The appointment of former Victoria mayor Lisa Helps as housing adviser for Premier Eby has received praise from housing experts and municipal leaders, but criticism from the development community and the official opposition.
Helps, who served as Victoria’s mayor between 2014 and 2022, will help Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon and others to help design and develop housing for middle-income families, individuals and seniors through BC Builds.
“It’s a good appointment,” said Penny Gurstein, Professor Emeritus at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning and Director of the Housing Research Collaborative.
Victoria introduced some innovative policies during the tenure of Helps, who knows the nature of the housing crisis, said Gurstein. The appointment is also good because Helps understands issues from the perspective of municipalities, she added.
“There has been tension between the (provincial government) and municipalities about expectations on what they can do in the housing sector, so hopefully she will be able to convey municipal concerns effectively to the province,” she said.
Union of B.C. Municipalities President Jen Ford said BC Builds will increase provincial involvement in building middle-class affordable homes, adding that the provincial program uses the Whistler Housing Authority as a model.
“It will take dedication, focus and energy to forge relationships necessary to get this program moving and Lisa has these qualities,” said Ford, who serves as councillor in Whistler. “There is an urgent need to create more affordable supply for B.C. residents, and local governments will welcome seeing this program get underway.”
If Gurstein and Ford welcome Helps’ future role, reactions to the appointment have been less flattering on social media and discussion forums. Critics, many from the Victoria media or community, have questioned Helps’ ability to handle the file, citing past and current homeless camps around Victoria as warnings for the rest of the province.
Victoria Residential Builders Association Executive Director Casey Edge would have liked another former Greater Victoria mayor to advise Eby — Langford’s former long-time mayor Stew Young.
“Langford created more housing supply, efficiency and affordability by far than any other (Capital Regional District) municipality,” said Edge. “B.C. has the highest average housing prices in Canada and the provincial government could effectively address this by learning from Langford’s example.”
Edge also criticized the provincial government’s decision to seek input from another former politician.
“Politicians continually seek other politicians for advice on housing when they should be consulting industry professionals such as builders, developers and realtors,” said Edge. “The housing market is their business and can provide all information on the regulatory challenges and costs.”
Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon was not available for an interview Friday, but said Thursday that he looks forward to meeting Helps and hearing her ideas, according to social media.
Black Press Media has also asked the Premier’s Office for an interview with Helps.
Peter Milobar, MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson and Shadow Finance Minister for the B.C. Liberals, said Helps’ appointment is not necessarily a question of credentials, but a question of whom the Premier trusts and doesn’t.
“Why does the Premier feel the need for these advisers?” he asked.
Helps’ appointment as well as the appointment of Penny Ballem as health systems specialist and Doug White as special counsel on Indigenous reconciliation have created an expensive shadow-cabinet unaccountable to the public, said Milobar. Milobar called it a “complete lack of faith” by Eby in his cabinet, caucus and the provincial bureaucracy.
“I guarantee you, they (ministers) are probably not happy,” he said.