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B.C. Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby arrives to announce he will seek the leadership of the B.C. NDP party in Vancouver on July 19.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

David Eby, who served as B.C.’s housing minister until he resigned his post in July to run for the New Democratic Party leadership, is promising sweeping changes to provincial housing policy, including measures to increase housing density in communities zoned for single family homes.

Mr. Eby, who is viewed as the front-runner to replace Premier John Horgan when NDP members vote in December, released his housing proposals on Wednesday as the first plank in his leadership platform.

The plan would curb the regulatory powers of local governments and strata councils, where zoning and bylaws limit housing stock, and create a new “flipping tax” that would apply to the sale of residential properties that are resold within two years.

It would also increase spending on housing developments that target middle-class renters and homebuyers. That would include $500-million in capital funding to allow non-profits to purchase rental buildings listed for sale, to protect existing renters. In addition, the plan would focus on creating new Indigenous housing, both on and off reserve.

Mr. Eby, who also served as B.C.’s attorney-general until this summer, vowed to tackle “frauds, cheats and criminals” by increasing policing powers to investigate suspicious real estate transactions.

“I’m really proud of the work I did as housing minister during the pandemic,” he told reporters at his leadership platform announcement – the first such event he has held since entering the race. “But we know it’s not good enough.”

opinion: Even as housing plans progress, truly affordable housing is being lost

The B.C. NDP government came to power in 2017, promising a range of policies to increase housing affordability, including a rebate for renters that was never implemented.

While some new housing units have been built, the cost of housing has skyrocketed and rental vacancies are close to zero in many communities. Statistics Canada data released on Wednesday shows B.C.’s population has increased by more than 115,000 over the past year – growth that Mr. Eby noted has made the housing market even tighter.

Mr. Eby’s proposals would force municipalities to allow greater density. Homebuilders in major urban centres would be allowed to replace a single family home with up to three units on the same footprint, as long as they are consistent with existing setbacks and height requirements. As well, secondary suites would be made legal in every region of the province.

While those measures could pit the province against local governments, it also may take the pressure off some municipal councils that have struggled with community battles over density. The city of Victoria has spent at least three years pushing changes to allow single family homes to be rezoned for higher density, but council recently voted to put the decision off until after the Oct. 15 municipal elections.

“Every local government in British Columbia recognizes that we are in a housing crisis. And so we are excited to see this platform,” Jen Ford, president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, said in an interview. But she cautioned that some of the proposed measures that would limit local government authority will require more assessment.

“This government has shown a real commitment to respecting the autonomy of local governments and working together, and our members have been requesting that that partnership be strengthened and respected,” she said.

Under Mr. Eby’s proposals, strata councils would no longer be able to ban rentals. Mr. Eby would also abolish age restrictions in some stratas that prohibit those under 19, although restrictions for seniors-only buildings would remain in place.

Peter Milobar, the Liberal opposition critic for finance, questioned why Mr. Eby didn’t act on his proposals when he was housing minister. “It looks massive and bold. But in reality, we were told in 2017 that the NDP had a bold housing plan, that he helped preside over as housing minister and at the cabinet table. What we saw in that time is only seven per cent delivered.”

The Liberals say the NDP’s promises on housing affordability have been a failure: The NDP promised 114,000 new units, including rental, social, co-op and owner-purchased, when first elected, but less than 8,000 units have been created. Their promised rebate for renters has not materialized and just during Mr. Eby’s two-year stint as housing minister, the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment rose by $511 per month, to $2,412.

Mr. Horgan is stepping down after leading the NDP through two election victories. Mr. Eby, long regarded as Mr. Horgan’s heir apparent, has the backing of a large majority of the caucus. He is currently the only approved candidate.

Climate activist Anjali Appadurai is seeking approval to run but is being investigated by the party for potentially breaching its election rules.