In its budget announced by Finance Minister Carol James on Monday, the provincial government outlined plans to fund rental housing construction, create modular homes for homeless people, and hire more people to deal with the backlog of landlord-tenant disputes.
‘Like trying to bail your boat out with a thimble’
The government allocated $208 million to creating 1,700 rental housing units for low income families and seniors. This would be in addition to existing programs in B.C. operated through non-profit societies.
Trevor Jenkinson, a Nelson realtor and president of the West Kootenay Landlord Association, likes the idea but he’s sceptical.
“Generally that is welcome news. I hope some of it comes to Nelson but I am not overly optimistic. My guess is that it will be in major centres, and some in Kelowna. And $208 million sounds like a lot, but… it is like trying to bail your boat out with a thimble.”
Tom Thomson, executive director of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, thinks the idea is fine as long as it involves partnerships between various levels of government and the private sector, and not simply reliance on tax money.
“The chamber is concerned about affordable housing for people in the workforce,” he said, “and sometimes people with low and moderate incomes are having a tough time getting into the housing market so we have been an advocate for housing initiatives, not just low cost housing, but housing in general, and that will help improve the inventory over all.
“If you can’t find housing stock you can’t try to attract business to a community.”
Jenny Robinson, the executive director of Nelson Cares, a non-profit society that operates low income housing projects in Nelson, says the spending will be very helpful.
“The B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association put out a request for a 10 year plan for the provincial government,” she said, “which we are not seeing in this budget, but what we are seeing is the first initial investment for the first year of that plan. So they are in line with what the housing advocates have been requesting, it’s just not a comprehensive 10 year plan.”
Nelson city councillor Janice Morrison, who has recently taken over as chair of the city’s housing committee, said the city should lobby the province for a meaningful share of the money.
“This is one of the roles city council we can play, to make sure we are putting forward our case as to why some of this has to come to places like Nelson. This coincides perfectly with the Union of BC Municipalities Conference which is two weeks away and we have already made appointments with the people responsible.”
‘Homelessness is not just about being homeless’
James also announced that the government would spend $291 million over two years to build and operate 2,000 modular housing units for homeless people, with full time staffing and support services.
Morrison thinks the support services are the important part.
“It is one thing to give a person a home but if you don’t give them other tools, that project can soon fall apart, so these units will also come with services to improve their whole situation. Homelessness is not just being homeless, there are multiple layers to it. Hire social workers or mental health and addictions people or whatever is required.”
In Nelson, Morrison said, the city might have to make bylaw amendments to allow modular homes to be built here.
Jenkinson said the modular homes proposal would probably have the same Lower Mainland focus as rental housing proposals, but he pointed out that MLA Michelle Mungall is now on the government side.
“It’s good that they are doing this to take the pressure off in some places. I just hope we (in the Kootenays) can get a piece of that pie,” Jenkinson said. “It would be great if our MLA could get up and wave some flags for us in that regard.”
Thomson agreed that having a government MLA is an opportunity, “but in the scheme of things Nelson-Creston is a pin prick in the overall population of the province so I assume a lot of it will get funnelled to the Lower Mainland.”
Mungall was not available for comment.
Thomson reiterated his desire for partnerships between governments and the private sector. He said the city could waive development costs for a developer, or defer them until the project has been completed, then get it back retroactively over the years.
Robinson welcomed the modular housing idea.
“It would be a significant investment, I’m glad to see it, because this has been a point of advocacy around the province. There has not been an increase in this funding since 2008, that is why there is so much activity on streets in many cities in the province. There has been stagnant funding in the area of shelter.”
Backlog of residential dispute claims
The government will provide $7 million to hire 30 people to handle a backlog of claims, investigations and disputes at the Residential Tenancy Branch.
Jenkinson, Robinson, Thomson, and Morrison all agree that’s needed.
“Those things are taking six or eight months to get scheduled in,” Jenkinson said, “and by the time that comes around it is just so late in the process that people don’t remember whats going on, people forget to show up, so it is really been a pain. So that is definitely welcome news that they are hiring more people to take care of the backlog.”
Robinson said the NDP’s campaign promise of rent subsidies for low income people did not appear in the budget but, “I am looking forward to discussion about that provincially. Without a subsidy we will see a further erosion of affordability. It is a complex issue.”