300,000 units may be subject to rental bans and even if 99 per cent of those are owner-occupied, freeing up just one per cent for renting would mean an immediate 3,000 additional units on the market.

Stratas would still be allowed to have bylaws banning short-term rentals “and in fact, in legislative sessions to come, we will be introducing additional restrictions allowing municipalities to more closely regulate short-term rentals,” said Eby.

The amendments would end most age restrictions, such as limiting rentals to people 19 and older, or 30 and older.

The end of age-related rental restrictions would not apply to seniors buildings for those age 55 and older, Eby said.

“In relation to strata rules, it is simply unacceptable that a British Columbian who is searching Craigslist for a place to rent can’t find a home, and somebody who owns a condo is not permitted to rent that home to that individual,” said Eby.

“It is equally unacceptable that a young couple that lives in a condo and decides to start a family has to start searching for a new home because that strata has a rule that everybody who lives in the unit has to be 19 years of age or older,” he said.

David Hutniak, CEO of Landlord B.C., said the premier addressed initial concerns that strata councils have the right to take tenants to the B.C. Residential Tenancy Branch to deal with disputes. However, the branch is “not working particularly well,” said Hutniak.

He believes this a funding issue that will be addressed in the February budget to give “landlords and tenants timely access to justice.”

Hutniak said the housing bills are not “earth shattering” and while some landlords will not be happy with the changes “if we can get [about 3,000 units of] rental housing tomorrow that’s not a bad thing.”

Dennie Linkert, president at Complete Residential Property Management Ltd., said after the housing announcement, she was asked to attend a Cordova Bay strata association meeting Monday night when the topic was added to the agenda.

Some people who bought condos with the understanding their building would house only adults or people equally financially invested in the property — “the biggest investment of their lives” — are not going to be happy with the changes, she said. “They are really worried and wondering what to do and wondering how it’s going to impact them,” said Linkert, “but I don’t think anyone knows until we see this in action.”

Quite a few small condo developments don’t allow rentals, she said. “I just can’t see it being a good thing for those types of buildings where owners have made that choice,” said Linkert. “I think it’s going to be a real shock for the community.”

Andrew Sakamoto, executive director of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, said the measures are positive and “collectively inch us forward in the right direction” but said the centre is hoping for more acknowledgement from the province “that we truly are in a rental crisis.” For the centre that would mean the province expanding measures to prevent illegal evictions and putting in controls that regulate or put a ceiling on how much rent can be increased to a subsequent renter when a unit becomes available.

Housing is one of the issues Eby said he planned to tackle when he was sworn in on Friday in Vancouver. 

Eby, who was housing minister before running for premier, released a housing plan during his fall leadership campaign aimed at addressing affordability, targeting speculators and protecting renters. 

His proposed plan said a government under his leadership would fast-track affordable housing by speeding approvals, use government land for some projects, make all secondary suites across the province legal and allow homebuilders to replace a single-family house with up to three units on the same lot. 

The matter of secondary suites is not specifically addressed in measures announced Monday. 

Eby said on Friday that he planned to “hit the ground running” and then set out two one-time payments for residents, to help mitigate inflation pressures for residents.

On Sunday, he announced a new public safety plan to increase enforcement on repeat violent offenders and expand mental-health crisis response teams.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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