Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran says it’s not fair to say his council is only trying to help developers. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Kelowna mayor defends council’s record on affordable, accessible housing

Colin Basran says council opposes new speculation tax but has done lots to encourage more housing

Kelowna’s mayor is defending his council against criticism on social media recently that the city is only looking out for its “developer friends” and that is illustrated by its opposition to the province’s new speculation tax.

Colin Basran said portraying his council as one that is only concerned about developers fails to take into account the many things it has done to try and get more affordable and accessible housing built in the city.

“A lot is being done to make sure this community is for everyone,” said Basran during Monday’s council meeting.

As examples he listed the work the city is doing on it’s Journey Home Task Force to help address homelessness in Kelowna, the city’s Healthy Housing Strategy, the many partnerships it has undertaken with B.C. Housing and incentives the city offers to try and persuade developers to build more rental housing.

“This council has approved more rental housing than any other (Kelowna) council,” he said.

Currently there are close to 2,000 units of rental housing either under construction or approved for construction in the city, reversing a 10-year trend where rental construction was down.

Basran came in for personal criticism last week when he said publicly he planned to talk directly with Premier John Horgan about the province’s new speculation tax and, as he sees it, the unintended adverse consequences the new tax could have on many aspects of the city’s economy.

Kelowna and West Kelowna are the only two cities in the B.C. Interior that will be subject to the tax, which levies $5 per $1,000 of assessed value on homes owned by people from outside of B.C. this year. That rises to $20 per $1,000 of assessed value next year. Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and the Victoria and Nanaimo areas are also subject to the tax.

Within minutes of news stories being posted online about Basran’s plan to speak with Horgan, comments were posted saying he was only doing it to help his “developer friends.” Basran said in recent days he has read more similar comments online. So, at Monday afternoon’s council meeting, he spoke out.

Basran said he does not see why being opposed to a tax that could hurt more than just the city’s housing market, and trying to make housing more affordable and accessible, have to be mutually exclusive.

Instead of the speculation tax, Basran suggested a “flipping” tax that could impose a tax on those who sell properties shortly after buying them in B.C. to try and stop speculation that drives up housing prices.

That approach is one supported by Kelowna Chamber of Commerce president Tom Dyas and the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

Meanwhile, Basran said he now has a phone called scheduled with one of Finance Minister Carole James’s deputy ministers to discuss the tax and plans to ask to speak directly with James, as she has been the point person on the tax since she announced it in her provincial budget three weeks ago.

Basran said he is hopeful the government will reconsider the tax given James recent comments that Victoria is looking to “tweak” it.

A city staff report on the impact of the speculation tax on Kelowna is expected to be presented to council next week.

On Tuesday, West Kelowna staff will present a report to that city’s council outlining the impact of the tax there.

The report says the tax will slow development, reduce property values, result in the loss of tourism revenue, create an uneven playing field between municipalities and result in a loss of jobs and slowdown of the city’s economy.

It says the province will collect $10.3 million from affected owners of property in West Kelowna through the new tax.

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