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Housing Minister and former Colt reflects on Richmond, 30-point plan and homeless

Q&A with Housing Minister Selina Robinson. (edited for brevity)
B.C.'s first NDP housing minister in 16 years, Selina Robinson, a former Richmond Colt, has brought about a number of changes that are intended to shake up Richmond's speculative housing market and rental crunch.

Tell us about your life in Richmond:

“My parents moved here from Montreal. Richmond was an affordable suburban community, in 1978. It was very different then; much more farmland; less urban; waiting for buses took forever… I was here from about 1978 to 1982. They were very formative years… Yesterday, when I was at Richmond Jewish Day School, I coordinated to have coffee with a former teacher from Richmond High, Mrs. Waber… The (No. 3 Road) McDonald’s is where we went on lunch break; hanging out on the dyke; I won’t tell you about the parties on the dyke... I am a Colt through and through.”

There are notions out there to build affordable housing on farmland. What do you think of that?

“The reality is, we need to protect our farmland and we need to continue protecting our farmland… We also know we have to have density around designated areas and opportunities for gentle density. We need to maximize that. There’s still opportunity to get the housing we need in terms of supply and still protect our farmland.”

Some Richmond residents note we keep building more towers and yet affordability continues to erode. Is this model working?

“We recognize it’s not one simple solution… This housing crisis that we are experiencing has been going on for well over a decade. Putting together a 30-point plan that looks at curbing demand, making sure that we’re keeping speculators, and people using housing as a stock market, that they don’t get to do that; and making sure we’re putting in the right kind of supply in the right communities. So we actually just brought in legislation that requires local government to look at the local housing stock.”

Should Richmond densify neighbourhoods such as the ones you lived in?

“Well there are ways to do it in a gentle way. I was talking to Mrs. Waber about people being over-housed. So, she’s been living in the same single-family dwelling in Richmond since the mid-1970s… and now on her own… She said she’d love a little place that has a garden, but those don’t exist… So instead of these really big houses on these lots, what if we put two or three on the same lot? What would that mean for someone like her?”

What discussions have you had with the City of Richmond?

“We’ve certainly talked about the modular housing; that’s certainly a conversation we’ve had with some of the councillors and the mayor. We’ve talked about transit infrastructure; Mayor Brodie is the vice-chair (of the Mayors’ Council). And we opened up Storeys.”

Do you think this modular housing project will go through?

“I’m hopeful. You know, people expressed concerns in many communities around, ‘How is this going to change my neighbourhood? What does it mean for my neighbourhood. How are we going to live together?’

Are you wanting to see this in place by winter?

Absolutely. You’re talking about people who are already in the community and who don’t have a place to go; who don’t have the dignity of having a washroom, or a shower in the morning. Think about what it means to you to have a shower in the morning… They (will) have access to supports to get on their feet… We want to make sure there’s an opportunity here in Richmond to get this up and running.”

If housing prices don’t go down in the next few years? Is that the litmus test for your plan?

“Our effort is to make sure British Columbians can find homes that meet their needs and can afford… Our 30-point plan is not just about curbing demand and managing home prices. It’s also about making sure there’s enough rental for people and making sure seniors can stay in their homes.”

A lot of people are asking if the speculation tax is too much. Could it be too little?

“Our government’s committed to curbing demand and one of those ways is to curb speculation. It’s a bold step and never been done before. We’re monitoring it very closely to make sure it hits the mark.”

You took heat for not acting fast enough on addressing demand. What’s your response?

We put together a 30-point plan and you don’t put that together on a weekend. …while people felt it wasn't fast enough, you had 16 years of inaction by a government and here we are nine months in…. I have 48 other ideas at the side of my desk. I’m not done.”