Paul Finch, Norah Bowman, Kari Michaels, Harpinder Sandhu discussing how they are helping tackle the affordability crisis Sydney Morton photo

BCGEU believes NDP’s 1.6bn investment is not enough to tackle Kelowna’s housing problem

The union says if their report is implimented Kelowna’s economy will be balanced

One of B.C.’s largest unions believe they have come up with a solution to the housing crisis in Kelowna.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU) hosted a panel of experts to propose a new plan under the Building an Affordable B.C. report and taxation system to create more public housing.

Related: BC BUDGET: NDP pushes for purpose-built rentals in ‘historic’ $1.6B investment

Kelowna’s vacancy rate is currently 0.2 per cent whereas a healthy vacancy rate is considered 4 per cent. Since taking power last year the NDP have implemented major policy changes and have promised $1.6 billion for affordable housing over three years, but the union believes this won’t be enough to tackle Kelowna’s increasing housing cost.

Kari Michaels, executive vice president of the BCGEU, believes that it doesn’t make sense for the union to rally for minimum wage increases while the housing prices soar, and the affordability factor becomes obsolete.

Related: Healthy Housing Strategy approved by Kelowna city council

“People are having to move and leave their neighbourhoods because they can’t afford to live in their homes anymore,” Michaels said. “The root cause of housing rates rising is speculative investing and the banks collecting interest on higher mortgages.”

The BCGEU presented recommendations from the Building an Affordable B.C. report with the focus on changing the taxation of regulation, zoning and land use. The union also wants to create incentives for developers to reserve portions of their land for social housing.

“Instead of the speculation tax, we would have done something different, a land value tax, the speculation tax targets one group too much,” Harpinder Sandhu, co-author of the report said.

Related: Updated: Kelowna council approves ambitious strategy to address homelessness in the city

The proposed plan hopes to diminish B.C.’s affordability crisis by reducing the allure of profit seeking and investment in the real estate market and instead stabilize prices, generate resources for investment in affordable housing and reduce economic stress brought on by increased cost.

A short-term rental tax for companies such as Airbnb would also be implemented.

The union believes that the report, if implemented, will help Kelowna keep a healthy and balanced economy.

“I see housing as shelter, it should be affordable, ” Norah Bowman, professor at Okanagan College said. “You should feel welcome there, I have had students with landlords that they are afraid of, some of it has become intrusive.’

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