Townhouses under construction in Surrey.

BC Liberals pledge 3,000 new units through $500m housing fund

Few details yet on new affordable housing projects, to be funded in part by foreign buyers tax

The BC Liberals are pledging to finance 2,900 new housing units through a new $500 million commitment to housing initiatives.

Few details have been provided, but Housing Minister Rich Coleman said the goal is to have new projects approved by the end of March and built over the next two to three years.

That surge of housing into the rental market – heralded as the largest in B.C.’s history – will “change a whole bunch of dynamics,” Coleman predicted.

Most of the units are to be affordable housing, built in partnership with non-profits, local governments, other organizations and the private sector. The mix of units promised would provide homes for a wide range of residents, including seniors, students, First Nations, youth aging out of care, developmentally disabled adults and women fleeing abuse.

The B.C. government on Aug. 1 began charging foreign buyers of Metro Vancouver real estate a 15 per cent property transfer tax, which is currently forecast to generate $165 million in new revenue that will partly go to new housing.

Last week, the quarterly financial update revealed the province now has a nearly $2-billion surplus.

“We’ve got a large surplus this year so we are able to afford to do this,” Premier Christy Clark told reporters Monday at the announcement in Burnaby.

Property transfer tax revenue has surged with what has been a white-hot housing market, at least up until the new tax kicked in.

PTT revenue is now forecast at $2.1 billion for 2016, an increase of $965 million from what had been budgeted.

The extra $500 million for housing is on top of $355 million over five years the province already has budgeted for 2,000 new units.

Clark said the housing fund is one of the “pieces of the puzzle” in improving housing affordability on top of government actions such as the foreign buyers’ tax, a new luxury tax on the most expensive homes and cracking down on shady practices in the real estate business.

Other levels of government have to step up as well, she said.

“The federal government has to do its bit,” Clark said. “They have to make sure dirty money isn’t finding a way into our country. They also have to make sure they’re making land available for development and incenting through the tax system more rentals.”

Clark said the biggest role falls to local municipalities that have the power to zone land specifically for affordable housing.

“Local mayors and councils have to be part of the solution because we can’t do the zoning for them.”

The premier was asked by reporters if B.C. has done enough to ensure the Canada Revenue Agency has the information it needs to go after foreign owners of B.C. property who don’t declare their income or profits from real estate investments.

Clark said she welcomes more clarity from Ottawa on what else B.C. can provide to ensure CRA auditors can do their job.

NDP leader John Horgan denounced the Liberal housing promise as a “vague” and belated response to a crisis they have done nothing to prevent.

“They ignored this issue for a decade,” Horgan said. “They just started talking about affordability when they couldn’t avoid it any more.”

He also questioned the government’s plan to in some cases buy existing units from private landlords or developers to create affordable housing dedicated for lower-income renters, adding he doesn’t see how that creates new supply.

“That’s transferring public wealth to private hands,” Horgan said. “These are the same developers that have been financing the BC Liberal party for the last decade, and now, on the way out the door, they’re getting a top up.”

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