Housing crisis needs royal fix

Editorial

In a recent Q&A with reporter Margot Grant, Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons elaborated on a theme that he touched on in late May, after the NDP and Greens announced their power-sharing agreement – the critical importance of finding solutions to the housing crisis plaguing the Sunshine Coast and B.C. in general.

We were pleased to see Simons identify one possible solution we had raised with him during that May interview and have written about in these pages.

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“The use of Crown land is one of the potential out-of-the-box solutions,” Simons told Grant. “It’s complicated, but it can be done if we make sure that it’s safe.”

If it seems like a radical idea, consider the magnitude of the crisis and how hollow the conventional approaches to addressing it have become.

This week, Housing Minister Selina Robinson floated the idea of reducing the annual rent increases landlords are allowed to charge their tenants. Currently that increase is capped at two per cent plus the rate of inflation, so that the maximum increase in 2018 is four per cent.

Tenant advocates want to see the rate dropped to two per cent, but critics say the move would put a damper on the development of new rental buildings and unfairly penalize landlords, whose annual cost increases for taxes, utilities and insurance exceed four per cent. The result could be more housing stock lost to the short-term rental market.

That “solution,” in other words, would not only be a drop in the bucket, but the bucket would have a hole in it.

Green leader Andrew Weaver, meanwhile, is urging the government to ban non-resident purchases of B.C. farmland, citing obscene levels of speculation, and extend the Metro Vancouver foreign-buyer tax on residential properties to the whole province. The New Democrats have so far steered clear of endorsing such “populist” measures, but they have promised to give renters a $400 annual credit and build 114,000 rental and co-op homes.

A much bolder approach would be tapping into B.C.’s Crown land inventory, which makes up some 95 per cent of the province. Last year, Russia started offering citizens up to one hectare in six different regions of the county’s Far East for residential construction, farming or business. After five years on the land, full ownership is granted.

B.C. is ripe for a new Homestead Act.

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