Excerpt from the Official Report of


April 3, 2014

Questions during Housing Estimates

S. Simpson: I've got to believe somewhere in my books here there's something more than $20 million that's going to be passing hands here. I don't know. I could ask about the budget cut, but I can't believe it's that big.

I'll start with a couple of questions here. I'm pleased to have a chance to do the Housing estimates. I want to go to the mandate letter that the minister received from the Premier. In that letter there are a couple of very specific objectives that are identified as we move forward. I want to ask the minister about those.

The first one is to "work with the B.C. Building Inspectors Association to determine and implement a new home inspector accreditation to ensure consumers buying a home can be assured that their inspector is qualified and trained to help them purchase the largest investment in their lives."

Could the minister tell us what the status of that objective is?


S. Simpson: Could the minister tell us a little bit about what this is going to encompass? What's the thinking about the change, about accreditation? Are people going to have to take some kind of certification, pass some kind of test in order to be certified properly? Maybe just flesh it out a little bit more as to what it is we're actually talking about here.


S. Simpson: Is the expectation…? Somebody will come through. They'll take whatever training is required. They will be accredited by some body. I'm not sure who that would be. Maybe the minister will elaborate.

Then is there some process if somebody has a complaint against a home inspector? They don't believe that they got accurate information, or the job wasn't done well. Is there going to be some kind of process there for that person, potentially, if it's an extreme case, to have their accreditation lifted so that they can't do this work?


S. Simpson: The other clear objective that was put in the mandate letter is to "successfully implement the 14 project partnerships with the city of Vancouver to build 1,500 new apartments of supportive housing." Maybe we'll just start with the minister giving us an overview of where that's at.


S. Simpson: Just to confirm, nine are completed, and you've got people housed in them and living in them. That's the situation. Four this year, and you're expecting to have the doors open by…. Is it the end of the calendar year or the fiscal year?


S. Simpson: I'm going to now move to some B.C. Housing questions. I'm going to get a little way through there, and then I know my colleague from Delta South had a couple of questions specific to her concerns. We'll go and allow her to do that and then get on with other business that she has in the precinct.

Could the minister tell us what the staffing complement is right now at B.C. Housing?


S. Simpson: That staff complement — can the minister tell me, kind of, what of that is line workers, like building managers and folks doing all of that work on the crews, and then those people who are in senior administration?


S. Simpson: We'll leave that for the moment. I think I'm going to head into the service plan for '14-15 to '16-17. I'll just flag that. I think what I'm going to do at this point, if it's okay, is turn it over to the member for Delta South to allow her to get her questions in before she has other duties in the precinct.


S. Simpson: We're going to move now, as I said, to the service plan for B.C. Housing. I'm going to start on page 6 of the service plan, the government letter of expectations to the commission. There's a series of them, and I'm going to go through them based on what looks like the strategic priorities — how they were registered.

The first of those priorities was to support a strong non-profit housing sector by taking steps to strengthen relationships and build capacity. Then there's a series of four key initiatives or actions that are related to that. I'd like to walk through those a bit.The first is to transfer selected public housing stock to the non-profit housing sector where appropriate. I know I've seen that elsewhere in some of the literature and reports. Could the minister tell us what the expectation is for that transfer and how that would work in terms of: is it title? Is it management responsibility? What are we talking about here?


S. Simpson: I appreciate that. I'm kind of handling this file for the moment, but I know that in previous years when I've had the opportunity to have this file and have discussions with the minister and when I talked to those organizations, there was a time there when it seemed that the approach of government, of the commission at that time was to hold the properties and do management agreements with the organizations that would come in and manage those.

I know at that time the conversations that they had with me were similar to what the minister is expressing now. They saw better opportunities, obviously, if they held title — working with the Non-Profit Housing Association and others, the potential to be able to do some things with those assets that would allow them to improve or enhance services, much in the way that the minister has talked about.

I'm pretty supportive of this idea of that. Just to be clear, what is the sense or the plan here moving out? Is there an objective to transfer X amount of units over — again, after the minister has satisfied himself and B.C. Housing have satisfied themselves that the operators are ready to take on ownership and the responsibilities of title and all that that might mean? Is there a sense of what we're talking about in terms of transfer of projects or units, and over what period of time


S. Simpson: It seems to me that there are a couple of steps to this. And the minister can correct me if he has a different view. The first one, of course, is to develop the framework for how this is going to happen and how it's going be done and then to identify the individual operators who may be potential. The minister said the people that the ministry has had a good experience with and has confidence in might be the people to take those first projects on or to be where you start to actually implement a new policy.

The first step, though, I guess, is to develop a framework for how this is going to work that everybody can sign on to. Can the minister tell me: is that process going on? Who's in those discussions with the commission? I'm presuming that B.C. Housing is leading the discussion on behalf of the ministry on this. Who is the partner on the community or the non-profit side who's helping to develop and frame this? Is it the Non-Profit Housing Association?


S. Simpson: I should have asked this question earlier just to clarify what properties we're talking about. We know there are about 70,000-odd units out there handled by non-profits today — some of them in management agreements and I guess a whole array of different kinds of agreements. Then there are 7,800 units that are directly managed and administered by B.C. Housing.

Are we talking about how those 70,000 units or the projects that would be a part of that, which might then be put up to be moved from government ownership to title to somebody else…? Are those the projects we're talking about? Or are we talking the 7,800 units and the potential transfer of those projects?


S. Simpson: Then what I think I heard the minister say…. My sense is you've got these 70,000-odd units out there, which are currently being managed in some fashion by non-profits. In those cases where you have a non-profit operator who has the capacity and the maturity and maybe has a few hundred units or a thousand units that they're operating out there — leased units…. I can see where it might be a discussion with them about whether they are interested in taking on a different kind of responsibility with title and everything that comes with that and doing that deal with somebody who's already got a track record on a project or a number of developments.

Then there's the case of, I guess, those other developments where you might be looking at pulling developments away because you're not sure about that operator, but you want to talk about whether that development goes up in some bid process. Maybe somebody else wants to bid on it.

Then the 7,800 units, which I'm assuming are housing projects or deemed to be housing projects in our communities across the province, some of the specialized housing that may be directly administered by B.C. Housing…

Those projects — is the thinking there that at some point there's some public process around a notion of tendering out? I'm going to pick one off the top of my head that's in my constituency, Skeena Terrace. I don't know whether it would be on the list or not, but I'll just pick it for the purposes of discussion. Putting that project on the market for a non-profit operator — not a commercial market, but for a non-profit operator…. Is that the thinking? I understand it's not well refined, but this is a very dramatic move, particularly around those units, the 7,800. Is that what the thinking is at this point?


S. Simpson: I'm going to reference, to kind of get a sense of what the thinking of government is around this initiative now, the Little Mountain project. We'll get into some of that discussion about the specifics. Little Mountain was a first of its kind in some ways. It was the first time that the government made the decision it was going to take what was an older public housing project, put it on the market, sell it into the private market in return for some capital and some social housing units back. We'll get into a discussion later about how well that is going, or not.

That was the approach. I recall the minister in previous estimates, when we had the chance to speak, saying that this one was being done and that there may be a look at some other public housing developments out there, housing developments that would be appropriate for a similar approach. And now this approach, which is somewhat different.

Could the minister comment a little bit about this? Is a matter of saying we're adding this one to the toolbox, and the Little Mountain model is still a model that might be used elsewhere; or saying that we're going to tweak that model a little bit, that we're looking at this as another approach to get at that which is somewhat different, where you're going to non-profit operators versus commercial purchasers or developers that purchase the properties? Just a sense of whether this is a change of thinking.


S. Simpson: We'll get into a little bit more discussion about some of the specific details of Little Mountain a little bit down the road.

Getting back to the letter of expectations in that area, one of the other areas that's identified under that support for a strong non-profit sector is to "support non-profit housing providers to carry out portfolio/capital planning and energy management." Could the minister speak a little bit about what that support looks like and what kind of support is being provided by government to those providers?


S. Simpson: With that, does that mean…? I run a non-profit housing society, and I've got a development that's 20 years old or so. We're trying to figure out how to deal with those challenges. Then can I contact B.C. Housing or the appropriate officials and say: "I need some help here. Can you send your guys in that know how to do this stuff and do some assessment or audit of my building so that I can plan forward as to what I need to do to get this right?" Is that the kind of service, or does it get provided in some different fashion?


S. Simpson: Would part of that support be …? I know the non-profit housing sector, much like the co-ops…. I know co-ops are separate from the provincial government, and they have their issues, some of which the province is going to have to pay attention to, whether they like it or not.

The non-profits. Part of the discussion has been…. I know that I've had these discussions with people in the sector, when they talk about the portfolio and all the projects, particularly with the initiatives that the minister is outlining here around moving some title over.

They've talked about innovative ways that they may be able to pool assets in some ways and be able to lever that to be supportive of both provincial and federal dollars, which have some limit, and be able to bring other assets to the table to lever to potentially produce new housing, maybe, through new models. If they use asset-pooling of their assets they might be able to do some of that.

The question I have is: is there support here in this to help B.C. Non-Profit and some of those folks in working through the detail and the financials of what that kind of thing might look like, to give them options or to help them develop the options as they consider that possibility?


S. Simpson: One of the other pieces it lays out in the priorities…. We've discussed this before, and I know it's something that the minister has been keenly involved in. It's to work with sector partners to carry out the research and develop strategies to respond to the expiry of operating agreements.

I believe I read some of the transcript from the July estimates. I think at that point the minister identified about 943 units or so that have kind of come through that process to date — or in this last year or so.

Can the minister give a bit of an update on where that conversation's going and what we're looking at in the next year or two in terms of numbers of units that are going to be affected by these expiring operating agreements?


S. Simpson: I know the minister has been working on this particular file for quite a while — since it became evident that this was a real issue and a significant one that was not easy to solve, particularly if the federal government chooses not to come to the table in some way to be engaged in some extension of these agreements or some participation in a new operating agreement formula.

Obviously, the biggest concern in the sector is…. It's a combination of concern about those agreements expiring, the subsidies that expire with them and what an aging stock is. I know that there's a lot of attention being paid to that. There's a lot of the stock that's affected by this, and that's getting pretty old now. It's been around for a while — not all of it, but a lot of it is.

And the cost that it's going to take…. It's going to increase costs for upkeep and maintenance and upgrades and paying for new roofs and new elevators, if you need new elevators, and all of those things that are involved — where that money comes from after these agreements expire.

Is it the objective of the government, long term, to protect those subsidized units that exist there today that are providing, often for people who are particularly low income and vulnerable…? Is it the objective to try to protect those units for the residents or residents of a similar circumstance into the future?


S. Simpson: I'm going to move to one of the other key items in the letter of expectation.

The expectation was to "work with the Ministry Responsible for Housing to make strategic shifts in the way services are delivered to low- and moderate-income households that build on successes, assess gaps in the current system and address where communities and citizens need further support." Just in a couple of those areas, one of the first bullets there, under that area, is to "implement refreshed Housing Matters B.C. policy directions through new and enhanced initiatives."

Could the minister tell us a little bit about what those refreshed, new and enhanced initiatives under the Housing Matters B.C. policy are?


S. Simpson: Many of those things, as the minister said, we've talked about, and a number of the other ones we'll talk about as we move along.

One of the other key areas here is an enhanced rental assistance program. I know the minister is an enthusiastic supporter of that as an approach to be used to support families and others who need some help. I'm assuming that a portion of the IAH agreement dollars are going to support enhancing that as well. Could the minister talk a little bit about what his expectations are in enhancing that over and above the 9,000 or 10,000 families that I think he said earlier are receiving services now — as to what that might be?


S. Simpson: Could the minister tell us: what's the budget for rental assistance at this time? Is the minister anticipating that going up as we get into the IAH program and resources there?


S. Simpson: I've got one more question in this area, and then I have a colleague or two here who I think want to ask a couple of questions. We'll let them get their questions done.

One of the other areas in the letter of expectations is to promote strategic partnerships and alliances that work to further the availability of affordable market housing. I would probably agree with the minister that if we're going to deal with housing for those families and others who are in that $30,000-to-$50,000-a-year income bracket, in the high-rent areas and high housing cost areas like the Lower Mainland, they're going to need some support.

The action that's identified is to increase rental housing supply through partnerships with local governments, non-profits and private developers and use of financial tools such as construction and long-term financing. The minister spoke a little bit about this earlier. I'm wondering if the minister could maybe elaborate a little bit more on that discussion.

Is it a discussion with the UDI? Is it a discussion with people in the development community? I'm thinking about those private players who've got to come to the table along with lenders, local governments, the government and B.C. Housing to make this thing work. A little bit of elaboration, because I do think it's is a pretty key area if we're going to deal with these housing issues.



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