Nanaimo byelection candidates aim to tackle affordable housing in the Harbour City through community discussion, requests for provincial funding and scrutiny of city bylaws and bureaucracy that could stand in the way of construction.
Affordable housing is a top initiative of Nanaimo city council, which moved ahead this year with work on the municipality’s first-ever strategy on the issue.
More than half of local renters spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, the limit set by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation for whether housing can be considered affordable, according to the City of Nanaimo. It also reports that one out of four renters spend more than half their income on housing costs.
The strategy, expected to cost $150,000 and take 15 months to complete, will look at housing across the continuum, from emergency shelters to rentals and home ownership, and will help set priorities for the city over the next decade, a city report shows.
But Fred Statham, candidate, would prefer that money be used for building homes.
“That $150,000 could be used for a heck of a lot more constructive ways than research,” he said. “It could go into renovating old buildings for social low-income housing, basically getting the people – the poor and homeless that are quote-unquote ‘becoming a nuisance’ downtown and affecting the businesses’ ability to do business – get them homes.”
Statham said Nanaimo needs a housing-first policy which would have the flexibility to meet the needs of the community.
The first thing Statham would do if elected is invite Ted Clugston, mayor of Medicine Hat, Alta., to Nanaimo to tour the city and host a town hall meeting, claiming that city was the first to implement a successful housing-first policy in Canada and that Clugston could give Nanaimo ideas. He also pointed to the need to get federal money for housing in Nanaimo, even if it means going to Ottawa himself on his own dime to meet Minister of Finance Bill Morneau.
What concerns candidate Kevin Storrie about the affordable housing strategy is that the city has gone ahead with another study, which he said isn’t needed.
“We all know what the problem is, we need to get to work on it,” he said.
If elected, he would contact the new B.C. minister of housing to find out how to get immediate funds for affordable housing and housing for the homeless. He said more affordable housing projects need to get underway; it’s a crisis that has to be dealt with and that can be done by co-operating with senior levels of government. The city could put up the land, get money from the province, find groups as it has in the past that are willing to sponsor the projects, or council could become directly involved in building, according to Storrie.
“We can’t keep going on 1980 philosophy where people say, well it’s a provincial concern. It’s not anymore. It’s everybody’s concern.”
Candidate Sacia Burton said she’s pleased to see council moving forward with the affordable housing strategy in consultation with the community. Reaching out to and hearing from people who are directly affected, consulting renters, homeowners and developers and getting people in the same room together, having those conversations and bringing the results to decisions is an important role of council, she said. She would love to see zoning options for tiny and micro homes and carriage houses come out of the strategy, Burton said.
“I would be really interested in participating in the affordable housing strategy and all the consultations and really just making sure that people who are most affected by this issue and are most impacted by affordable housing have every opportunity to voice their concerns and voice their ideas,” she said.
Burton, who says affordable and adequate housing is a big issue in Nanaimo, would also bring her experience as a young person renting in the city for the last six years to bear on council.
Noah Routley, candidate, hopes to see out of the strategy a renewed focus on making affordable housing a priority as far as property development, selling and land swaps. He said Nanaimo definitely needs more affordable housing and one of the first things he would do if elected would be to take a close look at city bylaws and bureaucracy that could be getting in the way of building affordable housing. Important is balancing structural safety concerns with the fact more affordable housing is needed, he said.
“A city councillor can do their best to make things flow smoothly with the bylaws, with letting the whole bureaucratic process flow smoothly, but also advocate to the provincial government local needs right in our community,” said Routley, who also believes the need for more low-barrier housing has to be looked at and research shows housing first strategies work. He considers funding housing the role of the provincial government.
There could be out-of-the-box thinking as far as incentives to developers or non-profit that could make affordable housing for families a reality as well, he said.
Leon Cake, candidate, declined a request for an interview.
This is the second of a three-part series on political issues in the community and views of byelection candidates. For more byelection coverage, visit www.nanaimobulletin.com/tag/byelection2017.