Rob Shaw: After five years, the NDP should stop blaming others for housing problems - The Orca
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Rob Shaw: After five years, the NDP should stop blaming others for housing problems

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Premier David Eby took great pains this week to try and blame the worsening problems of homelessness in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on his government’s greatest villain and most-frequent scapegoat: The previous BC Liberal administration.

“We are unfortunately still paying a price for a housing market that for more than a decade worked very well for big corporations and wealthy speculators,” Eby said Wednesday while announcing 90 new modular shelter spaces to try and clear tent encampments at Crab Park and on Hastings Street.

“It did not work for people, especially people on the edges. The result is the housing crisis that we find ourselves in today.”

The NDP government has been in power for more than five years. It has spent more than $250 million over the last two years in Vancouver buying buildings like hotels to create shelter spaces – and it still can’t prevent tent encampments from popping up on streets or in parks.

Half a decade and a quarter-of-a-billion-dollars later, it is absurd to keep blaming the tents on Hastings Street today on the last party in power. But that doesn’t stop the governing party from trying.

“Under the BC Liberals, the housing market worked only for the wealthy,” Eby posted on Twitter with a link to his housing news release.

“We’re making different choices and building more modular housing which will serve as a bridge to health supports and more permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness.”

The phrasing of “different choices” would come back to bite the NDP in the political rear end not 24 hours later, when the premier found himself admitting to what the real problem is: A lack of money. Specifically, from his own government.

The province’s housing agency, BC Housing, is only able to approve one out of every five affordable housing projects due to a lack of available government funding, Eby disclosed in a year-end interview with Postmedia’s Katie DeRosa.

“I know that (BC Housing) got five applications for new affordable housing from non-profit organizations for every one that we’ve been able to fund,” he said. “The demand is massive out there for affordable housing.”

Perhaps one reason the demand is so massive is that the government is making “different choices” on the provincial budget that don’t involve giving BC Housing the cash it needs to, say, actually build enough affordable housing to meet demand, help low-income people and ensure enough shelter beds are being created.

Eby’s admission will do little to placate angry local mayors who are tired of being blamed by the NDP government for holding up affordable housing projects.

While it’s true some communities do tie up new developments with red tape and delays – looking at you City of Vancouver and District of Oak Bay – many others are begging the province for help.

Burnaby has had 1,200 units of affordable housing turned down by BC Housing. Port Coquitlam couldn’t get support for a 300-unit rental project approved either. Across the province, municipalities have applied for financial support for more than 13,000 housing units, but only 2,400 were approved by BC Housing. The problem? Again, a lack of money. From the current NDP government.

It’s not surprising that New Democrats have been reluctant to admit they are short-changing affordable housing projects. The government is sitting on a $6 billion surplus this year. It has the money to spend. It is choosing not to.

New Democrats crafting Eby’s attack lines may want to think twice next time before they point fingers at mayors, political opponents and whomever else they want to cast as the bogeyman on housing affordability. Much of the blame lies inward. Suggesting otherwise is misleading at best. At worst, it’s an outright lie.

The NDP would be better served putting its money where its mouth is on affordable housing projects. Or, put another way, try making “different choices.”

Rob Shaw has spent more than 14 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

rob@robshawnews.com