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NDP roll out secondary suite program, but critics challenge how effective it will be

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B.C.'s NDP government launched its latest measure to address the housing affordability crisis Thursday: a secondary suite program that gives homeowners up to $40,000 in forgivable loans to build a suite or laneway home on their primary property, if they agree to rent it out at below market rates for five years.

“One group of people who've come forward and really wanted to provide housing, wanted to provide additional housing units, are people who are already homeowners,” said Premier David Eby on Thursday when announcing the launch.

The rents are set by the province, based on the community. For example, in Vancouver, a two-bedroom suite is capped this year at $2,100 per month. In Kelowna, it's just under $1,836, and in Victoria, it’s $1,760.

Although secondary suites have been greenlit by the NDP across B.C., the program still requires homeowners to get occupancy and building permits – red tape handled at the municipal level that could add significantly to the time and cost of the process, according to Realtor Marko Juras.

“(It means) doing those various inspections, dealing with a lot of headaches in these older houses, which will probably – in my opinion – eat into all of that $40,000,” said Juras.

And BC United leader Kevin Falcon points out that despite a flurry of housing announcements since last fall, real estate prices and rents haven't dropped in the past six months. The latest real estate figures show sale prices have inched up in Vancouver.

“We now have the most unaffordable housing prices in North America, and we have the highest rents in the entire country. Those are very poor results,” said Falcon.

Eby responded Thursday that many of the new measures – like short-term rental restrictions – had not been fully implemented, but would be soon. He also pointed to the large numbers of people moving into the province.

“For those that are frustrated, I get it,” he said. “We have about 10,000 people every 37 days moving into the province.”

The three-year pilot project is capped at 1,000 secondary suites a year. The government says there’s been lots of interest already, with 5,000 people registering for updates on the program.

How many secondary suites actually get built and when is another question.

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