Houses for sale in Ottawa

On Thursday, BC United — the Opposition party formerly known as BC Liberals — released its housing platform, “United To Fix Housing,” ahead of the 2024 general election where housing will undoubtedly be the top issue.

BC United’s plan — what the party called a “first plank” — consists of four major actions.

The first is the establishment of a rent-to-own program to “unlock homeownership” for British Columbians. According to BC United, the program will require developers to set aside 15% of homes in “participating projects.” Tenants will initially live in the homes on a rental basis for three years, paying market rental rates. The entirety of those rental payments would go toward their down payment, allowing those tenants to take possession of the home after three years.

“To ensure widespread participation in the program, government financing will cover carrying costs to ensure homebuilders stay whole financially during the rent-to-own period,” says BC United. “BC United will partner with homebuilders using this model by further leveraging the borrowing power of the Province to do so at a larger and more affordable scale.”

As an example, BC United pointed to 50 Electric Avenue in Port Moody, a 358-unit project by Panatch Group where 10% of the units were made available in a rent-to-own program. Notable developer Wesgroup Properties also has a company-wide rent-to-own program called Beyond Rent.

The second action would be to eliminate the Property Transfer Tax (PTT) for first-time buyers on properties valued up to $1M. Currently, the PTT is taxed on every real estate transaction, with 1% charged on the first $200,000, 2% charged on the amount greater than $200,000 and up to $2M, and 3% charged on the portion over $2M.

The Province currently provides an exemption for first-time buyers, but the exemption only goes up to $500,000 for a full exemption and $525,000 for a partial exemption. BC United’s plan is to extend that to $1M. It says it will also “launch a thorough review of the current PTT thresholds to ensure they reflect current market realities going forward,” which is something that industry experts have advocated for.

The third action BC United says it will take is to “use empty public land to build affordable housing,” which it says it will do by offering 99-year leases on unused public land to non-profit and market homebuilders at a nominal fee of $1 per year, with the requirement that they must build below-market rental housing for families and seniors.

“Government should make land available to fight the housing crisis,” the party said. “BC United would partner with a spectrum of market and non-market housing developers to deliver affordable rental housing on both vacant and underutilized government land. The land will remain in public ownership while delivering housing for multiple generations.” The action is not dissimilar from the BC Builds program the Province announced earlier this week, which BC United Leader Kevin Falcon called “disappointing” on Twitter.

Lastly, BC United says it will eliminate the PST on new residential construction in order to reduce construction costs for builders and hopefully result in more homes being built.

“While PST is not charged at the point of sale for new housing, it accumulates on the cost of materials while a home is built,” BC United notes. “In Vancouver, which has the highest construction costs in the country, PST relief would save over $2M on the cost of a 350-unit apartment tower and over $150,000 for a six storey wood-frame condo.”

BC United says this will be administered through a PST rebate on construction costs, after the homes have been occupied, similar to the GST rebates announced by the Government of Canada in September.

At every turn in the past year or so, BC United Leader Kevin Falcon has taken aim at Premier David Eby, and he did so again on Thursday in the party’s announcement of how it would handle the housing crisis, which it pointedly called the “NDP housing crisis.”

“Under David Eby and the NDP, BC has the highest cost of living in Canada, and more British Columbians than ever have been shut out of the housing market,” Falcon said. “To make housing more affordable, we need to make it less expensive — it’s that simple. Our plan, United to Fix Housing, outlines the initial bold, and comprehensive measures we will take to fix the housing crisis and bring the dream of homeownership back within reach.”

The 2024 BC general election is scheduled to be held on October 19, 2024. In 2020, the BC NDPs came away from the election with a majority government. David Eby then took over as Premier in October 2022, after John Horgan announced his retirement, citing health issues. In November 2023, Horgan was appointed as Canada’s ambassador to Germany by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

For BC United, this will be the party’s first election after rebranding from BC Liberal Party to BC United in April 2023. The party is led by Kevin Falcon, who began his career in various cabinet positions. In 2013, he left politics and joined local developer Anthem Properties as Executive Vice President, where he stayed until February 2022, when he entered the race to become the leader of the BC Liberals.

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