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Housing, climate, public safety are focus of fall B.C. legislature session

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The fall B.C. legislative session, which begins on Monday, will be looking to take action on some of the biggest challenges in the province.

At the top of mind for government officials the issues of housing, public safety, and extreme weather events.

New laws are expected to be tabled to “deliver more homes for people, faster, transition to clean energy, and keep people safe and communities strong,” the province said.

Ravi Kahlon, B.C.’s Housing Minister and Government House Leader, spoke with Global News Friday morning.

“Anytime you do any legislation that impacts the entire province, it comes with complexities,” he said.

“We wanted to make sure when we launched our housing plan in March any zoning changes that we made, any short-term rental changes made … we had the opportunity to hear from local government, listen to other stakeholders about changes should be reflected — I feel like we are in a good place and that is it will be presented in the house in the coming weeks.”

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The new “unique” pieces of legislation include new housing policies that aim to address permitting and zoning challenges, speed up delivery and increase the supply of middle-income housing.

“This fall legislative session, our government will be laser-focused on the things that matter most to people. Because at a time when things are feeling harder in a lot of ways, it’s more important than ever that we work together to solve today’s challenges,” Kahlon said.

Other bills expected to be introduced will address emergency management, support victims of crime, update international credentialing so that more people can work in their chosen field, and further advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, the government said in a release.

Short-term rentals, and the issues surrounding them like the loss of housing inventory and the rise in rental costs, are a focus for Kahlon and the B.C. government.

They have to balance both community members being in favour of short-term rentals, as a supplemental income as well as bringing tourists into communities, with the challenges of extremely low housing and affordable rental housing.

“It’s a challenging question (and) every community I’ve met with this was a top-of-mind question,” Kahlon told Global News.

“I believe the path we are going forward with and the legislation that is coming will address all the challenges that people have highlighted.

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“Our goal is to find more housing because we know people are struggling.”

Some housing actions have been listed by the province including delivering more multi-unit housing, strengthening enforcement of short-term rentals, speeding up permitting, and allowing secondary and basement suites in every B.C. community.

“These strong actions are necessary in the face of high-interest rates, inflation and a growing global housing affordability crisis,” said B.C. Ministry of Housing staff in a release.

“They are part of strong legislative agenda this fall, taking action to defend ourselves against today’s biggest challenges, focused on what matters most to people in B.C.”

The government also pointed to the 2023 B.C. Budget as it supports the Homes for People action plan starting with more than $4 billion over three years and a commitment to invest $12 billion over the next 10 years to deliver more homes for people.

Wildfires and emergency preparedness will also be discussed. There is talk of creating a year-round emergency service, much like the BC Wildfire Service, for responding to all types of climate events.

“Climate change is real,” Kahlon said. “It will be a major piece of legislation coming.”

Policing and public safety will also be a key topic for discussion, as many communities and local governments have been grappling with the opioid crisis, safe supply issues, and homelessness and addiction.