Victoria highlights housing investments in advance of budget

Budget intentions

The provincial budget this week will set forth Victoria’s spending plans for the coming fiscal year, a glimpse of which was seen in last week’s throne speech.

The speech delivered few earth-shaking pledges so far as real estate went, outlining plans to continue protecting agricultural land as part of ongoing efforts to revitalize the 46-year-old Agricultural Land Commission and the lands it oversees as well as continue its 10-year plan to invest $7 billion in new housing.

While many doubt the government’s ability to deliver on its promises to build 114,000 affordable new homes by 2028, investments in housing have been a recurring topic of its press releases. The week prior to this column’s deadline saw announcements of 132 new units completing in Langford; $1.5 million to purchase a three-acre site in Revelstoke; $7.4 million for 70 seniors’ homes in Mission that will begin construction this year; $6.1 million for 24 units of supportive housing in Smithers; $24.8 million for 120 new rental homes for Indigenous families in Colwood; and the opening of 52 units of modular housing in Vancouver that received $8.2 million.

The budget will likely emphasize the good these and other projects are doing and confirm funding for a steady stream of similar announcements in the year to come.

“Your government will improve the development process by speeding up much-needed rental housing and delivering more efficient and effective project approvals,” the throne speech proclaimed. “And your government will continue to work with partners to build the homes people need, improving housing affordability for young families, renters, seniors and everyone who calls B.C. home.”

Those stung by the province’s speculation tax and other measures designed to cool the housing market are right to think the government isn’t helping them. Whether the latest budget includes provisions to ease the pain on long-standing homeowners – especially seniors, a part of the population the province says it wants to help – is another question.

Government ownership

Government intervention in the housing market doesn’t always take the form we expect.

While the Bank of Canada sets monetary policy and Ottawa can dictate the terms on which mortgages originate, a new report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) reveals that government is one of B.C.’s biggest residential landowners.

CMHC analyzed properties in B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia and found that parties other than individuals owned 9.8% of residential properties in B.C. This was higher than 7.9% in Nova Scotia and 7.4% in Ontario.

The rate for Metro Vancouver was 5.6%, lower than for the province as a whole, not to mention several metropolitan areas in Ontario, which typically saw double-digit rates of ownership by non-individuals. Non-individuals owned 8.2% of properties in the city of Vancouver.

But when it comes to who those parties are, corporations own just 5.6% of residential properties – on par with Nova Scotia and Ontario. The real outlier in B.C. is government, which owns 3.8% of residential properties (including bare land). This is more than double the rates of 1.8% in Nova Scotia and 1.5% in Ontario.

Statistics Canada figures indicate that 53.2% of non-individual-owned residential properties in B.C. are vacant lots. Within Metro Vancouver, the top three municipalities where vacant land dominates non-individual ownership are Anmore (78.9%), North Vancouver (70.7%) and Belcarra (66.7%). Vancouver lags behind the pack, with just 1.5% of non-individual-owned residential properties being bare land.With respect to ownership, Statistics Canada reports that non-residents own 3.8% of all residential properties in B.C. In Metro Vancouver, the rate rises to 5%.

The University of British Columbia and the University Endowment Lands on Point Grey lead the region with a 16.9% rate of non-resident ownership. Richmond and Vancouver follow at 7.9% and 7.4%, respectively, mirroring census data and other indicators. •

pmitham@telus.net