Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson (B.C. government)

Housing minister mum on rental zoning

Surrey-Panorama, Surrey-White Rock MLAs decline to discuss issue brought up by homelessness group

Efforts to get provincial leaders to discuss publicly potential legislation that would impact the housing crisis have come up short.

Last October, Peninsula Homeless to Housing chairman Rick Bayer sent Housing Minister Selina Robinson a letter regarding a past conversation with the then-Opposition critic on Nov. 17, 2016, during which Robinson reportedly said that if NDP formed government, the party would introduce legislation that would allow municipalities to zone for rental housing.

PH2H is yet to receive a response from the minister.

After repeated requests for an interview with Robinson, Peace Arch News was told last week by Municipal Affairs and Housing communications director Lisa Leslie that there’s “no way” the minister could recall specifics of the conversation, and that the minister’s response is “status quo” from a statement she made through a communications representative to PAN last month.

On Dec. 5, the ministry responded to a request for an interview – through a communications representative – that Robinson is “very interested” in opportunities to improve affordability of rental housing.

“We are taking a close look at what more can be done, including opportunities for rental zoning which has been raised by some local governments. We will engage with key stakeholders on this important issue,” the emailed statement reads.

“We do have a huge housing and affordability issue in this province, and this government is committed to finding solutions that work long term for British Columbians.”

PAN also made requests last month to speak with Surrey-White Rock MLA Tracy Redies and Surrey-Panorama MLA Jinny Sims.

Redies, a BC Liberal, did not respond to the request as of Wednesday morning, and a communications representative for Sims, a New Democrat, declined, as the issue “does not seem to be directly related” to the Surrey-Panorama constituency.

Bayer’s letter to Robinson reads:

“Our former chair, Neil Fernyhough, briefly spoke with you at a forum on creating affordable housing stock, sponsored by the Metro Vancouver Regional District, on Nov. 17, 2016. The two of you discussed the challenges in creating rental units, resulting in the legal incapacity of municipal governments to specifically zone for rental apartments.

“At the time, you advised Neil that the policy of your party forming government would be to introduce legislation which would grant municipal governments the authority for such zoning.

“Now that you are Minister, I am writing to ask if your government will act on this undertaking; and, if so, what the timeline for effecting such legislation is; and the form it will take.”

Bayer told PAN last month that PH2H would like to see the provincial government “move forward quickly” with legislation that would grant municipalities the authority to zone for rental.

“We are in a crisis in our region regarding affordable housing and need constructive action now,” Bayer said.

Friday, Leslie called PAN and said, “You’ve really got as much as the minister can say right now.”

“She’s not in the position, none of them are, where they can foreshadow too much,” Leslie said, noting Robinson has “always been interested” in giving municipalities the power to zone for rental.

Asked again for an interview with PAN to discuss the issue with Robinson, Leslie said the minister was unavailable.

“The thing is, she wouldn’t have a record from something from 2016 in the conversation that she had,” Leslie said. “So, at best, I’ve talked to her office. There’s no way the minister will be able to track down her specific wording in a conversation from over a year (ago).”

UPDATE: A communications representative for Robinson announced Thursday at 3:10 p.m. that the minister will make a housing announcement at City of Surrey City Hall, 9:30 a.m., Friday.

“Media are invited to join Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Linda Hepner, mayor, City of Surrey, Dr. Victoria Lee, vice-president for population health, Fraser Health, and Wes Everaars, director of development, Lookout Housing and Health Society, for a housing announcement,” read the ministry news release.

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