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BC affordable housing plans: new program launches

The program combines low-cost financing, expedited approvals and grants to get new homes built on public land.

The B.C. government is kicking off a new program aimed at delivering thousands of below-market rental homes to people earning middle-class incomes.

Premier David Eby was in North Vancouver Tuesday to announce details of BC Builds, which will provide low-cost financing, expedited approvals and grants for projects built on public lands.

Under the program, rents in the buildings must not exceed market rates for the area, and 20 per cent of the units must be at least 20 per cent below market.

Although the actual household income eligibility will differ by community, the province has set a threshold of $84,780 to $131,950 for a studio or one-bedroom home, or $134,410 to $191,910 for a home with up to four bedrooms.

Eby said BC Builds is an acknowledgment that private sector alone isn’t up to the challenge of supplying attainable housing to a growing population.

“We know that the middle class is struggling in our province, and the people who make our province go are struggling to find a decent place to live,” he said, noting that three-bedroom homes in North Vanouver can rent for as much as $5,000 per month. “This initiative fills an absolutely critical gap that we’ve seen.”

Similar model used elsewhere

The program is modelled on those already in use in Vienna and Singapore where larger percentages of the population live in either government or non-profit housing.

Eby said the program will be targeting underused land owned by governments, First Nations, non-profits and public agencies like school districts and health authorities. Rather than targeting just vacant lots, the program will be looking for projects where new housing can be co-located with other community infrastructure like fire halls, schools, community centres and civic buildings.

With willing municipal councils on board, the government aims to move the projects through an expedited approval process going from concept to construction in 12 to 18 months.

BC Builds has 20 such projects in the pipeline already, which could produce upwards of 4,000 homes.

“Because we’re using public land, reduced-cost financing and a sped up permitting process, we’re able to deliver far more below-market units than any other model would be able to,” Eby said.

One of the first such projects included in the program is a 15-storey mass timber building to go on top of the City of North Vancouver’s rebuild of North Shore Neighbourhood House, which provides community services and child care.

For that project, the homes will be offered first to people who work in the City of North Vancouver, which means less reliance on commuters, said North Vancouver-Lonsdale NDP MLA Bowinn Ma.

“What we’re really talking about is quality of life for people,” she said.

Mayor Linda Buchanan highlighted what the program would mean for firefighters, teachers and accountants, calling it “the largest investment in homes for everyday working people our city has seen in a generation.”

“Our community and economy need these people. We need them here,” she said. “BC Builds is about opening that door for people. It’s about making people hopeful that we can have attainable housing in the province again.”

Other projects coming include 199 homes on top of a new Cowichan Tribes head office in Duncan and 33 homes on top of a new childcare facility in Gibsons.

Workforce housing praised

Lions Gate Hospital respiratory therapist Tim Heimpel welcomed the program, saying it would help his employer attract and retain badly needed staff.

“In the last six months alone, we’ve lost two amazing respiratory therapists from our department to other provinces, specifically due to rising housing costs,” he said.

Having more hospital staff nearby will benefit the community as a whole, he added.

“That allows for a better workplace environment and it eases the burden on healthcare across the board and increases consistent and compassionate patient care.”

Eby said as the non-profits pay back their loans, more projects around the province will become eligible for funding and eventually, he plans to have affordable ownership worked into the model.

“I think there is huge demand for this and that is why we’ve designed the project the way that we have. BC Builds is designed ultimately to grow to be able to continue to expand to meet that demand as we find more partners,” he said.

The government has set aside $2 billion for low-cost financing that had previously been earmarked for the province’s HousingHub program, plus $950 million in grants.

BC United leader Kevin Falcon criticized the announcement soon after it was released, posting on X: “Disappointing announcement from Eby today. Recycling old funding for another Government-knows-best Photo Op won’t build new homes,” he said.