To say that finding a place to live in Nelson is a challenge is an understatement. I recently had a conversation with a resident who listed a Nelson home for rent. The response was overwhelming. More than 20 families contacted him before he stopped taking calls. He said people who called were frustrated and desperate to find rental accommodation, some even offering to pay more rent than he was asking.
Nelson has a critical shortage of rental housing. In another conversation with a local realtor I was told the resale housing market is also very active with more buyers than sellers: “Nelson’s housing market is hot.” At the recent local government conference in Kimberley I spoke with a representative from BC Assessment. They monitor house sales and property values for taxation purposes. He indicated the Nelson resale housing market is “very competitive” with recent examples of homes selling for over asking price.
What this means for people who have the greatest challenge finding affordable and suitable housing in Nelson — and I am talking about young working adults, persons with disabilities, fixed income seniors, low-income single parent families, persons with mental health or addiction issues — is that the prospect of a place to live is next to impossible.
Using Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s definition, housing is considered unaffordable if a household spends 30 per cent or more of its gross income on shelter cost. Households spending more than 50 per cent of gross income on shelter are considered to be “in deep core need.”
Nelson has a housing committee comprised of representatives from our communities, housing providers, landlords society, Social Planning Action Network, Nelson’s Committee on Homelessness, industry professionals including realtors, property managers, regional housing representatives, building contractors, architects and developers. Working together to facilitate long-term planning for affordable housing we have done a great job of networking and identifying Nelson’s needs but have failed to find a way to expand Nelson’s stock of affordable housing to match the need.
The city has advertised for expressions of interest from developers to take a look at our youth centre’s preliminary plans which could see affordable modestly sized apartments built on the roof of this city-owned building. We have not had any response. While the city isn’t in the business of building or owning affordable housing we can and must aggressively explore opportunities to facilitate lower cost housing projects through grants, partnerships, collaboration with non-profit housing providers and be prepared to reduce city-levied fees associated with the construction of new projects.
On a brighter note BC Housing has called for expressions of interest to partner with municipalities, non-profit housing providers, community groups and the private sector to facilitate the creation of affordable rental housing for low to moderate-income households in communities across BC. A promised investment of $355 million over five years is the largest single housing investment in BC’s history. A number of shovel ready projects in Nelson will be vying for these funds.
Nelson has an affordable housing strategy which can be found at bit.ly/HousingStrategy. The list of strategies includes increasing density through supporting and encouraging secondary suites, infill housing, detached secondary dwellings and laneway homes. The city is open to supporting large single-detached homes being converted into duplexes or multiple dwellings while retaining character and original construction features.
We have some examples of this in town already. The time is right for diversifying Nelson’s housing stock through alternative housing forms such as shipping containers, live-work studios, or pocket neighbourhoods with a cluster of small homes. I am sure in this time of great need for affordable housing council would be open to working with developers and architects willing to introduce demonstration projects. I for one would be willing to entertain amendments to the zoning bylaw and streamline the approval process for such projects.
I want to live in a community that recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Which means no one is left without access to safe affordable housing. I want to hear from you, what more might the city do to foster innovative made-in-Nelson housing solutions?
Nelson city councillor Michael Dailly chairs Nelson’s housing committee. He shares this space each week with his council colleagues.