Premier talks about South Okanagan housing issues

During a visit to Penticton, Premier Christy Clark said all levels of government have a part to play in addressing affordable housing.

Premier Christy Clark puts on a hard hat during the ceremonial groundbreaking at the Penticton Regional Hospital on Tuesday. Clark also sat with the Western News later in the day and talked about solutions to the hot housing market and how to encourage more rental housing.

Premier Christy Clark puts on a hard hat during the ceremonial groundbreaking at the Penticton Regional Hospital on Tuesday. Clark also sat with the Western News later in the day and talked about solutions to the hot housing market and how to encourage more rental housing.

Affordable housing is getting a lot of attention, now that the City of Vancouver has launched an aggressive campaign, including proposing a vacant property tax, to address the issue.

While the problem may be more severe in Vancouver’s boiling housing market, it is far from the only community in the province dealing with the problem.

During a visit to Penticton this week, Premier Christy Clark said Vancouver is the only city that has asked for permission to bring in a vacancy tax so far, but the province is willing to look at solutions in other communities.

She said local, provincial and federal governments have a part to play in addressing affordable housing.

“We have to keep the dream of home ownership within the reach of the middle class, within the lower mainland in particular. Prices are really becoming unreachable for a lot of people,” said Clark, noting that the province has already brought in a luxury tax and given a break to new home buyers under $750,000, and removed self-regulation from realtors.

“There are just some shady operators out there that are really blackening the name of the industry,” said Clark. “We have more to do. You will see more over the coming months.”

“While the province is doing its part, cities need to do their part and we need to make sure that the 125,000 units that are currently languishing in planning departments around the Lower Mainland start to get built. If we can change the amount of supply by adding more units, it means prices will go down,” she said.

“The federal government needs to do its job too. They need to step up, there are some very important changes they can make that they haven’t made.”

That, she explained, includes adjusting taxation to encourage investment in rental housing.

But lack of affordable housing, especially in Penticton where the vacancy rate is dropping below one per cent, brings with it other social problems.

Debbie Scarborough, executive director of the South Okanagan Women in Need Society, said their group is working to raise money to build second stage housing in Penticton, so women leaving their transition house will have somewhere to go.

“Where are these woman supposed to go when we have 0.5 per cent vacancy? I believe the province has a responsibility to its citizens, and we have to get some support for second stage housing,” said Scarborough. “Every transition house should have a second stage housing that follows, they should go hand in hand.”

There are few alternatives for women leaving the transition house that can’t find housing: living in their vehicles, couch surfing, camping for the summer in hope that a rental will open up in the fall, or worse, returning to their home and the situation they fled.

Clark said there is money available.

“We have $350 million in the budget for affordable housing and that includes second stage housing.  All of the money we are getting from the new luxury tax, that is all going back into supporting first time home buyers,” said Clark. “As we add and change the way the tax system works, we want to put more money back into housing to support people.”

Clark said she expected Penticton MLA Dan Ashton to review the situation.

“It is a tragedy that a woman who has found a way to get herself free from an abusive relationship and has to go back,” said Clark. “I know that is something Dan will be advocating for, if it is something that is needed in the community.”