With Selina Robinson, MLA for Coquitlam-Maillairdville, sworn in this week as the new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, what can we expect her priorities to be over the coming months?
As former NDP housing critic David Eby has now become BC’s new Attorney-General, Robinson will be facing a lot of pressure to make good on promises that both she and Eby made on the campaign trail. She told voters in the run-up to the May election that the NDP’s key housing priorities were to introduce a speculation tax in Metro Vancouver and Victoria, in an attempt to calm those hot real estate markets.
The NDP’s housing platform also pledged to introduce a 2% annual property tax, based on the assessed property value, for owners of Vancouver real estate who do not pay Canadian income taxes – with multiple exemptions for long-time residents, seniors and the unemployed, for example. The revenues – such as they may be – will be put into a Housing Affordability Fund to help finance other housing pledges. The NDP also said it would ban the flipping of presale homes, set up a task force to try to tackle the murky issue of money laundering through local real estate, and change legislation to ensure that owners of properties are transparent, rather than being held by shell companies and trusts.
The party also said it would examine the efficacy of the current 15% foreign buyer tax on Metro Vancouver area. But it seems highly unlikely that, in its partnership with the Green Party, the NDP will follow through on the Greens’ jaw-dropping pledge to increase the tax to 30% and expand it across the entire province.
For renters, the NDP said it will hand out a fairly meagre $400 annual rebate, but also promised to amend the Residential Tenancy Act to ban fixed-term leases and “renovictions” that allow landlords to evict tenants and jack up the rent.
Robinson will also be expected to follow through on the NDP’s promise to build 114,000 affordable housing units across BC. “In urban and suburban centres, we'll build near transit hubs,” the NDP housing platform stated. “And, instead of the BC Liberals’ land giveaways to their developer friends, we’ll use public land to build housing British Columbians can afford.”
This, the NDP said at the time, will also involve, “removing unnecessary rules that prevent universities and colleges from building affordable student housing.”
It’s certainly a good idea to join the municipal affairs and housing files under one minister – a considerable amount more synergistic than former housing minister Rich Coleman’s joint duties of housing and natural gas development. After all, it will take considerable buy-in from all the relevant municipalities in order to build the volumes of housing that the NDP is talking about.
And we can but hope that Robinson is able to crack the whip over those municipalities (mentioning no names) where onerous and expensive planning processes are slowing the supply of much-needed new housing.
Who knows? Maybe the synergies created will be enough to see housing policy approached in a holistic, joined-up way rather than local and provincial agendas and policies crashing into each other.