Comment on Housing Affordability

Photo by Kevin McConnell The disconnection with the past and the soon to be future. Just behind heritage houses, the construction project takes place.
Photo by Kevin McConnell – used with permission

Every single day I hear from people who are struggling with housing affordability. It’s not always the first issue they raise with me, sometimes it’s being unable to buy essential medication or a coat for their child. But the high cost of housing plays a major role in their troubles.

The housing affordability crisis affects nearly everyone, from renters to first-time homebuyers, seniors to young families. With the skyrocketing costs of single family homes throughout Metro Vancouver making headlines, it can be easy to forget that on the other end of the scale, the BC Housing waitlist is horrendously long. I’ve had reports that people waiting as long as 9 years for a one bedroom unit. Non-profit housing providers have struggled to keep up with increasing demand as more and more people are priced out of market housing. Seniors on a fixed income simply can’t afford to have their rent raised every single year.

For those seeking rental housing, there’s the risk of renovictions—a common occurrence in the West End of Vancouver and becoming more frequent in New Westminster—as well as leases that include a “move out clause” meaning that after one year of tenancy, they are not subject to provincially regulated increases. The landlord can raise the rent as much as they see fit and if the tenant can’t pay, they have to move out.

Hearing about frail seniors in homeless shelters and families housed in units that are much too small for them, I certainly understand why some people are feeling hopeless. I believe that government can make a difference by investing in affordable housing and supporting seniors’ services. The City has done much to protect rental stock and create affordable housing, but senior levels of government need to come to the table. We also need to implement the changes to the Residential Tenancy Act, such as protecting renters from renovictions and closing the loophole on one year tenancies, as proposed by my colleague Melanie Mark.

The provincial government introduced some knee-jerk legislation this summer after the Official Opposition had already proposed more elegant solutions supported by experts, solutions that would effectively address the housing speculation that is happening in the region.

Working families shouldn’t be forced to move out of New Westminster to find housing that meets their needs. But that is exactly what’s happening.

I am holding a Townhall on Housing Affordability on September 8 at 7PM. We will be gathering at Douglas College in Lecture Theatre N2201. I want to hear your stories about how the housing affordability crisis is affecting you and your family. We will also discuss potential solutions.

We have limited space so please RSVP. You can register on Eventbrite.

Let’s work together to keep New Westminster the strong resilient community that we love!

I hope to see you there.

Busytown

Vancouver grapples with a highly complex housing crisis and an exodus of long time locals to the ‘burbs. New Westminster, however, enjoys the problem of not having enough short term accommodation to house a growing number of people travelling through and spending money in our town. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people come to our city every year with money to spend. And if you live and work in New West, you should be concerned about where they stay. Here is my story and an oddball suggestion for how to “fix” New Westminster’s accommodation problem.

My husband and I bought the cheapest house in New Westminster on May 3rd, 2012. On May 20th, we opened our first restaurant, and ten days after that, our daughter was born.

Some say we could have planned better. I agree. Continue reading “Busytown”

Million Dollar Houses

houseIs this what $1.2 million looks like? I don’t think so either. But apparently that’s the going price for old houses like this one in my neighbourhood. This is my house, by the way. Small lot. Old garage. New kitchen. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms. Circa 1912.

James and I always said we’d stay in this house until we couldn’t do stairs anymore. We raised our daughter Katie here, and a few dogs and several cats. (There’s a secret pet burial ground in the back yard). Katie is 26 now, out on her own, but she still calls this home. Still has a key.

There’s an outdoor pool nearby, and an ice rink. Katie took lots of lessons at those places. The school is a good one, true inner city, and with a heart of gold. The playground in the park has been re-vamped a few times in the 20 years since we’ve been here, and the current version is the best. (Although we used to have an old red firetruck which kids just loved).

James and I have talked over the years about moving to the Quay or Vancouver when we retire. But we always came back to how much we love this neighbourhood, and how much it has meant to us over the years. He grew up here too, in a house around the corner. His parents still lived there up until a few years ago. He swam in the pool, played in the park, and went to the same schools that Katie did.

I used to work at a nearby church, and now at the library. Walking to work is so great, especially because I get to walk through the big park everyday.

We’ve watched the neighbour’s kids grow up, and now I watch their grandchildren growing up. For years we had a dent in our garage door from the street hockey players, but it didn’t bother us at all. We’ve been treated to the sounds of garage bands and musician neighbours, and that’s been a pleasure. We’re old rockers at heart.

We were on one of our walks the other night, with our dog Buddy (who thinks he owns the neighbourhood). Looking at all the for sale / sold signs I made my usual comment, “Well, should we sell up and move to the Quay?” And for the first time, James said, “Yeah, maybe we should”. It could have been the thought of the chafer beetle lawn, or maybe the thought of all the landscaping we want to do. Or the never-ending renovation. Or chatting with our neighbours who have sold, and hearing their new and exciting plans. A cool million. So tempting.

But then what? How will our daughter ever get into a house of her own if we don’t leave this one to her? What if we discover we aren’t condo people? What if we move somewhere and it’s quiet…too quiet? For all its challenges, we love our old house. And the day will come when we move on, out of love (so Katie can live here with her family) and necessity (because we just can’t do the stairs anymore). But until that day, we’re banking on memories, not money.

Housing Journey

Two years I wrote a guest column for the now defunct New West NewsLeader called: The elusive third bedroom in New Westminster. My rumblings about finding a larger space to raise a family in New Westminster was not new, but I had no idea the traction it would gather. I was invited to do a CTV interview on the same subject, based on the reporter finding my guest column. Granted the TV piece was rather Vancouver-centric, it does illustrate the problem is not just specific to one city.

Like many others, I am an import to New Westminster. It’s easy to quickly fall in love with this little town. It comes with a lot of quirks, even some drawbacks, but the connected, tight-knit community feel trumps any negativity tenfold. After setting up roots here, we knew we wanted to stay in New Westminster and continue raising our family here.

When first entering discussion about finding a larger condo we talked about a cap of $400 to $450 thousand. That would have worked maybe 6 months ago, but as houses become more and more out of reach for locals, the next closest thing is the much coveted townhouse and then the elusive 3-bedroom condo. Continue reading “Housing Journey”

Townhouse Livin’

I’m one of the lucky ones: I own a townhouse in New Westminster. How I came to be in this envious position is a story for another time, but since the very moment my partner and I bought this little gem the Brow of the Hill neighbourhood we realized our good fortune.

I’ve always felt that I had something of a nomad soul, unwilling to plant my roots deep into the soil. I resisted home ownership until I found somewhere I absolutely could not resist. Owning any sort of property in the Lower Mainland puts us in a fairly exclusive class. Having spent several years working with families who were forced into homelessness due to crisis, I can fully appreciate my own privilege. Overloaded bookshelves, a sliver of a backyard, a den off the hallway that I call my nest— these luxuries are sadly becoming less than the norm.

I participated with great interest in the Official Community Plan events over the past year. I heard many people express concern about increased density and the perceived negative community impact. I heard concerns that the younger generation is already priced out of every owning any sort of home. I heard people decry the condos in the downtown area while staunchly defending the enormous heritage homes up the hill. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Continue reading “Townhouse Livin’”

Q10 with Mayor Jonathan Coté

This article originally appeared in Issue Zero of our print magazine which came out in April 2016. Q10 is a regular feature in the magazine, and features questions from Tenth to the Fraser to someone in our community. For our inaugural issue, we asked Mayor Jonathan Coté for his responses.

Our city is currently working on a revised Official Community Plan and a very large part of that conversation is on the housing that will be required if the predicted number of people really do arrive here within a few decades.

Laneway housing. Row housing. Townhouses. How do we have respectful conversations about the transformation of housing in our city? Tenth to the Fraser sat down with Mayor Jonathan Coté for a chat about the transformation of housing. Continue reading “Q10 with Mayor Jonathan Coté”