The B.C. NDP budget adds funding for construction of 1,700 rental units for low-income people. (Black Press files)

NDP funds 2,000 housing units for homeless

Extra 1,700 rental homes also in B.C. budget

Modular housing for homeless people and additional government-funded rental housing are among new spending initiatives in the B.C. NDP government’s first financial plan.

Finance Minister Carole James presented the budget update Monday, with $291 million over two years to build and operate 2,000 modular housing units for homeless people, with round-the-clock staffing and support services.

Another $208 million goes towards construction costs for 1,700 new rental housing units, to be targeted for lower-income families and seniors. Those units are in addition to previous B.C. programs, with buildings operated by non-profit societies and operation funded by rents.

James outlined B.C.’s continued strong economic performance, much of it driven by booming construction and taxes from increasing employment in urban areas. Even with $1.8 billion in additional ministry spending over the next three years, the budget forecasts surpluses of more than $200 million each year.

“Housing starts do not solve the affordability crisis that we’re facing,” James said, describing the new measures as a first step toward a comprehensive affordable housing and poverty plan.

B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Branch is getting $7 million more to reduce what James called “a crisis” in rent dispute backlogs that has increased as rental markets have tightened. The money funds 30 more positions for handling claims and investigating landlords and tenants who are “repeat offenders,” she said.

The budget also introduces the $100-a-month increase in social assistance rates, to take effect with assistance cheques that are delivered later this month. The cost is estimated at $472 million over three years to increase the rate for 190,000 people, bringing the monthly rate up to $710 for a single employable person and $1,133 per month for someone on disability assistance.

Allowable earnings for assistance recipients are also increased by $200, bringing the total to $600 a month earned without deduction.