White Rock wasn’t standing in line when the province dished out $1.7 million in funding last month to help communities collect and analyze data on their housing needs – and affordable housing in particular.
But the city is doing the work anyway, according to Coun. Anthony Manning, chair of the housing advisory committee.
“Staff has already started preparing a housing needs report,” he told Peace Arch News last week.
Manning further reported that, while staff has not yet applied for provincial monies for the work, they are in discussions with the province about the next round of funding, looking toward applying later this year.
Planning manager Greg Newman will be providing an update on the project at the committee’s next meeting this Thursday (March 12), he noted.
The latest round is part of a three-year, $5 million program launched in 2019, which the province described in a news release as part of its strategy on delivering affordable housing – “a shared commitment between government and the BC Green Party Caucus.”
Intention of the reports, the release states, is to help communities identify housing needs, “such as affordable housing, rental housing, seniors’ housing, as well as housing for people at risk of homelessness, families and people with special needs.”
The money does nothing to address the current crisis of escalating strata insurance rates, Manning said – which he views as one of the greatest threats to housing security for White Rock residents.
“But that particular dumpster fire with strata insurance is a whole special ball of wax,” he said.
Noting the City of Surrey received $70,000 in the current funding round, Manning said it’s not unreasonable – “given the net population of the planning area, that Surrey would get a bigger chunk than White Rock.”
Manning said that the information gathered through the housing needs reports – a requirement of the Local Government Act – will pass through the Union of BC Municipalities en route to the provincial government, which will then feed it back to the communities in the form of guidelines for how development should proceed.
That might seem like a circuitous route for information the communities already know, Manning said, but the advantage of the process is that it does create a formal document.
“It’s a good program so that municipalities don’t operate in their own little silos,” he said, adding that the housing advisory committee must weigh a whole range of factors in assessing housing needs for the future.
“Clearly, the developments recently initiated in White Rock aren’t for residents – they’re for people from outside the city, in the Lower Mainland, the rest of Canada or from overseas.”
Current and future needs the city needs to address, he suggested, include finding housing for locals displaced by increasing rents, and families being displaced from other communities.
“Affordable housing needs to be created, but it’s a slow process. Even if you put spade to the ground now, it’s going to be two or three years before you see anything.”
The current shortage of affordable housing, he said, is a byproduct of decisions made in the 1980s that shifted power to control development to the hands of municipalities.
“But municipalities aren’t the ones with deep pockets – it’s the other levels of government,” he said.
“A lot of the projects that are now ongoing were not really ‘win-win’ – they really only benefit a few,” Manning said.
“We need development but it can’t be luxury or nothing – that’s been really disappointing.”
Manning acknowledged that some will say the current spate of development in the uptown area has benefited the city through Community Amenity Contributions of some $13 million.
“But you shouldn’t be counting on CACs to balance the budget,” he said. “Increased tax revenues will benefit the city, but what will have been lost is some of the businesses, as well as the sense of home. It’s a trade-off and it’s unfortunate.
“There’s no going back at this point. We need to look forward, but we need to look forward for all of our residents – not just a handful of them. One of the things that has made White Rock very special is the sense of community, but a lot of that’s been eroded. We need to reverse that and find ways to get it back.”