Good news on affordable housing

On Monday we announced an exciting partnership between the Government of British Columbia and BC Housing to help Penticton residents in need.  The City signed a memorandum of understanding for the construction of 70 rental housing units. It’s no secret that housing affordability is a challenge in Penticton, and we are not alone in this situation. Many municipalities in BC and Canada are grappling with these issues as we experience unprecedented market demand. Locally we have seen the price of home ownership outpace incomes 4-to-1.

With our rental vacancy rates below 2%, and industry predictions that the South Okanagan will require 1600 rental units by 2036, the announcement will be making significant progress on a tough issue that will make the world of difference for 70 families in Penticton. Penticton’s median income is considerably less than the provincial average; which means it’s tough for people to strike out on their own.  Employers have identified that recruiting and retaining skilled labour is often difficult when candidates compare the cost of living in Penticton, which is one of the reasons why we created an Affordable Community Task Force to help address the issue.

There are significant conversations about affordable housing and its need. In Penticton, improvements to policy now allow carriage houses, secondary suites in duplexes and changes in zoning to allow for greater density in certain areas to help create more affordable housing. The City can’t solve the issue of affordable housing by itself, nor should we; we need to develop partnerships to create solutions.  I want to thank MLA Dan Ashton and Honourable Minister Rich Coleman for sharing our enthusiasm for the partnership. Their commitment to the project is evidence of their leadership and commitment to Penticton, and for that, we thank them.

Typically when we say affordable housing we immediately think of social housing. Our focus has been on housing for families and households struggling to make ends meet. The task force, Council and staff are working towards making our community more affordable which will help families have a chance to save up for a starter home or merely transition from existing to living because their greatest monthly expense (housing) is now more affordable.

The housing project is on Brunswick Street, at the edge of downtown. The project will help to revitalize the commercial area by bringing more people downtown, creating a walkable community close to the beach, parks and amenities.  Part of creating an affordable community is the change of mindset or expectations for households. People in North America think a home needs to be 3,000 square feet; whereas other cultures comfortably make due in much smaller units. If you can create housing near open spaces or amenities you can use public spaces for recreation and social interaction. Have you ever walked through an IKEA showroom? There are lots of cool ways to use a small space. 

According to statistics we should be spending less than 30% of our household income on housing. How many people actually are over-leveraged? While the partnership with the province and BC Housing is a great announcement, we still have work to do with the private sector and other non-profits to help create housing inventory for the myriad of demand our citizens are looking for and can afford.