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B.C. housing minister says reforms reflect community needs despite criticisms

Ravi Kahlon addressed concerns from local leaders as part of a question-and-answer period during the UBCM housing summit.
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Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon answered questions from mayors and local leaders at the Union of BC Municipalities Housing Summit in Vancouver on Tuesday.

B.C.’s housing minister spent time Tuesday answering for his policies.

Ravi Kahlon fielded questions at the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) 2024 Housing Summit in Vancouver, where local mayors and government leaders quizzed him over housing legislation passed in November.

One of the main complaints aimed at the province is that the housing legislation is taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Each of us has these realities. The impacts of the legislation are not spread and are not the same in our communities,” said Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart.

The new housing legislation aims to address concerns over shelter spaces, development fees, taxes and levies, as well as building density on single-family lots and around transit stations.

Kahlon said it reflects the nuances in B.C.’s communities.

“That's why small-scale multi-unit [legislation] is not in communities with less than 5,000 people, because often those communities don't have the infrastructure to support that type of housing. That's why the [transit-oriented development legislation] is only where there's already a high level of transit, and where there are services that are 15 minutes or more. We tried to make sure that legislation reflected each community's needs,” he said.

Much of the week’s UBCM programming is aimed at helping municipalities navigate housing legislation introduced this past November as well as accommodating the province’s growing population, said UBCM president Trish Mandewo, who also serves as a city councillor in Coquitlam.

Discussions unfolding at the UBCM conference over the province’s growing population typically included debate over increasing demands on infrastructure and the required funding that would follow.

“Infrastructure is going to be a big piece for communities. It's coming up consistently,” said Kahlon. “My pitch to the federal housing minister … is either match us on affordable housing or invest in infrastructure. I'm fine with either one.”

Local mayors expressed their frustrations over how to navigate infrastructure needs earlier Tuesday as part of a panel discussion on how to house the next one million British Columbians.

“The infrastructure piece, I think is really key. And I'm really hopeful that the province has heard that message,” Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto said in panel discussion.

Other questions for the housing minister centred on whether housing legislation will achieve its mandated goal.

“We have a debate over whether this housing legislation will provide affordable housing. So, for the record, could you please respond to that?” said Catherine Pope, a councillor for the District of North Vancouver.

Kahlon replied that everything his ministry is doing is “to try to get a handle on the housing crisis that we have.”

“Yes, dramatically increasing the housing supply will help address the challenges we're dealing with. But it comes … with directly investing in affordable housing, and you can't have one without the other. They both need to happen at the same time,” he said.

clwilson@glaciermedia.ca