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City anticipates a rental housing shortage for dam, hospital workers

The city estimates Campbell River will not have nearly enough rental units available to accommodate hundreds of construction crews that will descend on the community once two major projects get underway, possibly this year.

The city currently has 227 rental units available to rent and of those, the city is predicting roughly 112 will be surplus and available to construction crews working on the new Campbell River hospital and upgrades to the John Hart Dam Generating Station.

The city projects 60 more rental units will become vacant in the first half of 2013, but that will still leave the city short, according to Chris Osborne, the city’s planner.

“Data related to worker accommodation demand from VIHA (Vancouver Island Health Authority) and BC Hydro has been requested and is expected to be released in the very near future,” Osborne said in a report to council. “From early discussions however it is anticipated that the likely demand will outstrip the estimated 112 unit capacity for most of the duration of the projects.”

Osborne said the city could be short “up to several hundred units.”

He said that opens the door to new residential development projects in the city.

Mayor Walter Jakeway has a different idea.

He’d like to see the city provide opportunities for homeowners to add secondary suites to their homes.

“With major projects coming up, there’s going to be lots of people coming up here,” Jakeway said at a council meeting Aug. 14. “A great way to spread some income around town (would be) to get staff to look at accommodation in suites in homes.”

According to city staff, there are currently 350 legal secondary suites in the city and approximately 250 illegal secondary suites. Osborne said it’s likely there are more than 250 as that figure is based on properties receiving dual waste pick-up and there are likely further illegal suites operating with single waste pick-up.

There are 961 lots in the city that allow single family dwellings with secondary suites. Residential One, at 83 per cent, represents the majority of lots zoned for single family homes in the city and does not permit secondary suites. However, Osborne notes secondary suites are encouraged in the Sustainable Official Community Plan.

“If properly regulated, secondary suites can form a valuable component of the housing stock, providing affordable, market-based housing,” Osborne said. Secondary suites can help the owner pay the mortgage and allow families to stay together. For the tenant, the suites provide affordable housing and a home with easy, ground level access. Osborne said the downside to secondary suites is illegal suites not meeting health and safety standards and an increase in on-street parking.

Osborne said council should weight the drawbacks and the benefits and may want to reconsider broadening its zoning allowance for secondary suites.

“Given the forthcoming large projects at Campbell River Hospital and John Hart Dam, and the degree of public interest in secondary suites, council may therefore wish to revisit the issue,” Osborne said. The issue was on council’s agenda Tuesday night after the Mirror went to press.

Stephen Watson, spokesperson for BC Hydro, said in November he has already received more than 30 enquiries from people offering their homes and B & Bs to construction crews.

Preliminary estimates by BC Hydro predict the John Hart project will bring an average of 400 jobs per year to Campbell River, with year two likely seeing a peak of nearly 500 jobs. Accommodations for workers are needed anywhere from five years to a few weeks, depending on the worker’s role.

The BC Hydro project is still undergoing a review by the BC Utilities Commission which should be complete by spring 2013. If the project is approved, the $1.2 billion project could get underway this summer. Project completion is targeted for 2018. The hospital project is currently in the Request for Proposals process and construction is expected to begin either late this year or in early 2014.

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