COLUMN: Burden of a growing city

Surrey must work on managing growth, maintaining services

One of the toughest purchases for most people these days is that of a home – particularly if they are just getting started in the housing market.

Housing prices have been on a mostly-upward trajectory since the late 1990s. Even since the 2008 economic downturn, they have barely paused in their relentless advance.

Surrey has been one of the most popular places to look for a new, (relatively) low-cost home. Many of these are townhouses or apartments – single-family housing is not nearly as dominant as it once was. Indeed, there is no such thing, as virtually every single-family home being built has enough room for one or more suites to be added.

While housing prices in Surrey are considerably lower than in Vancouver, a recent study shows that the city adds a substantial sum to the cost of each home with its development cost charges and other fees.

For a sample 22-townhouse development, that additional fee is more than $700,000. That means city requirements add more than $33,000 to the cost of a home.

As the study, prepared by Simon Fraser University’s urban studies program, points out, Surrey has some good reasons to demand the charges. Growth does not come cheaply. Water, sewer and roads must be added. There are additional traffic challenges. There are added pressures on transit, schools, police and fire services, as well as other city services, such as libraries, recreation centres, parks, ice rinks and pools.

“We understand there’s a need to have development charges to pay for growth. What we really care about are the delays and inconsistent application of rules across cities and even within cities,” said Bob de Wit, president of Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association, which helped commission the study, called Getting to Groundbreaking.

Surrey has been taking a good portion of regional growth, with other fast-growing areas being Vancouver, Burnaby, Langley Township and Coquitlam. In the recent municipal elections, it became obvious that the pressures of growth are being felt in almost every Lower Mainland community, to a greater or lesser extent.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation says about 30,000 new households are being formed in the Lower Mainland each year. This growth comes from immigration and inter-provincial migration, as well as young people leaving parental homes to set up their own households.

Growth is certain to continue in Surrey at a fast pace, given that there remains a large supply of developable land in Surrey – something that is becoming scarce in many other Lower Mainland communities.

However, even with the hefty development cost charges, many city services are having a tough time keeping up.

Perhaps the most obvious example is policing, where Surrey RCMP are clearly understaffed and not able to take on the additional workloads that come from more residents. Mayor Linda Hepner has pledged that 100 new RCMP officers will be hired, but by the time they are here, there will be a need for more.

Growth is also felt in hospitals and schools, both of which are dependent on the provincial government for capital funding. While there have been many improvements to Surrey Memorial Hospital, it is not easily positioned to handle Surrey’s current population, let alone new arrivals.

School capital funding was significant for a number of years, but has been more restricted in the past two years. Yet school children continue to arrive on the doorsteps of local schools, some of which are quite significantly overcrowded.

The study makes the excellent point that there needs to be consistency in the application of rules by each city, and more consistency across the region. Surrey generally gets reasonable marks from many developers, but there is room for improvement.

The challenge facing cities like Surrey is to manage growth so that existing services are maintained for those who live in Surrey now. That isn’t easy to do, and given the continuing pressure for new homes, it won’t be easy any time soon.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The volume of visitors to White Rock’s Marine Drive over the weekend has led council to consider special measures this week. (Aaron Hinks photo)
White Rock council rejects resident-only parking for waterfront

Other health and safety measures to be considered in a special meeting Wednesday

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Vehicles line up for the Greater Vancouver Drive-Thru Food Truck Festival at the Chilliwack Coliseum parking lot on March 27. The touring event comes to Cloverdale this weekend, April 24-25 (Photo: Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress)
Here are the food trucks coming to Cloverdale for a drive-thru festival this weekend

Nine trucks will be parked Saturday, nine Sunday during event at fairgrounds

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Parts of Surrey, North Delta to get AstraZeneca vaccines for people ages 40+

A total of seven communities in Surrey and Delta will be targeted

The Braidwood Band performs for the seniors at Zion Park Manor in Surrey, as part of a music program planned by Rick’s Heart Foundation. (submitted photo)
VIDEO: Surrey charity brings distanced concerts to care homes, with prop pink firetruck

Familiar tunes performed for seniors during pandemic-era ‘Heart for Music’ program

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

A man has died after being shot at Coquitlam’s Town Centre Park the evening of Monday, April 19. (Twitter/IHIT)
1 man dead after shooting at Coquitlam park: IHIT

The gunman is still at large, according to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

Most Read