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B.C.'s housing affordability crisis needs leadership

Housing leadership needed

As average home prices across communities in British Columbia continue to reach above $1 million, including in Kelowna, the provincial government remains unwilling to take action to address the issue.

When the NDP came to government in 2017, it was clear, its solution to B.C.’s housing crisis revolved around taxation and cracking down on speculators. That’s why it introduced vacancy taxes, forced speculation taxes on communities that didn’t want them and introduced surtaxes on homes valued more than $3 million.

Despite those actions, housing prices have continued to rise with the NDP’s Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing, David Eby, finally admitting earlier this year that “no tax policy is going to put a roof over someone’s head.”

Now that the government has admitted tax policy and foreign speculators aren’t solely responsible for rising real estate prices, what has it done to address the issue? The answer is unfortunately, nothing. Rather, Eby has declared he will introduce legislation after the municipal election in October—because if you can’t afford a roof over your head today, what’s waiting another several months as to not inconvenience our local municipal officials during an election?

It appears as if the government is simply out of ideas for tackling the housing affordability crisis.

I believe part of the lack of innovation we’re seeing from the government can be pointed to the fact that there is no true Minister of Housing. David Eby is the Attorney General first and foremost. After that he’s the Minister Responsible for Housing, not the Minister of Housing, Minister Responsible. There’s an important distinction between the two. This means there’s no full-fledged political office working to tackle the housing crisis, nor is there a full-fledged public service for housing behind the minister.

In fact, there’s not even a deputy minister (the top civil servant for each ministry), rather there is simply an associate deputy minister, who’s responsible for housing, multiculturalism and anti-racism all at the same time.

Without proper staff assigned to actually tackle one of the most important issues facing British Columbians, it’s no wonder we’re seeing little action from the provincial government.

Since the introduction of tax policy solutions to attempt to tackle the housing affordability crisis, mostly introduced in the NDP’s first mandate, we’ve seen few new initiatives.

By contrast, when I worked for Ontario’s municipal affairs and housing minister, we introduced nine individual pieces of legislation over four years to make systematic changes to everything from development charges to municipal government efficiency to community housing and tenant’s rights.

In fact, Ontario’s minister has promised to introduce a new piece of housing legislation each and every year in order to address the recommendations made by Ontario’s Housing Affordability Task Force.

It’s unfortunate we don’t see the same level of commitment from our provincial government here in B.C.

The efforts of Ontario’s minister centre around the idea that the number one impediment to housing affordability is the lack of housing supply. In fact, Canada has the lowest number of homes per capita amongst G7 nations and Ontario has the lowest number of homes per capita in Canada.

Ontario is now seeing record levels of new home starts and completions, as well as quarter-century high new rental home construction levels. The progress is obvious.

In B.C., after several years of hoping the housing affordability crisis would right itself based on the NDP’s tax changes, Eby finally admitted the government must tackle a shortage of housing supply to solve the affordability crisis.

British Columbians require bold new leadership to tackle our housing affordability crisis, and unfortunately with the (current) provincial government, we do not have that leadership.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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Public EV charging station requirements look good but won't do much

EV charging stations

The City of Kelowna is planning to take a heavy-handed approach when it comes to requiring electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and capabilities across the city, which despite purporting to combat climate change will achieve very little.

The city wants to mandate 10% of stalls in commercial and industrial developments, like at grocery stores or gas stations, to have EV charging capabilities, and it wants to require “alternative fuel sources” at new gas stations throughout Kelowna.

These requirements appear to be a way to make it look like the city is doing something “green,”while not actually accomplishing more than increasing costs for people building or opening businesses in Kelowna.

As a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) owner, I can speak with some insights into where EV owners typically charge their vehicles — and the answer is at home.

No matter how often you drive your car, it spends the majority of its life parked in your driveway or in your garage. When it comes to owning an EV, that’s conveniently where you have access to the cheapest power.

So, the obvious answer to the question of where you charge your car will be in the location where it has the cheapest power and it already spends most of its life, at your home.

At home most people use a level two charger, which can take anywhere from a few hours to up to 12 hours to fully charge an EV. Charging times decrease significantly with Tesla super chargers, however, it’s not Tesla’s super chargers that you see installed at various locations around Kelowna or in people’s homes.

Rather, they’re located along major highways and transit routes to allow people to make long trips and not run out of power.

The average EV gets somewhere between 300 and 600 kilometres on a full charge, meaning that the vast majority of people can do all of their daily driving before draining the battery.

When I’m going grocery shopping or to the mall, not only do I not need to charge my vehicle because it was charging at home before I left, but there’s also not much point in adding a few kilometres and paying a premium to charge it at the store.

When I get home, I simply plug it in and let it charge overnight.

The existing network of EV chargers in Kelowna is often empty when you drive by them, save for the Modo car share vehicles, because why would anyone pay a premium to add a few kilometres of range in the middle of the day when they could just wait until they’re home.

The only people who are charging their EVs outside of their home are people driving through town and need to charge to keep going. But they don’t need level two chargers that take several hours to charge, they need super chargers. That’s why Tesla has put in super chargers across major Canadian highways, like in Hope and Merritt.

There’s a need for super chargers in town for people driving through, and that’s something the private market has, and will, take care of with increased demand.

Creating new rules and regulations should not be something municipalities take lightly. They create a system of burdensome red tape and regulatory requirements that add time and costs to projects.

The more costly and time consuming these projects are, the more they will charge to consumers once the projects are completed.

At the end of the day, requiring a certain percentage of parking stalls to be equipped with EV charging is just another layer of red tape, another box to check.

It’s also a way for the City of Kelowna to give the appearance it is fighting climate change while achieving very little.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



Painting a picture of housing in Kelowna by the numbers

Housing by the numbers

B.C.’s Minister responsible for Housing, David Eby, has made it clear, he will introduce legislation forcing municipalities to act faster and stronger when it comes to building more housing.

Municipalities have disputed their role in the ongoing housing crisis and released a report through the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) concluding housing prices are not related to a housing shortage and construction of new homes has kept pace with population growth.

To better understand housing supply and costs in Kelowna, let’s take a dive into housing statistics for the Kelowna Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), which includes Peachland, West Kelowna, Kelowna and Lake Country, using available data from 1996 to 2021 from the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC).

From 1996 to 2021, the population of the Kelowna CMA increased by 62.7%—that’s nearly 100,000 more people living in the Kelowna-area today than there were in 1996. Over the last four years Kelowna has become the fastest growing metropolitan area in Canada.

So did housing supply keep up?

For starters, let’s look at the number of rental apartments available in the Kelowna CMA. In 1996, there were 4,106 rental apartments and today there are 7,715 rental apartments. That’s an increase of 87.9%. That means that the Kelowna CMA has more than kept pace with the number of rental apartments built compared to population growth.

However, there’s some important caveats to this. These numbers include rental apartments that are used for short-term rentals (such as AirBnB), so we can’t be sure how many of today’s rental apartments are available for 12-month rentals.

Secondly, home ownership is far more out of reach today than it was in 1996, meaning the demand for rentals has substantially increased.

Finally, the vast majority of these rental apartments were built since 2016. In fact, we only saw 849 units added from 1996 to 2016, and then 2,790 added from 2016 to 2021.

Next let’s look at the number of housing completions, including rental and non-rental housing. Municipalities often tout building permits issued to signify they’re approving housing and investment, but often times, these buildings aren’t actually built. That’s why looking at completions provides a better picture.

In 2006, there were 0.014 homes completed per capita in the Kelowna CMA, while in 2021 there were 0.010 homes completed per capita. That’s a decrease of 28.6%. That means today we’re building 28.6% fewer homes than we were in 2006, once we’ve adjusted for the change in population.

The final metric is the length of construction time, meaning how long does it take to build a home from when the building permit is issued until the moment municipal authorities give the requisite approvals to allow occupancy.

In 1996, the average length of construction was six months. But in 2021, it was 16.3 months, That’s a staggering 171.7% increase. It should be also noted that 2021 brought COVID-19, supply chain delays, work from home adjustments, sick calls, and more.

To be fair, let’s compare 1996 to 2016. Again in 1996, the average was six months. By 2016, the average construction time was 11 months — again a staggering increase of 83.3%.

The backdrop to all these numbers is that from 1996 to 2021 the average rent in the Kelowna CMA increased by 124.9%, average home prices soared beyond $1 million and a recent report concluded Canada has the fewest homes per capita amongst G7 nations.

Kelowna-area municipalities have done an excellent job increasing the number of rental apartments, especially since 2016, but we can’t know for sure how many are available for year-round rentals.

When it comes to metrics impacting overall homes, the outlook is not as good.

Over the last 25 years, new home construction times have increased 171%, and we’re building 28% fewer homes each year when adjusted for population than we were 15 years ago. All of that while Kelowna has become the fastest growing metropolitan area in Canada.

When it comes to the overall housing market, we are simply taking longer to build fewer homes than we did decades ago.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



193770


Is Kelowna rezoning residential land to buy it cheaper later on?

Rezoning to lower price?

What if you worked hard your whole life, bought yourself a nice house that you see yourself living in forever but then one day the city says it wants to buy your house.

But before it buys it from you, it re-zones the land it is on to parkland, which makes it less valuable. When it goes to buy your house, whether through a mutual agreement or forcible expropriation, the fair market value is considerably less.

Well, you might just live in a property on Watt Road in Kelowna.

The City of Kelowna often buys up land from private property owners for future projects. A perfect example is when, in June 2021, the city bought Walley Lightbody’s Abbott Road property for $5.3 million to expand the size of Strathcona Park, even though the property was zoned residential.

But that’s not what happened on Watt Road.

In the city’s newly passed OCP 2040, it designated eight properties on Watt Road as future parkland. It has not bought the properties and doesn’t even mean it ever will. But it has indicated it intends to at some point, maybe turning the land into a park.

Of course the impact of this is that it will slowly devalue the properties.

How many of you would be interested in buying a property the city says it’s going to demolish to turn into a park? What if you owned the property and wanted to make significant alterations requiring zoning changes? The City isn’t likely to approve them because, well, it’s going to be a park one day.

What is inherently unfair in this process is the city is essentially expropriating land twice. The first time is when it changes the zoning to parkland and ensures the property’s fair market value declines. Then, when it’s convenient to the city, it may choose to forcibly expropriate the land and is only required to pay fair market value, which is, of course, less once it’s designated as parkland.

It may wait until you’re ready to sell, but again, your land is now worth less than it would have been because it’s designated as parkland.

What makes this even less fair is the city doesn’t need to re-zone the land to buy it and turn it into parkland. Read that again. It doesn’t need to do this if it wants to buy the land and turn it into a park.

The Strathcona property isn’t even designated as parkland right now—and the city already bought it. In fact, the city has not proposed re-zoning the Strathcona property in the OCP 2040. Yet, at the same time, it is proposing re-zoning properties it does not own as parkland.

The logic in this move exists only if the intention is to devalue the properties prior to purchase, or to scare landowners into selling as soon as possible.

Now, some of you may be thinking that the city needs more waterfront public parks so tough luck for these people. But is that fair?

Imagine you live in Rutland and someone at City Hall thinks your street would be perfect for a road expansion. Expropriating your land and building the road would be a normal civic process, no matter how unfair.

But if the city decides to designate your house as a future road, with no timeline on when it is actually going to build the road, what do you think that does to your re-sale value in the meantime?

The city is essentially devaluing your property to buy it at a decreased cost when it’s convenient for it.

City council’s support for pre-emptively re-zoning properties to de-value them for future purchase is a dangerous and unjust practice that should absolutely be rejected.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



More Wilson on Water Street articles



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About the Author

Adam Wilson is from Kelowna and has an educational background in urban planning, where he published his research on the politicization of cycling infrastructure in the Journal of Transportation Geography. 

Adam was named as one of Kelowna’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2017 for both his research into cycling infrastructure and a number of political interviews he had done with Macleans, the National Post and CBC News. 

He previously worked as an urban planner in Toronto where he focused on provincial legislation and municipal approval processes.

Most recently, Adam worked for Ontario’s Ministery of Municipal Affairs and Housing, where he held various positions, including as the minister’s executive director of policy and strategic planning, and the Minister’s director of communications. 

Adam now lives in Kelowna with his partner and works in the health care sector, while running his own consultancy that provides strategic advice on local municipal issues.

Email Adam at: [email protected]

His website is adamwilson.ca



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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