Elizabeth McSheffrey, Global News, February 22 (includes comments from BCNPHA CEO Jill Atkey)
While applauding the provincial government’s new investments in child care, stakeholders and advocates say affordable housing commitments have missed the mark.
Finance Minister Selina Robinson released Budget 2022 on Tuesday, billing it as an inclusive and sustainable document that “delivers action today with a plan for tomorrow.”
It shows the government inching towards its commitment to $10-per-day child care, with an average cost of $20 per day expected by the end of 2022 — a fee reduction of about 50 per cent.
The province also plans to cut the average fees for preschool, and before and after-school care to less than $20 a day in time for the 2023-2024 school year.
“Child care really was the big bright spot in this budget,” said Alex Hemingway, senior economist and public finance policy analyst at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in B.C.
“Allowing more young parents — and disproportionately women — who take on child-care responsibilities at home, this is opening up possibilities for them to reenter the workforce.”
Hemingway said the fee reductions will not only reduce cost pressure on struggling families, but potentially pay for themselves through an injection of more workers into the economy, leading to increased revenues.
The government aims to have $10-a-day child care in place across the board by the end of March in 2026. It plans to create 30,000 new child care spaces for children under six within five years, and 40,000 within seven years.
In the near future, Budget 2022 will invest $11 million in the Aboriginal Head Start program, which provides inclusive, culture-centred child care for Indigenous peoples, and put $80 million toward improving training and wages for early childhood educators.
The province will also add 130 more early childhood educator seats to post-secondary institutions annually.
“This is significant spending and it’s all moving us towards a child-care system that we need,” said Sharon Gregson of the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC.
“This is a year I think parents are really going to see an impact around affordability and we’re going to start to see some serious expansion.”
Advocates were less pleased, however, with Robinson’s offerings for affordable housing that targets lower and middle-income earners in the province.
The provincial government has put an additional $166 million toward its goal of delivering 114,000 affordable homes, bringing the annual housing investment to more than $1.2 billion by 2024/2025. The pot will provide $100 million to non-profit housing providers in the current fiscal year to speed up construction of mixed-income housing.
The province is also adding $8 million to the $2 billion promised in 2021 for HousingHub, which works with community, governments, non-profit and private sector partners to create new affordable rental housing and homeownership options for middle-income residents.
Jill Atkey, CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, applauded a $633-million expansion in critical supports to those experiencing homelessness.
Budget 2022, however, lacks mention of an acquisition strategy to protect existing affordable homes, she added, and fails to adapt and innovate to the changing conditions of the housing market.
“We’re disappointed that those waiting for an affordable home will need to wait longer, because this budget accelerated planned spending on only 850 of the 10,000 affordable homes currently lined up and awaiting funding,” she said in a Tuesday release.
“The sooner they’re funded, the sooner people can move in.”
According to the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, three affordable homes are lost in the private sector for every single home built in the community housing sector.
Hemingway said the scale of affordable housing investment in Budget 2022 will not keep pace with the needs of British Columbians, who are increasingly finding themselves priced out of both the housing and rental markets.
“This is terrible for renters and households experiencing this situations, it’s also bad for businesses who have difficulty recruiting workers who can’t find housing near their workplace, or even the region of the province where they’re looking for workers,” he explained.
Building more affordable housing units doesn’t have to pose an exorbitant cost to taxpayers, he explained. Just as private sector developers recoup their costs by charging tenants rent, the B.C. government could significantly scale up its development with the same prudent, self-financing approach.
“The benefit when you do that publicly is the government has lower financing costs than the private sector that can help bring down rents, and the government doesn’t have to turn a profit on housing investment. That can bring down the rents,” he told Global News.
“Over the long-term, that means you’ve brought new affordable housing units that can stay permanently affordable because they’re in the non-market public system.”
According to Robinson, Budget 2022 includes the “largest affordable housing investment in B.C. history,” when investments in combatting homelessness, complex care housing, rent supplements for low-income earners and student housing are included.
The province is introducing $600-a-month rent supplements for more than 3,000 people over the next three years to help them become stably housed and adding 20 more complex care sites throughout B.C. in the next three years.
The province will also invest $264 million over three years in extending housing support for up to 3,000 people who were in leased or purchased hotel spaces during the pandemic, and helping them transition to permanent housing.