Preliminary results of affordable housing survey point to financial struggle: city official

Some people were greater than 50 per cent, Watt said, making it one of the biggest findings of the survey.
Some people were greater than 50 per cent, Watt said, making it one of the biggest findings of the survey.

Over half of the people who took part in an affordable housing survey in the city in January spend nearly half of their monthly income on their accommodations, a city development and engineering department technologist says.

Graham Watt revealed some of the preliminary results of the City of Grand Forks’ Affordable Housing Survey in a city council meeting Jan. 30, including the fact that 54 per cent of the survey respondents spend between 30 to 50 per cent of their monthly income on housing.

Some people were greater than 50 per cent, Watt said, making it one of the biggest findings of the survey.

“There is a large proportion of people in the community that find obtaining a home to be challenging within their income,” he said.

Seniors on fixed income commonly pay over half of their pension for rent or mortgage, Watt added.

Although a lot of people still live in single-family dwellings, the survey found people are looking for smaller homes, tiny homes, townhouses and “garden” homes in order to help maintain affordability.

“People are interested in a range of housing stock so they can meet their needs,” Watt said. “But the number one issue with people is cost in terms of affordability for rentals. People find it very difficult to find an affordable home, or finding a place that accepts pets.”

People who have pets in Grand Forks have a great degree of difficulty finding a place to rent, he added.

The city’s development department constructed a short, “high impact” survey on affordable housing using Google forms and released it in January, looking for a “quick flash of perspectives to create options,” said Watt. A paper version was also printed for pick-up at City Hall.

It received 111 individual web-based responses, with 16 paper ones handed in at City Hall. Over half of the respondents were “long time” residents, with three quarters of the people owning their own home and one quarter renting.

Respondents were a “mixed” group from people under 25 to a good split with other age groups, said Watt, and quite a few from larger families and some two-person households. The survey did not go into a lot of detail over demographics in regards to income and other figures, he noted.

The survey explored questions such as what people considered affordable, what they preferred to live in if it was available, and how much of their monthly income went to housing.

“So basically it was about what kinds of issues are people facing in housing affordability and do they need to down size or upsize for it to be suitable for their family,” Watt said.

Many people were in favour of an increase in the stock of affordable housing in the city, and maintaining the affordable and market rental housing, and they thought it was something the city could undertake with policy, he explained.

Coun. Colleen Ross hoped the city could advance a policy sooner rather than later.

“Before it becomes a crisis it would be great if Grand Forks can take the lead on affordable housing,” she said.

Coun. Julia Butler asked what the next steps were and what recommendations council might see in the future arising from the survey.

“We have identified the need to have some stakeholders and experts sit down and discuss the issues,” said Watt.

What is being proposed is a panel workshop/public session on:

  • policy options (Official Community Plan, zoning, city policies);
  • what small home form and character might look like in the city; and
  • affordable housing business models — what forms of assistance and subsidies make the most sense?

“Those are questions we need more information on before we can make any recommendations,” Watt said. “(We) want to dig in with experts and stakeholders and see what are some of the policy options that really work in the broader affordable housing community. That’s where the conversation goes next.”

When council adopts affordable housing policy statements it will be integrated into an Official Community Plan, said city chief administrative officer Doug Allin, but it could take a few years before that happens.

“We just can’t bring forward a simple solution to this as a quick band-aid,” he said. “It will be some time but we have to make sure we build it right and have all of the components addressed.”

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