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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

UBCM delegates vote down vacancy control study, back other housing measures in Whistler

The housing crisis is on everyone’s minds at the province-wide meeting, but municipalities differ on how to solve it

By Shannon Waters
September 16, 2022
Municipal
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

UBCM delegates vote down vacancy control study, back other housing measures in Whistler

The housing crisis is on everyone’s minds at the province-wide meeting, but municipalities differ on how to solve it

By Shannon Waters
Sep 16, 2022
Union of BC Municipalities via Flickr
Union of BC Municipalities via Flickr
Municipal
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

UBCM delegates vote down vacancy control study, back other housing measures in Whistler

The housing crisis is on everyone’s minds at the province-wide meeting, but municipalities differ on how to solve it

By Shannon Waters
September 16, 2022
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UBCM delegates vote down vacancy control study, back other housing measures in Whistler
Union of BC Municipalities via Flickr

There are lots of ideas on the table for addressing BC’s housing crisis—but not all policies are created equal in the eyes of local politicians.

Many of the resolutions debated during the Union of BC Municipalities convention yesterday touched on ways to tackle housing affordability, including a pair of resolutions from the City of Victoria.

Councillor Jeremy Loveday introduced the city’s motion to have the UBCM call on the province to develop a non-profit housing acquisition strategy. It would be accompanied by a supporting grant program to help non-profits buy and renovate older buildings to serve as affordable rental housing.

Delegates voted in favour of the motion without further debate—a pleasant surprise for Loveday, who was expecting opposition.

“I think that clearly shows the depth of the housing crisis—that the people from across BC very clearly voted in favour of having the province create an acquisition strategy and funding model to buy old housing stock so that we can preserve the affordability that’s there.”

Loveday, who is not seeking re-election, hopes the province will take notice and take action on the solidly supported (but non-binding) motion, ideally with the backing of the federal government. He told Capital Daily he is aware of “strong indications” that both the province and Ottawa are interested in rolling out a strategy to support non-profit rental housing—a step that was recommended by the Canada-British Columbia Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply and Affordability in 2020.

“I am hopeful that the CRD would be first in line to try to get some of that money to buy the older housing stock that we have, maintain it…and make sure that the affordability is preserved for many years to come,” Loveday said.

Vacancy control study policy fails by 7 votes

Another resolution brought to the UBCM by Victoria failed by a very narrow margin. The city’s motion to urge the province to explore vacancy control—potentially limiting allowable rent increases between tenants—failed to find enough support to pass. The final vote was 136 in favour and 143 opposed.

“I knew it was going to be close,” said Victoria Coun. Sarah Potts, who introduced the resolution, which was approved by a margin of just four votes at a regional convention in April before being brought to the bigger stage this week.

“It is always really disappointing to see something fail so, so close to the margin—just seven more votes would have really, really changed the landscape here for a lot of people,” Potts told Capital Daily.

Unlike the non-profit housing strategy resolution, the vacancy control study proposal drew multiple speakers to the microphones. Most who spoke against it represent more rural parts of the province, with representatives of urban ridings more likely to support it. Speakers in favour came from Victoria, Duncan, and Langford, while speakers against it came from Invermere, the regional districts of Cowichan Valley and Strathcona, Coquitlam and Williams Lake.

Several delegates who voiced concerns did so as landlords themselves, with Ian Morrison of the Cowichan Valley Regional District warning vacancy control could have “unintended consequences” for the rental market.

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“This is just going to cause more issues for those of us that are trying to do the right thing,” Morrison said. He told the convention the three-bedroom units he owns are currently renting for “under $800 a month [while] the current market rent is $1,500 a month.”

BC’s residential landlords face “brutal” conditions due to capped rent increases and rising operating costs, according to opponents of the resolution, who warned further restrictions on rent raises could drive some landlords from the market while deterring others from offering housing for rent.

During her speech, Potts argued that new rental units would still be able to charge market rates, incentivizing new builds and newly offered units. She also emphasized that Victoria’s resolution advocated for an exploration of vacancy control—with an opportunity for rules to vary across the province—not the immediate implementation of a cap on rent raises between tenants.

“Policy like this can be applied to local contexts and local conditions,” she said following the vote. “There could have been conversation led by the province around how a vacancy control is applied. Potentially that it's different rurally and in metro areas.”

Loveday was also disappointed to see the resolution fail, a result he attributes to lobbying by the landlords and developers.

Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt votes on the floor. Photo: Union of BC Municipalities via Flickr

“They don't want any limits on the profits that they are making and I think that a lot of people have bought into that,” Loveday said. “[But] BC has had vacancy control in the past; other provinces have instituted similar policies and the world hasn't ended.”

In an opinion piece published in the Times Colonist hours before the vote, LandlordBC CEO pushed back against the idea that “vacancy control is ‘benign’” and does not negatively affect rental markets.

In Manitoba, where vacancy control applies to buildings older than 20 years and rentals that charge less than $1,570 per month, landlords have little incentive to maintain their units and rental construction has cratered since the policy was put in place over a decade ago, according to Hutniak.

“If rent is tied to the unit, the incentive for a rental owner to ensure necessary upgrades, including seismic and energy efficiency standards are completed to aging buildings, is severely compromised,” he wrote. “Furthermore, rental home builders confirm that vacancy control would be the death knell for rental home construction.”

Hutniak called for supply-side incentives to “get to a balanced vacancy rate and provide affordable rental housing options.”

Outgoing Saanich councillor celebrates success of inclusionary housing resolution

Saanich Coun. Ned Taylor—who, like Potts and Loveday, was attending his final UBCM after deciding not to run for reelection—was also “thoroughly disappointed” to see Victoria’s resolution fail despite voting for it.

“It would have been an effective tool to reduce rent increases,” Taylor told Capital Daily. “Rapidly rising rents are making it more and more difficult for people to be able to get by and afford to live.”

However, the passage of a Saanich resolution could give municipalities another tool to tackle affordability by increasing affordable housing.

The resolution asks the province to allow municipalities to make inclusionary zoning mandatory—requiring developers to include a certain percentage of affordable housing units in new residential developments. Community amenity or cash contributions would be imposed on developers whose projects do not meet those requirements.

Taylor spoke in favour of the resolution, which was supported by delegates without further discussion.

“It's not necessarily going to be a silver bullet on the housing crisis and on improving affordability but it is another tool that municipalities can have to ensure greater levels of affordability with the new builds,” Taylor said of the resolution, which will need to be implemented by the province in order to take effect.

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Shannon Waters
Municipal affairs reporter
contact@capitaldaily.ca

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