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IN THE LEDGE – Where’s the money for government’s housing promises?

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Selina Robinson answering questions from interim Opposition Leader Rich Coleman.

An exchange in the B.C. Legislature on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017 between interim Leader of the Opposition Rich Coleman and Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson on housing.

R. Coleman: In the election platform last year, the NDP committed to build 114,000 units of housing over ten years. This is about 11,400 units a year, and I’ll come back to that in a minute. The recent announcement made by the minister, however, talks about 1,700 units which are already in process and 2,000 modular units over two years. The challenge is this. She has also said that in the first six months, or early 2018, there will be 1,000 units deployed. That means you need sites, you need locations, you need servicing, and you need them built.

My questions to the minister are varied. First of all, I’d like to know if the tender has gone out, how many have been received and where this product is going across the province. In addition to that, there are two budgets for this. There are 600 units in Vancouver. If you take the numbers out of the minister’s announcement, they are coming in at $110,000 a unit. The remaining 1,400 units are coming in at a cost of $160,000 a unit. So which factory is getting the big bonus of $50,000 more per unit versus the ones that are going in, in Vancouver?

My question to the minister is: in early 2018, how many will you actually deploy? If you do the 1,000, tell me where in the budget for B.C. Housing are the operating costs. It cannot be found, and it’s going to cost them a fortune to operate the units.

Hon. S. Robinson: It’s my pleasure to rise in this House and speak to the House and speak to British Columbians about housing affordability. We know that under the previous government, housing affordability was out of control. The previous minister suggested to people that they just needed to stop whining, and the previous Premier said: “Why don’t you just move to Fort St. John?”

We’re really committed to making sure that housing affordability, which is the number one issue facing British Columbians, is addressed. I’m very, very proud to stand here before the House to comment on the ways in which we’ve already taken steps.

We know that homelessness only increased under the previous government. I got into politics because of the homelessness issue in my community. The very first time I got up before a council, the very first time I took a political stand, was to speak out about the homelessness issue in my community.

I’m very proud of the fact that our government, in very short order, committed to 2,000 units of modular housing. It’s going to make a difference to those people who are homeless. It’s going to make a difference to the people of British Columbia.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Leader of the Official Opposition, if I may ask you to direct your question through the Chair.

R. Coleman: I did, Mr. Speaker. They were applauding at the time. You didn’t hear me, Mr. Speaker. That’s all.

In addition to this, the minister now can’t tell me where the units will go. The operating costs are $170 million because they have 24-hour wraparound costs in their budget for the 2,000 units, which is about $22,500 per individual unit for their services. The operating costs, in addition to that, will be financing and rents and costs like that.

Now, last spring the Premier was dazzling British Columbians with grandiose promises of 114,000 units of housing over the next ten years, 11,400 units a year. Two thousand modular doesn’t come very close to 11,400 units per year.

The budget itself from the NDP is hopelessly short here. If you look at B.C. Housing’s operating costs, they’re going down and are not being funded to be able to actually operate any new housing at all. We’re already short on that promise. To stay on track, the government would need to complete 41,900 units over the next three years at a cost of $10.5 billion, capital and borrowing. Operating costs would be in excess of hundreds of millions of dollars.

I just want to know where the money is. I’d like to know where the minister is getting the money. It’s not in your budget, and it’s not in the outgoing budget for the next four years. How are you going to build 11,500 units? Where are you going to build them? Where are you going to put them? In addition to that, you need about $351 million a year in operating costs.

Mr. Speaker: Member, the question, please.

R. Coleman: You have no money. You’re going to build 114,000 units. Over $28 billion in costs….

Mr. Speaker: Member, the question please.

R. Coleman: Where’s the money?

Hon. S. Robinson: Well, it is very interesting that the week after the UBCM, I’m invited to get on my feet and talk about housing because what I heard at the UBCM was that they are looking for a partner in the provincial government — something that was missing for local governments.

They have opportunities, they have ideas, they have innovative ideas in different ways of bringing their portion to the table so that we can actually get on with the business of building housing for British Columbians.

The other thing that I’m really proud to say is the meetings that I’ve been having with the private sector, with First Nations, with the federal government, there are opportunities before us to deliver on 114,000 units. We’ve started, we’ve got more to do, and I’m really excited to get to work.

Mr. Speaker: Leader of the Official Opposition on a second supplemental.

R. Coleman: Well, I think this is the actual fact: the NDP made a promise that they cannot keep. Not unusual, given the numbers they haven’t kept already.

But 11,400 units of housing and knowing the market and knowing what it costs and the time it takes to just own one piece of property for social housing somewhere in this province and what the local government has to go through was an unrealistic promise. They won’t admit that, but they should because sooner or later, somebody is going to start to count.

Now, the average cost of these units is going to be around $250,000. That is $28.5 billion. That’s not my numbers, by the way. It’s from the left-leaning Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives’ numbers. I know their price is wrong. It’s going to be higher.

But the reality is you need $28.5 billion-plus on the debt of this province over the next ten years to build 114,000 units. Then you will need $3 to $4 billion in additional operating costs.

So where is the money coming from? You’re running yourself into an operation debt, you’re going to increase the debt-to-equity. The problem is this: you don’t have a plan. You can’t even tell me where you’re going to put the first 1,000 modular units.

Hon. S. Robinson: It is a great pleasure to continue to stand up on my feet and talk about what partnership means because clearly, the folks on the other side have no idea what that looks like.

Just to answer the specific…

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members, please. We shall hear the response.

Hon. S. Robinson: To answer the specific question, 600 units are going to be going to Vancouver. Vancouver city council has identified a number of places where they can do that in their community. That’s been identified.

Smithers has come forward, Surrey’s come forward, Maple Ridge can’t wait to get started and Victoria is really excited about the opportunity.

Local governments are excited about the opportunity. They’re prepared to partner with a government that is respectful and prepared to work with them.

Source: BC Hansard (draft).

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About Mel Rothenburger (5003 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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