BC Budget—relieving some of the pressure on renters
The excitement in Victoria yesterday was palatable. Budget day, and one that many people working in the housing sector have been waiting for. As we all know, the housing crisis in BC has been growing as fast as housing prices have shot up. This has had a significant impact in renters who have seen the competition for good home at an affordable price grow and grow. For people who may face barriers to housing—young people, newcomers, families with children, most renters- housing has moved from a place of ‘home’ (and all the good things that come with the idea of ‘home’) to a place to live that has little guarantee of security or stability. As the private market becomes more difficult to navigate, the non profit housing sector has continued to struggle with overwhelming need and long waitlists.
So, what did the BC government outline in the budget to address issues for renters?
‘Homes for BC’ is a 30 point plan to address housing affordability. There is a lot to read here and we encourage everyone to do so—here are the 5 points that are most relevant to renters, and Ready to Rent’s opinion on them.
- Building the Homes We Need addresses the issue of ‘supply for who’. There is an overarching focus on building affordable homes, and then the plan drills down on specific populations that experience additional challenges in the housing market. The plan is good, and the questions that remain are ‘by when’ and ‘where’? We would hope to see new housing be fast-tracked, and focused on communities where current existing social housing does not exist (Cowichan Valley being one example), and where rental vacancy rates are extremely low.
- Expansion of the SAFER program and Rental Assistance Program (RAP) is very helpful in addressing the short term issues of affordability during the time it takes to build new affordable housing. Both the expansion of the income test to $40,000 and the increase in subsidies are welcome news.
- The plan has a section on increasing protection for renters. This section is vague around which policies will actually be enacted to increase this protection. This section describes the problems but doesn’t offer specific solutions other than increased funding for Residential Tenancy Branch to reduce wait times in addressing disputes. We look forward to seeing more details.
- The government promises to review the homeowners grant to provide fairness for renters— the former version of this promise was the $400 annual renters rebate. Ready to Rent was not a fan of the proposed renters rebate as it seemed like spending a lot of money that doesn’t solve the issue— $400 over one year doesn’t address affordability and would be gobbled up in the annual rent increase. It seems that the NDP has switched tack to take a broader look at where policies rewards homeownership over renting. We agree with this.
- One things noted is that homelessness is rarely mentioned—one growing consequence of housing unaffordability is housing instability and homelessness, and although Housing First has become the primary solution, it is only successful if there are affordable homes available. Many of the overarching measures in the plan will help long term, however what is missing is reference to the prevention of homelessness and the inclusion of the strategies and tools proven to work. Perhaps the upcoming Poverty Reduction Strategy will include this; in the meantime, Ready to Rent will continue to call for a provincial Strategy to Prevent Homelessness that goes beyond housing supply to integrate other critical policies and practices.