Whether the British Columbia government is on track to deliver on its promise of building 114,000 housing units within 10 years depends on what is counted and how the word “build” is understood.
While Premier David Eby and Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon are declaring victory, the BC Liberal Opposition says the actual number of units that have been built is a fraction of what the NDP promised.
“With tens of thousands of new homes now complete, under construction, or in development, we are on track to meet our target of 114,000 units in 10 years and go beyond that because we know that the need for housing doesn't stop in 10 years,” Eby said Monday while announcing an update on B.C.’s housing plan.
Kahlon said, “We are already projected to deliver 108,000, open or under active construction, by 2027, with tens of thousands of more homes coming through other avenues.”
The number matters largely because of the very specific promise the NDP made during the 2017 election campaign.
The platform document included the promise six times with slightly different wording each time about what an NDP government would do:
- “Build 114,000 rental and co-op homes.”
- “Build, directly and through partnerships, 114,000 rental, social and co-op homes over 10 years using BC wood products as building materials.”
- “Through partnerships, we will build 114,000 new rental, social and co-op, and owner-purchase housing units.”
- “We will build 114,000 affordable rental, non-profit, co-op and owner-purchase housing units through partnerships over 10 years.”
- “We will build 114,000 new rental, co-op and social housing units.”
- “We will seek partnerships with First Nations as part of our commitment to build 114,000 quality housing units in the next 10 years.”
In each case, the NDP was clear it intended to “build” housing units.
But background documents released Monday show the government has expanded what it is counting.
To date since the 2017 election, there have been 15,783 units completed through BC Housing and 2,876 units of student housing, according to the government. These units are already open and housing people.
Another 11,326 units are under construction and 10,278 are “in progress,” though the ground is yet to be broken on them.
That adds up to 40,263 units that the government considers “directly funded and financed.”
But in its total number of units added, the government also includes 600 secondary suites built thanks to changes made in 2019 to the BC Building Code, 2,000 units entering the rental market due to changes preventing strata councils from restricting rentals, 11,000 created through federal rental financing and 20,805 units estimated to have come into the market thanks to the speculation and vacancy tax.
In other words, almost half of the 74,668 units the government claims have been added to date are “policy created” rather than newly built units.
The same is true of the 108,600 units the government says will be added by 2028 — nearly 40,000 of them are “policy-driven homes.”
According to Kahlon, it was always the plan to count those units towards the NDP’s housing promise.
“From the beginning it was always that we were going to build, it was going to be directly funded, it was going to be private sector, it was going to be through policy,” Kahlon said. “We said that from the beginning.”
The issue had come up before in debate of his ministry’s budget and the clear response to the opposition had been that the government would include all the units created or brought into the market, not just the ones it built, he said.
BC Liberal housing critic Karin Kirkpatrick, the MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano, said that means the government is now counting units that were built in the 1980s. “I have to really question those numbers and why they're, you know, reassessing something that was already built,” she told reporters.
Later, during question period in the legislature, Kirkpatrick said that halfway through the 10-year housing plan the NDP has abandoned it and admitted defeat. “The premier's failing on housing by every measure,” she said. “Instead of trying to build his way out of a housing crisis, the premier is trying to spin his way out of it.”
Peter Milobar, the finance critic and MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson, accused the government of “creative accounting” on housing numbers. “It's no wonder that BC Housing is under a forensic audit when we see how this government likes to play fast and loose with numbers when it comes to housing.”
They include zoning changes to allow for more units on lots that have been for single family homes, forgivable loans for homeowners to build secondary rental suites, building more homes near public transit, introducing a flipping tax and accelerating permitting.
Eby said that the government has been making progress after taking over from a BC Liberal government that neglected housing for 16 years.
“Obviously more needs to be done,” he said. “People are still struggling to find housing.” Interest rates, global inflation and a quickly growing population have added to the challenge, he said.