Campbell River city council candidates discuss solutions to the housing situation. (File)

Campbell River city council candidates discuss solutions to the housing situation. (File)

COUNCIL: City council candidates asked about housing situation

Strategies to alleviate tight housing market

l Ferris Stirling…

As the housing shortage will not be alleviated anytime quickly by new building, we need to decide on those few spaces available for rent or purchase and decide exactly what Campbell River wants in a newcomer to Campbell River. We should absolutely look to successful programs such as designating more land to Habitat for Humanity for their home building program. Our city is more likely headed towards 40,000 residents, then it is back to 15,000 residents and we need solutions for the current and future needs, not failed policies and a lack of leadership based on programs from 15 to 20 years ago that have already failed around the world. We have to decide right now if we want more of the problem downtown because other communities use Campbell River as a dumping ground, or do we want to focus not just on low-income housing, but rather low EARNED income housing which includes pensioners. Policies aimed at this would attract what Campbell River needs and wants. As of right now, most professionals such as Nurses, Lawyers, Doctors and Accountants choose to not come here or to work remotely in other communities for firms in Campbell River because it’s too expensive to move here.

Campbell Riverites need to decide this election which people they want to attract here to shape the future Campbell River to make it better, and that’s why my platform is Campbell River First. It’s been made abundantly clear the status quo is not acceptable from everyone I have talked to. Our businesses should not be cleaning up human feces and needles every morning (same with our sports facilities and children’s playgrounds). Our employees shouldn’t be putting up with shoplifting, aggressive behaviour and assaults (I was never worried in my first job about getting jabbed with a needle or thrown to the ground by a shoplifter). Our healthcare workers should not be intimidated or quitting in droves, nor having their lifestyles negatively impacted because of abusive clients and provincial leadership that has been failing both patients and employees continuously. Our seniors shouldn’t be afraid to use an ATM downtown, or go out for dinner at night on a patio and having to look over their shoulder.

Taking a hard stand on issues like this isn’t easy. It’s a delicate balance of helping who you can, and what is best for the majority of Campbell River. It makes me sad and a bit angry when some people refer to our citizens as uncompassionate, all because they want these issues dealt with by someone with a stronger approach. A housing coordinator in Dallas, Texas perfectly summed up the situation we have here today:

“People’s level of compassion drops as their level of safety does” and that is where I feel our citizens are at. We are a compassionate city, but people have had enough lack of action and policies that will actually make the situation worse in the future.

l Sean Smyth…

You will hear many arguments in this election about what and where the city of Campbell River should allow development. Some will scream infill and density. Others talk about missing middle and modular homes. Some will argue infrastructure deficit (A fancy name for infrastructure that needs replacement and no money to do so). Others will talk about a “diverse” supply of housing. I am in the diverse crowd, which is what we are doing now. Our Sustainable Official Community Plan states we should strive for 35% multifamily, 35% missing middle and 30% single homes. Of course, we have not achieved that in my first year in council. We completed 63% multifamily, 25% single-family and 12% missing middle.

The most crucial issue the people of Campbell River need to know is not what type of housing we want for the future. It is that if we maintain our current planning and permitting process, it will take at best four years, if not a decade, to get there. This is a long time to have a 0.7% vacancy. Our businesses and institutions are struggling to find new workers today. Campbell River has become an undesirable place to move to for work. Campbell River has become an unpleasant place for developers to build new homes.

This backlog is not the fault of our planning department, which is understaffed and overwhelmed with applications. It is a fault of process and leadership from city management and, more specifically, the council. Other municipalities in BC have figured out how to streamline their application and permit process. Some municipalities turn out a two-week permit turnaround process consistent with the same level of staff as Campbell River.

There have been multiple studies from different institutions on what factors drive the cost of housing. Government, specifically municipal government, is a significant factor. The most crucial factor is time. The time it takes to purchase a property, go through the permitting process, and build and sell takes too long in the city of Campbell River. Time is money in the development world. That increase in capital cost gets turned over to the buyer of the home.

Only a prominent developer has the extended resources to tie up large amounts of capital for a build in Campbell River. This creates a monopoly among a small number of players. Twenty years ago, firefighters, pilots and other shift workers would build houses on their off shifts. They were adding to the supply of housing and keeping costs low. Now, because of the city’s inability to supply lots, that market is dead.

As the market starts to soften and financing becomes more expensive, housing starts will slow down across the country. The city must do everything possible to keep housing investment in Campbell River attractive. The next council must look at thriving communities as examples of streamlining and speeding up the permit process.

l Susan Sinnott…

The issue with housing shortages will take time. We are limited in how quickly housing may be constructed, and we face challenges with the economics of development entering a potential recession. Therefore, I would ask the council to prioritize the workflow we currently have in the city. On September 22, 2022, a Development Application Status was presented to the Committee of the Whole (available on Civic Web). It is 22 pages long showing many applications for more lots, housing, and other matters in planning.

A “day 1” priority is to get City Planning Staff and the City Manager, clear goals to meet the housing shortage and develop outcomes.

Therefore, I would:

1. Contract out the work in planning/engineering to get things done as a temporary fix.

2. Change the culture of the staff to see the Development Community as a contributor and solution to our issues – financial stability, housing providers and economic generators. I know many developers and their families live in our city. We are blessed to have so many skilled and entrepreneurial businesses. They have choices to use their resources elsewhere and we should appreciate their contributions.

3. Support our planning and engineering staff and get them to take our developers out for lunches to build trust.

4. Seek input from the Development community on short term fee reductions or deferring payments to the city, to keep them working on housing in the event of recession.

5. Proactively amend the SOCP to overcome obstacles and roadblocks.

6. Reduce zoning requirements to reduce unnecessary burdens if housing is for non-profits or affordable housing is included – for example – reduce parking requirements if near walkable nodes or on or near transit routes.

7. Fix zoning laws to permit more ‘build by right’ – if the neighbourhood suits – extra suites and carriage houses. Reduce the need for public hearings that have been shown to result in NIMBYism and stall or kill projects. Do the work up front in zoning, not rely on the uncertainties of Public Hearings.

8. Consider charging developers “priority” fees. This is common with other government functions I deal with. I have had developers offer this idea. For a developer, who must coordinate material and labour, the cost of delay is often much higher than the cost of hiring an outside planner and engineer to manage their applications to the city.

9. Create a mentorship program in our not-for-profit sector so the ones that have built housing can teach other organizations. Again, we have experience in our city, we need to appreciate it. We have the potential initiative of a fund from the Province of BC to permit non-profits to buy and operate rentals. We already have BC Housing support. I am a supporter of locally owned and operated non-profits. They are good neighbours in the community and improve our lives.

10. Finally, continue to work with our local First Nations to solve our mutual issues.

l Sue Moen…

Housing is a human right. I will make decisions through the lens of equity, diversity and inclusion. I support the following immediate actions:

1. Create a housing plan that incorporates the goal of zero homelessness.

2. Update the Official Community Plan, and modernize our policies and plans to reflect that our crises are connected.

3. Use the $75,000 reserved funds to relocate social service agencies to increase capacity for the drop-in services already operating. This will give folks targeted for dislocation a place to go for continuity of services.

4. Re- and pre-zone more neighbourhoods, particularly those identified as town centres in our OCP, for secondary suites, ancillary dwelling units and multi-unit development. Waive some of the fees for a binding promise that the development remains long-term rental housing for some period of time. Give pre-authorized staff the power to approve applications.

5. Lobby the provincial government to act on the UBCM recommendation to allow municipalities to require developers of large scale rental buildings to designate a percentage of units as low-income rentals targeted to those identified as being in core housing need according to the census data and city needs assessments.

6. Create a housing service in the Strathcona Regional District.

7. Make vacant and underutilized city land and buildings available to non-profit housing agencies. Support them to access provincial, federal and other funding to build a range of rental housing throughout the city, including supportive/supported, low-income, co-operatives, and tiny home/RV villages.

8. Critically consider the city becoming a developer/owner of low-income and affordable housing and contract a non-profit to manage it.

9. Provide municipal land, including services for people currently living in tents and vehicles to sleep safely until they can access permanent housing.

10. Modernize our land-use and development policies to promote good governance and decision-making for equitable, diverse and inclusive housing.

Let’s change the paradigm of how we think about housing. We’re comfortable with real estate investment trusts and individuals purchasing housing as an investment, but when governments or non-profits do it, we think of it as a cost. I’m most familiar with the housing sector, but I have found similar results in studies of arts and culture, child care and early childhood education that show for every dollar invested, society gets a return of $1.30 to $7.00. This is a strong economic argument to counter the narrative that ‘we can’t afford’ to address social justice issues.

Housing is a key determinant of health. We must urgently remove barriers to constructing more housing along the rental continuum with a focus on units that are truly affordable. Having sufficient and appropriate homes for everyone saves our community money and stimulates the local economy. Communities with adequate affordable housing options gain a more stable workforce and decrease costs to emergency and other more costly services.

l Sandra Milligan…

The lack of affordable housing in Campbell River is the most important issue in this election. Businesses, non-profits, the hospital: all are understaffed due to an inability to retain and recruit staff due to lack of affordable housing.

To alleviate the shortage of affordable housing, we need first to know how it is defined. The CMHC definition is spending less than 30% of your income on housing. The average local household income is $70,000. Thirty percent of that is $1,750/month. Last year, the average house in CR cost $761,000. With 20% down and a 3% interest rate, the mortgage is $3,000/month; add in another $500 for insurance and tax and you can see that home purchase is unattainable for the average family. Housing prices would have to be cut in HALF for them to be affordable. So what to do?

– Implement the Secondary Suite bylaw that city staff wrote in 2019, which the public approved of in Open Houses, but current City Council rejected in 2020. This is the most used tool by most municipalities in BC. We are one of the very few who do not use this tool. The benefits are tremendous: the city gains more revenue, we increase the stock of affordable housing, and families and seniors generate income that may be essential to them keeping their home when mortgage terms are renewed with higher rates.

– Allow Density Bonusing, where a developer is allowed more units, with the extra sold at below market costs. This works best in growing communities, like ours.

– Create new bylaws for tiny homes and carriage houses.

– Support Co-operative housing projects, like those in place in Courtenay, and Habitat for Humanity that create wonderful neighbourhoods and community.

What we want to limit is the building new single-family subdivisions. New single-family subdivisions are not affordable. Additionally, they are a net financial loss to communities. A report from Ottawa in 2021 shows that new low-density homes built on undeveloped land COST $465 per person each year to service, over and above what it receives from property taxes and fees. On the other hand, high-density infill development provides a net GAIN of $141 per person per year.

To confirm these numbers locally, I connected with Wally Wells, former Executive Director at Asset Management BC. Wells says: “Any Finance Officer in local government would tell you that single family houses do not pay their way.”

But we still have plenty of single-family homes coming down the pipes. The City’s September Development Application Status report includes at least 1800 homes in various stage of development. That will add 10% to our current housing supply. These houses will be built no matter who gets elected to council.

To implement any actions, city council must ensure our City hall is a respectful workplace where the vacancies in the planning department are filled. This will allow us to implement the secondary suite bylaw and other tools and get the 1800 homes into the market efficiently.

l Ben Lanyon…

Supply vs. demand has been out of balance as evidenced by real estate bidding wars in 2021 and 2022 and the resulting rise of home prices. Rental rates tend to follow the overall housing market, so an imbalance in supply and demand hurts renters as well.

Rising interest rates and a downturn in economic optimism has reversed some of this pressure. However, we still have housing affordability problems and these will continue until we build enough homes at prices that all income levels can afford.

My recommendations:

Reduce barriers for secondary suites, carriage houses, and look at making it possible to construct smaller homes on smaller lots. These types of housing are very important for people who cannot live in apartments (pets, children, etc). Each of these options require careful examination. The goal is to expand these options without causing issues with parking and existing utility capacity or changing the character of existing neighborhoods.

Increase the pace of development for all types of building lots (including multifamily). This is not a reckless expansion. Ultimately, developers will have to make their own decisions about supply and demand, but it is the city’s obligation stop being the primary bottleneck.

Look at promoting increased use of housing co-ops. These are excellent systems to improve and maintain affordability because a housing co-op can regulate resale values and rental rates without the need for government oversight.

Update and simplify our official community plan (OCP). This document has been the source of confusion for city planners and developers. Its complexity (hundreds of pages worth) has introduced delays to past developments. Delays increase costs and risks to developers. Higher costs and risks translate into fewer homes and higher prices.

High housing costs are relevant to everyone because they result in higher service costs in Campbell River. Why is this? Employers must pay more to employees so that they can afford to live here. These businesses must in-turn pass additional wage costs onto consumers. It is a vicious cycle which hurts our local economy’s competitiveness and pushes some into homelessness. I have noticed that it also contributes to a lack of hope and motivation for the younger generations. How can they start a family here on an average income? How can seniors on fixed incomes deal with the rising cost of services?

l Tanille Johnston...

Campbell River happens to be one of the LAST municipalities in the province that still does not widely allow secondary suites. Enabling easy implementation of secondary suites, carriage houses, and garden suites for homeowners would dramatically and immediately help mitigate our housing shortage. This is also a step that would be virtually cost free for our City. It also naturally increases revenue as taxes on your property increase with the addition of secondary living spaces with an oven/stove. Building within an existing footprint or property also does not take away from any lots designated for single family homes and allows for better use a land within our current Urban Containment Boundary.

It would also be worth exploring any opportunity for Resident Student Housing for the North Island College. Students not having to worry about looking for a place to live for their terms is an asset for attracting students and potentially lending to new additions to the Campbell River workforce.

Additionally, we need to build varied of housing structures that suit the workforce that we need. When approving applications for developers, what will be the cost of purchasing and or renting upon completion? What will the benefit be to our community? Will it include opportunities or enabling alternative methods of transportation? Will it promote walkability? Will it enable retail/leasable access to incoming businesses or health care service providers? These are questions we should be asking when reviewing development permits along with questions around environmental considerations and whether or not the proposed build aligns with the Comprehensive Community Plan and our Mission Statement as a Municipality.

l Colleen Evans…

The impacts of a housing shortage in our community are significant. In 2018 over 3,500 households in Campbell River experienced affordability issues, meaning they spent more than 30% of their annual income on housing. Affordability issues have continued to rise in our community. Approximately 1/3 of Campbell River households rent. It’s only been the last couple of years that we have seen a significant number of purpose built rental buildings coming onto the market to begin to address that need. For households with lower incomes, in particular single parents, seniors and individuals living alone, the rising rents and low vacancy rates has been particularly challenging. Single detached homes in a housing market where prices have escalated year over year has made owning a home unaffordable for many. Seniors looking to downsize are challenged too with finding any available housing stock to buy or rent. The growth on this demand side has really fuelled our housing crisis and further added to the urgency to create attainable and affordable housing options.

Our housing shortage is making it challenging for local businesses to recruit and retain talent, due to a lack of safe, stable and secure housing. Workers want to live in our community where they work but rising rents in a tight rental market are denying many those opportunities.

It’s not just more housing we need it’s a diversity of housing types referred to as ‘missing middle housing’ which allows for a range of multi-family or clustered housing types that fit between single detached homes and condo towers to be built. Housing accessibility is a complex issue and will require the support and commitment of all levels of government. We should leverage our local government authority, tools and resources to take new and renewed action to address our housing shortage with action that includes:

– Establish a zoning bylaw to allow for secondary suites across the city. Policies will ensure compliance with building code, health and safety regulations and parking;

– Encourage new housing close to service nodes and amenities that supports infill development, re-development of existing housing to increase the number of housing units and densification for walkable neighbourhoods;

– Add additional residences on existing properties that can accommodate housing above garages, carriage houses, multi-generational housing or in laneways for self-contained residences;

– Pre-zone areas for infill development that would increase the diversity in our housing stock with duplexes, row housing and low rise apartment buildings. Pre-zoning would provide greater certainty to the development community and potential for a more diversified developer pool;

– Improve development approval policies and processes to reduce red tape and barriers for the building community so housing stock diversity types that our community needs, are built faster;

– Consider cost development charges and reduced off-site fees related to development with the community benefit that the development community is incentivized to build the missing housing stock we need;

– Encourage non-profit ‘housing first’ for a diversity of safe, stable and affordable supportive housing.

l Gwen Donaldson…

There are several things that City Council could look at doing, that I would support, to aid in the development of diverse, affordable, and/or accessible housing in our community. Foundational to all these suggestions is: appropriate professional and public consultation, working to keep city staff and avoid continual employee turnover, and ensuring that we have an asset management plan in place so that we don’t have infrastructure concerns suddenly arise (like sewers and water mains)

(1) We need to streamline the development application process to make the system more efficient. Council just received a report from Dillion Consulting, detailing 19 actions that could be taken to improve this process, ranging from instituting engineering development checklists to managing and investigating staff turnover.

(2) We can broadly allow secondary suites across the community to increase rental-housing stock, provide mortgage helpers and create more inter-generational housing opportunities for families. Most of the communities in BC already do this to help alleviate housing issues.

(3) We could remove some barriers in our permitting process to allow developers to create infill housing more easily and efficiently, and inspire “missing middle” housing, like duplexes, low-level walk-ups, and mixed-use complexes. This could include reductions in the minimum parking allowance, reductions in setbacks, modifications to site coverage policies, allowances for micro-units, reducing restrictions on suite size, and expanding density bonusing. We could also look at targeted pre-zoning (but this has serious pros and cons, so it should be looked at carefully).

(4) We need to better encourage mixed-use developments so that people are living around the daily amenities that they need.

(5) We could work with not-for-profit organizations, to encourage affordable housing units in stand-alone projects, and in partnership with larger private developments.

(6) We could work to create more housing co-ops, and the city could look at starting to purchase and build market-value and accessible rental housing. Other Cities, like Vancouver and Kelowna, already have city-led property acquisition and development departments.

I think that the City of Campbell River can work better with developers, citizens, other levels of government, and the not-for-profit sector to build housing that our community needs, and in the process, we can create a more livable and efficient community for all of us.

l Mike Davies…

We need to increase density, but we need to do it in a thoughtful, strategic way.

The first thing I would like to see is a complete review of our current Sustainable Official Community Plan (SOCP) and zoning bylaws so we can finally decide where we’re going to increase density within the current urban containment boundary. We can’t just keep deciding on a case by case basis when development is proposed whether we’re going to allow an apartment complex to be built. It’s not fair to people who have bought housing in an area based on an expectation that zoning would remain consistent, it’s not fair to developers who never know when they buy a property whether they’re going to be able to do what they want with it, and it’s not fair to the taxpayers, who have to pay for city staff time and city council time to discuss every one of these applications for weeks every time a proposal comes forward.

Then we need to address the lack what’s being called “the missing middle” in terms of development.

We can’t just keep building single-family homes and apartment complexes and thinking that if we just make enough of them, the prices will stabilize. There’s no reason for apartment rental rates to fall if the people who are renting them can’t afford to buy into the market, and they’ll never be able to buy a single-family home if all the ones being built cost over $600,000 and they currently have to pay more than half their income on rent, so they can’t save for a downpayment that large.

We need to incentivize the creation of more townhomes, duplexes, carriage homes and smaller or even “tiny” homes, as well as make it easier to create legal secondary suites in areas where the city’s infrastructure can support them in order to fill in the gap between market rental apartments and single-family homes that most people working in this community can’t afford to buy.

We also need to work proactively with more non-profit organizations who would like to get into the housing market like the Campbell River Head Injury Support Society did, where they create a building where they can keep rents below market rates and still cover the mortgage and maintenance on the facility because they’re not in the housing market to make a profit, but to provide a community service.

l Ken Blackburn…

When we talk about housing it is important to clarify the diversity of options that are inclusive of the term ‘housing’. Building housing must address the wide range of diverse needs within a community. It must also be integrated into our community planning, being considerate of the OCP review that is coming in the next year. Density planning must be inclusive of the Master Transportation Plan, of the Agricultural Plan and of social and environmental impacts of any future developments. Each of these must be considered individually, then synthesized into a working seamless action plan. This has to be done with strong leadership that understands the building of mutual trust, the need for listening skills that clarify complexity and the building of a team approach with Council, staff, our social sector, cultural sector and private business.

We need to listen to developers to understand their barriers. We need to listen to planners to review options within the community. We need to listen to our front-line social providers to understand our social challenges. We need to identify the priority areas in the community, both from land use and social impact perspectives.

All housing must integrate with public transit planning. Active transportation infrastructure (bike and pedestrian options) must be a priority in the planning stage. Agricultural lands and the need for local food security must be built into development planning. Social service locations must be prioritized. Water, sewer, power infrastructure must be at the head of the list with an asset management plan in place for future growth. Taxation must be appropriate for our desired growth.

Housing must be seen as inclusive of a range of options and scales – single homes, modular homes, prefab construction ( exploring the entrepreneurs on the Island that are working with reducing construction materials costs), tiny homes (again many great entrepreneurs working locally), mixed residential planning, mixed income, supportive living, subsidized housing, secondary suites, condos/townhouses with varying scales (bachelor, 1,2 bedroom), transitional housing – all of this is what we are talking about when we consider ‘housing’. We must be aware of changing demographics, of aging populations and be prepared for understanding who is moving to our community and why. And we must be aware of industry and organizational struggles with the lack of affordable employee housing, a huge drag on economic development.

I am listening to developers and planners. I am listening to housing advocates that understand the social complexities of building supportive housing. I am listening to the entrepreneurs that engage in the business of reducing land footprints and materials costs. I am listening to the service providers that must be attendant to residents within alternative housing.

We must listen, clarify, synthesize information and prioritize. Action follows and in turn, leads. I am not afraid of the challenges that lay ahead because I am confident in the skilled people of Campbell River. Together we can face any challenge.

Candidates not resonding to the question: Ron Kerr

Campbell RiverElection 2022Municipal election

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