The B.C. government announced $208-million for 1,700 affordable rental housing units throughout the province and extra money for 2,000 units for homeless individuals in its first budget tabled on Tuesday, but among the NDP’s marquee promises to make life more affordable for ordinary people was missing.
The government had promised to enact a $400 annual rebate for tenants and as recently as last Friday, Premier John Horgan broadly hinted news was forthcoming: “We will be discussing the tenants’ rebate from the budget on Monday,” he said.
However, the Green Party, which has thrown its support behind the minority NDP to let it govern, has been critical of this guarantee. On Monday, Finance Minister Carole James asked for patience.
Under repeated media questioning during a press conference, Ms. James said the government remains committed to the rental rebate as promised, but requires time to determine just how to enact it.
“The tenant’s rebate will come,” Ms. James said, announcing it will still be $400 annually.
It was among a few pledges for the affordability schedule that the NDP campaigned on in the spring election which were placed on hold. Others include plans for a $10-a-day daycare and details on how the celebration will remove medical service premiums.
Home urge Kishone Roy, chief executive of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, appeared prepared to wait. In a statement, he said he was happy to see plenty of attention paid to income supports in the budget, but added that he expected the tenant’s rebate will be announced next year, albeit with a few fine-tuning.
“We recommend that authorities find a way to become concentrated at that rebate, and it seems like we will have until then to talk with authorities the precise composition of the program,” said Mr. Roy, whose company’s members operate affordable rental housing.
The NDP hasn’t said who would qualify for the tenant’s rebate, prompting the Liberals to wonder why the wealthiest would require a subsidy that amounts to $33 per month. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. claims the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the state was $1,100 in October, 2016. In Vancouver, the median rate was $1,661.
On Monday, BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver disregarded the tenant’s subsidy for a waste of resources because it’s too small to assist individual tenants.
“I am quite happy to see they did not place it in [the funding upgrade],” he said.
Mr. Weaver also said it might actually encourage landlords to increase their rents by $400 annually to skim off the subsidy from tenants.
On the second day of the provincial election campaign, Mr. Horgan dedicated to the rebate, saying it would offer a relief to British Columbians grappling with rental prices. Mr. Horgan did not state how much the rebate program would cost.
Census data from 2011, the latest year available, show there were 524,995 renter families in B.C., meaning that the rebates could be worth more than $200-million annually.
Mr. Weaver said on Monday the government would be better off paying the complete cost for the program on something with an enduring benefit, like deflecting it to education or mental health and addiction.
He said the government should scrap the tenant’s subsidy and blame the BC Greens for placing pressure on them to do so.
Former BC Liberal cabinet minister Shirley Bond, now finance critic for the Liberal Opposition, said she was amazed the subsidy was not included in the budget update.
“What that tells me is that there’s an effort to attempt and deliver promises, but there’s a substantial concern about how they will cover them,” she told reporters at the Legislature in Victoria.
Pressed on whether the government can manage the subsidy, Ms. James said the NDP will work through the issue as part of this process of building another budget.
Meanwhile, the government has committed to invest $208-million more than four years to construct over 1,700 new units of affordable rental housing throughout the province. Budget documents say the home is going to be aimed at several classes, such as low-to-moderate income renters, seniors, adults with developmental disabilities and mental-health challenges.
Running costs for the projects will be less than $3-million over three decades, the state said, because the jobs will be conducted by not-for-profit societies which offset operating costs through leasing revenues.
Ms. James also said the NDP will provide an extra $7-million over three years into the Residential Tenancy Branch, a government department that manages tenancy law, to take care of current backlogs and waiting times for landlord-tenancy disputes. The current yearly budget of this branch is roughly $9-million.
As part of the new financing, the division will also be permitted to establish a unit dedicated to investigating non-compliance with tenancy legislation.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a statement he welcomed more funds for the residential property division given that, in Vancouver, “many tenants are combating unfair renovictions and other loopholes in a time when our vacancy rate is near zero.”
He also said the city will leverage its share of the $208-million for new rental housing by providing “shovel-ready websites” of city-owned land.
With a report from Justine Hunter in Victoria
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail