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Surrey council rejects staff’s ‘negative’ report on city’s housing needs

‘This report is not reflective of what Surrey’s doing,’ Mayor Doug McCallum says
Construction in Surrey. Roughly 1,200 people are moving to the city every month. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)

Surrey’s low and moderate-income households have less access to secure, affordable housing in comparison with their counterparts in other Metro Vancouver cities and municipalities, a report on Surrey’s housing needs reveals. While some civic politicians reluctantly embraced its findings, others found it fell short of singing Surrey’s praises.

Four members of the Safe Surrey Coalition on council – Mayor Doug McCallum and Councillors Allison Patton, Mandeep Nagra and Laurie Guerra – bounced the 246-page screed back to staff for a re-working, finding its contents to be too negative. Councillors Doug Elford, Brenda Locke and Linda Annis opposed this move at council’s Nov. 22 meeting, which Councillors Steven Pettigrew and Jack Hundial did not attend.

The report indicates Surrey will need to build 41,200 new homes over the next decade to keep up with population growth and has an “immediate need” for at least 15,000 below-market units or subsidies in the private market. Its findings were based on online survey of 1,722 residents as well as nine focus groups with 73 organizations representing.

“Targeted social media was used to encourage the participation of population groups that tend to have lower response rates to online surveys, including younger residents, renters, and residents in lower-income neighbourhoods,” the report indicates. Among its findings were the “urgent need for more deeply affordable housing and supportive housing options.”

“Surrey is under-served when it comes to housing and supports for the homeless,” it states.

According to the report, Surrey needs at least 1,880 units of “deeply affordable” rental housing for Indigenous people. The actual number of units delivered between 2018 and 2021 was only 72.

READ ALSO: Surrey council gets behind Annis’s call to address rental housing ‘crisis’

As for the statistics, Surrey grew by 31 per cent between 2006 and 2016, during which time the regional average that time was 16 per cent. The city’ population in 2021 is estimated to be 601,900 and is projected to grow to 714,300 by 2031. Thirty six per cent of its residents immigrated to Surrey after 1980 and four per cent came as refugees.

Very few of Surrey’s rental units are large enough for families, the report states, while affordability continues to be a challenge. Between 2010 and 2019 Surrey’s stock of purpose-built rental housing grew by only eight per cent, but this is changing as 1,023 units came under construction in 2021. Affordability continues to be a challenge.

Per capita, Surrey has fewer non-market rental units –one for every 48 households – compared to one for every 23 households in the region. “This means that low and moderate income households – including priority population such as Indigenous households, seniors, single parent families and others – have less access to secure, affordable housing in Surrey as compared to those in other Metro Vancouver communities,” the report states.

The four politicians found it unpalatable and ordered a revision. The city is required by legislation to submit a housing needs report by April 2022.

Patton said, after reading the report, that it “didn’t feel” balanced, arguing there was not enough input from business or land developers. “I felt it was a bit too skewed to the social issues and the social challenges. I also felt that as a result of that it’s not representative of the true picture in Surrey,” Patton said. “I do think it needs to be a lot more positive and uplifting.”

Allison Patton. (Submitted photo)

The focus groups needed a “blend” of real estate and business groups with “some of the social groups,” she added, and as far as tackling homelessness, Patton said, “I just feel that we’ve done such an excellent job and so I’m just not sure that I really appreciate the feel of this report and what the message it’s giving to the community about our city.”

“I want it to be revised.”

On the flip side, Coun. Brenda Locke, of the Surrey Connect slate, said she appreciated the “frankness” of the report.

“Sometimes we can’t always get what we want to see, we have to see the reality of where we’re at,” Locke said. “The report is very clear that Surrey is under-served on a number of non-market rentals and we know that. We have less non-market rentals than other cities do and we have to work on that.”

READ ALSO: Surrey Board of Trade wants ‘interface’ with expert housing panel

Locke said she wasn’t referring to only homeless people, but “we’re taking about the ‘missing middle’ too. We’re talking about seniors and essential workers, people with disabilities and families and students.”

“I was actually talking to a school teacher who has a difficult time finding housing in Surrey,” Locke said.

Surrey has half of what Vancouver has in terms of non-market housing and in Metro Vancouver overall, she noted. “It is something we have to be alive to here in Surrey.”

Lock said it’s projected that 26,000 people coming to reside in Surrey over the next 10 years will need non-market housing.

“The federal government is going to be bringing in an awful lot of new people into Canada and that’s wonderful but they’re going to be housed in cities so we better be able to accommodate them,” Locke said, adding she was “impressed” by the report.

“It’s not always what you want to hear but sometimes that’s where the truth lies.”

Guerrasaid that while there’s “of course” always room for improvement, “I think this report could do a lot more to highlight our successes.”

“There were next to no representatives from the development community. I think we must – we must – include this group if we expect them to deliver the density and affordable housing the report suggests we desperately need.”

Annis found it to be a “very useful” report.

“The report, to me, said we’re doing a great job meeting home ownership needs for our residents in Surrey but we’re doing not such a great job, in fact we’re doing a terrible job in meeting affordable housing needs. I think the report is a reality check for us.”

Nagra echoed Guerra.

“I understand that there is always need for improvement but I truly believe that we have done a really good job providing affordable housing in the last three years,” he said. Nagra added he would like to see what other cities and municipalities are doing to provide affordable housing within their respective city limits, compared to what Surrey is doing.

“I can bet on it that we have done so much better than all the rest of the municipalities around this,” Nagra said.

As far as McCallum was concerned, staff’s report on Surrey’s housing needs “missed the point as far as what was requested.”

The City of Surrey, he claimed, “has done a lot more than any big city in Canada, or any city in B.C.” on the affordable housing front.

Doug McCallum. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

“We’re building shelters for vulnerable youth, for example. We’re building shelters for vulnerable women,” McCallum said.

“I could go on and on.

“This report has to give a better description of what we are doing and what we have been doing rather than being so negative as it is here,” McCallum said.

“Surrey has been a leader over the years in providing rental suites through secondary suites. This is why Surrey is far ahead of a lot of other cities in this region.”

He also said Surrey’s secondary suites have provided tenants with “very low” rental rates.

It was McCallum who asked that the report be sent back to staff for revision. “This report is not reflective of what Surrey’s doing,” he said.

In a rare move, Elford did not side with his SSC colleagues on council.

“Sometimes we hear these studies and we don’t always like what we hear, but I think it does reflect a lot of the reality out there,” Elford said. “I think honestly, this council has done an excellent job of addressing the issues as fast as we can and that’s something that I’ve always supported. I think that a lot of these issues we’ve inherited have come from the past and I think we’re playing catch-up to previous governments’ lack of decisions on these issues out there. They knew, everybody knows, what’s going on out there.”

In the aftermath, Annis issued a press release claiming McCallum refused to accept the report because he doesn’t want Surrey’s housing reality shared with the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM).

“While we’re doing fine in the home ownership category, it’s a completely different story when it comes to supportive or shelter housing, Indigenous rental housing, and below market rentals,” she noted. “The staff report was intended to give us some benchmarks and show us where we need to improve, but the mayor didn’t like what he heard so he sent it back to staff and didn’t want the details shared with UBCM until it was made to look better, somehow.”


Linda Annis. (Photo: Malin Jordan)

Among the report’s findings, she said, the current need for supportive or shelter housing is 2898 units but only 167 were delivered between 2018 and 2021 – less than six per cent of what’s needed. The below market rental need is 15,000 units, Annis added, but only 143 were delivered in the past three years – less than one per cent of what is needed.

“We built 9,610 home ownership units between 2018 and 2020 and the forecasted need over the next five years is 9,100, so there’s every reason to believe we will meet that target,” Annis continued. “At the same time, between 2018 and 2020 Surrey delivered 2250 market rental housing units, and the need over the next five years is forecasted at 4,200, so I believe we can meet that goal. But, when it comes to helping and housing our most vulnerable citizens, we need to do better, much better. Ignoring the issue doesn’t make it go away, and clearly there is a tremendous amount of work to be done.”

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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