VICTORIA — Providing more affordable housing across British Columbia is the provincial government's top priority and will be a prominent feature in the February budget, Premier John Horgan said Thursday.
Horgan said housing was the major issue in last spring's provincial election and data released this week from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. indicates little has changed, with near zero rental vacancy rates in both large urban centres and smaller communities.
The premier made the comments Thursday during a news conference to wrap up the fall session of the legislature where his minority New Democrat government passed legislation banning union and corporate donations to political parties and paved the way for a referendum on electoral reform next fall.
"Housing is the No. 1 issue on my desk right now," said Horgan. "We are going to have a comprehensive plan rolled out in our February budget with respect to increasing supply so there are more units, more two- and three-bedroom units."
He said building larger units allows families to grow and helps people stay longer in their communities.
Horgan said the housing supply and affordability issue no longer just applies to Metro Vancouver as people in communities throughout B.C. have serious issues with finding a place to live.
The CMHC report says Kelowna and the Abbotsford-Mission area have rental vacancy rates at 0.2 per cent, while Victoria is 0.6 per cent and Vancouver is at 0.9 per cent.
The report says the largest rent increases were also found in B.C., with Kelowna at 8.6 per cent and Victoria at 8.1 per cent.
Vancouver posted Canada's highest average monthly rents for two-bedroom apartments at $1,552.
Horgan said the lack of rental units and family homes hurts B.C.'s economy because people will not move to a new city if there is no place to live, no matter how solid the job offer.
The NDP has promised to build 114,000 new rental, non-profit and co-op housing units over a 10-year period.
Finance Minister Carole James provided a financial update this week ahead of the budget, which included a forecast of a balanced budget in February, but with a reduced surplus.