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Les Leyne: Housing push has to meet labour needs

The province’s excitement about jobs is tempered by anxiety about the housing shortage
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A residential tower under construction. Predictions of job growth prompt more anxiety about the housing crisis. TIMES COLONIST

“Labour Market Outlook Offers Exciting Look Into the Future,” was the government’s teaser headline on a Friday news release.

The big news was that there’s a new app that helps people navigate the steps they need to enter the career of their choice.

The excitement they imagine stems from the estimate there will be one million job openings in the next decade. That number has been in play for more than decade and whichever party is in power always hails it as a sign of a strong economy.

But the excitement turns to something different when you look closer at the labour outlook. When the plan for filling one million jobs in 10 years is compared to the all-consuming housing crisis, there’s not much in the way of jubilation.

It changes to hesitancy, anxiety or outright panic, depending on where you stand. Or more accurately, where you live.

The latest outlook projects that 65 per cent of the job openings (653,000) will be to replace workers leaving the labour force, mostly due to retirement. The other 35 per cent (345,000) is expected to come from economic growth.

The key point is that immigration is projected to supply almost half those 998,000 new workers. That estimate is up from one-quarter just five years ago, due to the increase in federal immigration levels.

The increase is required to fill the gaping hole left by changing demographics and lower birthrates.

The survey expects 470,000 new immigrant workers in the next decade (plus a smaller number of migrants from the rest of Canada), which is almost the same number of young people expected to start their careers.

The regional breakdown shows 174,700 job openings on Vancouver Island, where 435,000 are now employed. Growth will create 58,500 openings and retiree replacement will create 116,200.

It’s when the huge number of newcomers to B.C. is contrasted with the housing scene that excitement ebbs. The NDP promised more than 100,000 new homes when first elected. The progress on actual homes built is hotly disputed, but the government says if “under construction” and “in progress”) are included, they are generally on track. Tens of thousands more starts are promised in the updated plan.

The labour survey suggests the pace has to be dramatically increased or at least sustained for years to come to make any kind of dent in availability and affordability.

All by itself it explains the urgency of the past two months, when the NDP upended the entire provincial housing landscape with a series of major bills.

Single-family home zoning is being abolished through most of urban B.C. Small-scale multiple units are the order of the day, public hearings are outlawed to speed development, parking requirements are ditched and local government authority is overridden.

More density is mandated on transit lines and near bus stops, short-term rentals are drastically curtailed, and the speculation and vacancy tax is applied to more communities to prompt owners to fill empty homes.

The impact is landing everywhere in B.C. The town of View Royal is one example of how it is going over.

A town meeting this week was dubbed “The Last Public Hearing” as a dig at how the NDP has curbed public input.

An estimated 200 people showed up Thursday night, the biggest turnout for a town meeting in years. Mayor Sid Tobias said there was much acknowledgement of the housing crisis and some support for the province’s plan.

But there was widespread concern about provincial government overreach and the sidelining of democratic process, along with skepticism about the impact on affordability.

Even a longtime developer — who stands to benefit from all the changes — has reservations.

Chris Walker, of Christopher Developments, has written to the town council saying that while the approval process could benefit from streamlining, “I have deep reservations.”

The key bill that mandates more units in single-family zoning “poses a significant threat to the very fabric of our communities,” he said.

The bill lacks the specificity to address the intricacies of neighbourhood planning and could potentially “exacerbate parking challenges, compromise privacy and contribute to the degradation of our natural surroundings.”

He said the promise of affordability seems misplaced.

Debate on all the measures will conclude in the legislature next week. It has been about how, when and where. The forecast massive influx of new residents is the why.

lleyne@timescolonist.com