The Strathcona Regional District needs to play a larger role in combating the housing crisis, according to a report published this month on last fall’s Campbell River Housing Workshop.
The recommendation is not mandatory, but it is a way to bring more attention to the topic within the SRD and among people who live in the area. Since the workshop, the SRD included housing in its strategic priorities list, namely as a sub-point under the Community Well-Being header. The document includes the goal to “support housing diversity so that our residents, young and old, can grow and stay in our communities.” However, as suggested in the report, more can be done at the regional district to ensure housing accessibility in the area.
Strathcona Community Health Network coordinator Libby King said that some ways the regional district can be more involved include “supporting rezoning, proactive long-term planning, creating a housing service so that leverage funding can be provided so our projects are more appealing, or fund[ing] a long-range planner or social planner to investigate and advise on appropriate interventions in our region.”
Rural populations are decreasing in the regional district while the urban population is growing, according to housing needs assessments conducted in 2018. This suggests that people are moving to the city for various reasons, including access to retirement and seniors housing.
“The most vulnerable members of our community would be most impacted by more diverse housing,” King explained. “Seniors housing would allow folks to age in their communities, for example. There are also issues for households where the ratio of income to housing expenses is extremely high.”
How housing works in communities is determined by Official Community Plans (OCPs), which act as high-level guidance for how the community sees itself. OCPs then inform the zoning bylaws, which include all of the different zones and how they can be used. OCPs in the Strathcona Regional District favour one dwelling per lot. For example, the OCP from Electoral Area D (Oyster River) says “The residents wish to live in quiet, spacious and friendly, single-family neighbourhoods with limited commercial development,” and that “development more commonly associated with urban areas such as multi-family developments… shall be directed to regional centres such as Campbell River, Courtenay and Comox.”
OCPs are designed to inform planning for around five to 10 years, according to the Electoral Area D OCP. Though OCPs are amended to add new zones as they come up, the OCPs for the Strathcona Regional District areas and municipalities were all written between 1990 and 2012.
A long-range planner would have the mandate of working on these documents to ensure they reflect the current housing demands and continue to do so into the future. Issues around this include funding the position, but King suggests taking a note from the Comox Valley Regional District to solve this problem.
“A Housing Service was established in the Comox Valley Regional District, where approximately $1 is collected per $100k house value and that provides a core base of funds to support local coordination and also to leverage funds from agencies, such as BC Housing,” she said. “If there was a housing service, there may also be an option of providing resources to support a long-range planner or social planner who could advise on appropriate interventions in our region.”
King hopes that the workshop brings housing into discussions at the SRD.
“The idea was to start getting the regional district to open their eyes to the interventions they could have and the roles they could play. It was kind of an education sort of process so they knew what they could do if they wanted to,” she said.