Jessica Curran is a child of affordable housing.
She grew up with a single parent living in a low-income unit in Edmonton, and even then she was aware of what her living situation meant to her family.
“I was really grateful that I had a safe place instead of being bumped around or moving, which a lot of my friends because they’re in rentals happens,” said Curran. “The experience was clean and it was safe and it was my home for 19 years, because I had a single parent and that’s what you do.”
Curran was one of seven speakers at a panel on affordable housing held at Nelson United Church on Wednesday night. The event was part of Homelessness Action Week, which was organized by the Nelson Committee on Homelessness.
The panel was diverse. It featured city councillor Janice Morrison, the city’s manager of development services Pam Mierau, Nelson CARES executive director Jenny Robinson, Selkirk College president Angus Graeme, West Creek Developments owner Pat Davis, Ready to Rent B.C. executive director Kristi Rivait and Curran, who owns Primary Choice Homes.
Curran’s business is in rent-to-own development, which means that rental payments partially go into a down payment that ideally is ready to be paid within two years. She said there is often a gap between a person’s vision for a home and their ability to pay for that vision.
“When I was starting the business and doing rent-to-own, I had people who were like, ‘I can’t be in this house, I’m expecting granite counter tops.’ And I would just be like, wow, I’m in my inlaws basement right now,” she said.
“So it’s this different quality of values. I deal a lot with people who have three vehicles, and four ATVs, and two boats and they can’t buy a house because they are totally overextended. It’s often a reality check and it’s painful.”
Curran’s message to her clients is often that they aren’t buying a dream home. Instead she asks them to consider what they need versus what they want.
It’s a lifestyle Curran doesn’t just preach. Her four-bedroom house, she said, currently includes her husband, two children, a cousin, her father and a student. She joked it’s a lot of people able to do dishes.
“I’ve got an old truck. But I’ve got a house,” she said. “It’s so easy to dispose and get credit and get caught in that cycle that to actually get into something of value, as a home might be an investment, it takes a total mind shift and value change and a total makeover of achieving real wealth I should say, something that’s actually tangible than a depreciating asset and can be held onto for a long time.”
Each speaker brought a different perspective to the talk.
Morrison spoke about the recent Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention in Victoria, where she said affordable housing was a main topic of discussion. It was there Morrison said she learned B.C. has more ongoing housing development than should be needed for the population, but that foreign investment is making those homes unattainable.
Mierau updated the audience on what the city has accomplished so far with its housing strategy, which includes changes to residential zoning and short-term housing regulations. She also said the city is working with Small Housing B.C. to develop pre-approved designs for laneway housing that could be built locally.
At Selkirk College, Graeme spoke about the effect housing has on learning success. The college, according to Graeme, has a waitlist for housing at the Tenth Street Campus residence. He added lack of housing is beginning to negatively impact enrollment and the college’s ability to hire faculty.
Davis, who specializes in multi-family housing, talked about the difficulty in convincing people to rent when selling homes is more lucrative for owners.
He also warned of proposed federal changes to passive investments, which include rental suites, that would increase taxation on owners and eventually further cut down vacancy rates.
Nelson’s vacancy rate was last measured in the summer at 0.07 per cent.
Rivait, who is from the West Kootenay originally and travelled from Victoria for the talk, told the crowd that increasing rental stock needs to be a priority and added information about the services Ready to Rent B.C. offers to landlords and tenants.
Finally Robinson touched on the historical link between federal policies and the lack of housing, Canada’s culture of home ownership and a B.C. Housing plan to end subsidies that allow non-profits such as Nelson CARES to charge tenants low rental rates.
Ann Harvey, the event’s organizer, said she wanted those in attendance to leave having heard information they may not have previously considered.
“I think it was important that we all heard each other and heard people’s ideas as well, because I think there were a lot of ‘ah-hahs’ this evening about ways to move forward,” she said. “Understanding that it’s a complex problem, but I think there were a few nuggets planted. Hopefully it’s a conversation we can continue in this community.”