The Province of British Columbia finalized its 2023 budget last week, including in it $4.2B in housing investments. A newly published Ministry of Housing service plan, mandated by the Province's Budget Transparency and Accountability Act, is now providing further insight into the goals and performance targets for that $4.2B allotment.
As the Ministry of Housing was only made a standalone ministry in December, service plans related to housing were previously included within the service plan for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, so this is the first year where we have a dedicated service plan for the Ministry of Housing.
The service plan is an important measure that allows the general public to track how well the government is performing, and hold them accountable when needed.
Here are the objectives and performance targets, according to the Ministry of Housing.
Ministry of Housing Service Plan
1. Implement The Housing Supply Act
One of the first announcements Premier David Eby made after he was sworn in was the new Housing Supply Act, which would give the Province authority to set municipal housing targets, based on information and in consultation with those municipalities.
The intent is that those targets add a little pressure to municipalities, pushing them towards examining their individual development processes, resulting in speedier delivery of housing across the province.
For its part, the Province has introduced improved provincial permitting processes, officially called the Permitting Strategy for Housing, with what will become a "one-stop shop" for housing-related authorization.
As the Housing Supply Act is only on its First Reading and not expected to come into effect until Spring 2023, no target has been set for this year, but following enactment of the legislation, the Province's goal is to assign housing targets for 16 to 20 municipalities next year, reach a total of 32 to 40 by the following year, and a total of 48 to 60 in the year after.
Housing Supply Act targets. (Province of British Columbia)
2. Improving Housing Stability
The Province is set to announce a "refreshed" Housing Strategy soon, which will include expanded supports for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and increased supportive housing. Further investments into BC Housing will also contribute towards delivering more housing through Building BC programs such as the Community Housing Fund, Indigenous Housing Fund, Women's Transition Housing Fund, Supportive Housing Fund, and more.
To measure its performance on that front, the Ministry of Housing will track the proportion of those experiencing homelessness who remain in housing programs managed by BC Housing for at least six months. The Ministry says that the longer an individual is housed, the greater the likelihood that they will remain so, breaking "the cycle of homelessness." The Ministry notes that the forecasted number for this year is exceeding its initial performance targets, but that "targets have been increased for subsequent years to better benchmark the performance."
Targets for housing stability among those experiencing homelessness. (Province of British Columbia)
3. Increasing Rental Supplements
Another strategy to support those experiencing homelessness, the Ministry is striving to expand its new Supported Rent Supplement Program (SRSP) to "help people successfully transition and remain stably housed in market rental units."
The SRSP provides a coordinated network of services centered around the Canada-British Columbia Housing Benefit (CBCHB), offering financial assistance to low-income and marginalized renters. The Province is layering non-clinical support on top of the CBHCB, akin to a "wrap-around" approach.
The Ministry says the delivery of its targets heavily relies on its various partners, but that tracking those targets will help monitor the effectiveness of its "Housing First" model. A BC Housing Request for Proposals related to the SRSP published in November 2022 said the program would "provide between 500 and 750 CBCHB recipients with supports in 2022/23 and continue until 2024/25, subject to implementation timeline," and it appears that implementation has been delayed, resulting in a greatly-reduced number for 2022/23.
Targets for rent supplements administered. (Province of British Columbia)
4. Revitalize The Residential Tenancy Branch
Wait times at the Residential Tenancy Branch, which adjudicates on landlord-renter disputes, have drastically increased since the COVID-19 pandemic, reportedly taking three times longer in Fall 2022 than in February 2020.
In December, the Province announced that it would increase the Residential Tenancy Branch's budget this year, allowing it to expand its staff, increase its capacity to handle disputes, and decrease hearing wait times closer to its self-stated service standards.
To measure that progress, the Ministry of Housing will track the proportion of Residential Tenancy Branch disputes that are heard within the Branch's service standard timeframes, which are two weeks for Emergency Applications, six weeks for Standard Applications, and 12 weeks for Deferred Applications.
Targets for the Residential Tenancy Branch. (Province of British Columbia)
5. Deliver More Affordable Housing
All of this begins and ends with ensuring British Columbians have access to affordable housing, which has become increasingly difficult. "Market forces over the past several decades have driven owner-occupied and rental housing costs to levels that are not affordable for too many individuals and families," the Ministry says.
The Province attributes this, in part, to treating housing as an investment rather than a core need, as well as extensive zoning favouring single-detached homes, and losing long-term rental units to redevelopment.
To address these issues, the Province created a new rental protection fund, opened up strata condominiums for rental use, and will continue to acquire land along major transit corridors to be redeveloped into affordable housing, according to the budget released last week.
The Ministry says over 18,000 units have been completed to date, since 2018, with an additional 21,000 on the way, and it's targeting completion of 3,000 units in each of the next three years.
Affordable housing unit targets. (Province of British Columbia)
Also under the Province's Budget Transparency and Accountability Act is a mandate that each ministry make public an annual report by August 31 each year, comparing the actual results it delivered with the targets set out in its service plan.
Now that we know the performance targets, it's time to see if the government can deliver.