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High number of people in ‘unaffordable’ homes in regional district notes draft housing action plan

The Nelson Daily Sports
By The Nelson Daily Sports
June 7th, 2023

Although very few households in the regional district are in unsuitable homes, a draft housing action plan has revealed more than 17 per cent of households are in an unaffordable home.

The draft Regional District Central Kootenay (RDCK) Housing Action Plan (HAP) — including proposed recommendations and implementation framework — was delivered to the board of directors recently for initial approval.

The most “concerning” housing need indicator across the RDCK in the plan was affordability.

“CERB payments and a Provincial rent freeze during COVID-19 likely had a large impact on the affordability metric,” the staff report to the board on May 18 read.

“Neither policy intervention is still in place nor does anecdotal data indicate that perceived affordability has not improved across the RDCK.”

And the population in the regional district’s rural areas is growing, bringing with it a need for affordable housing. Between 2016 and 2021, the population of the RDCK increased by five per cent to 62,515 residents. Projections anticipate the population will continue to grow to nearly 65,000 residents by 2031 — almost entirely driven by increases in the population aged 65 and older.

“There is evidence that housing is a barrier to attracting a labour force,” the report noted. “Employers are having a difficult time staffing positions due to a lack of affordable housing options for prospective employees.”

The housing action plan seeks to improve those barriers.

The key findings of the housing action plan are provided in the draft report, including a summary of the action plan. Some of the actions include strengthening regional coordination and partnership with other levels of government, and facilitating information sharing and engaging local stakeholders.

Other broader actions include identifying and acquiring land for affordable housing, as well as coordinating housing provision within existing or planning service areas.

For the “next steps” in the plan, a prioritized work plan for how the RDCK could implement the plan’s action items will be drafted and brought back to a future regional board meeting for consideration.

Unaffordable

Statistics Canada collects information on three housing indicators through the Census: affordability; adequacy; and suitability.

• A home is unaffordable if the household spends more than 30per cent of its income on shelter cost;

• A home is inadequate if the physical dwelling needs major repairs; and

• A home is unsuitable if it does not have enough bedrooms for the number and composition of residents, according to the National Occupancy Standard.

“Safe, affordable, and inclusive housing is vital to societal, economic, and individual health and well-being of Central Kootenay communities and residents,” the housing action plan read.

Source: Statistics Canada

Getting here

In the spring of 2022 the RDCK received a grant ($25,000) from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) to prepare a housing action plan for the region’s 11 rural electoral areas. The plan is based on the needs as identified in the regional housing needs assessment.

Taking action

The RDCK’s housing action plan was designed to “identify practical, realistic, and achievable actions that consider the unique position and authority of the regional district and to help address need for affordable, accessible, and inclusive housing.”

Each action is identified as a low, medium, or high-impact action.

These are defined as follows:  

Regional growth strategy (RGS) — high

Develop an RGS to inform decision-making for future growth and development and encourage coordination across municipalities.

By pairing the RGS with a land acquisition and disposal strategy and a public land inventory, the regional district can support affordable housing development in a purposeful manner that ensures prudent and effective financial investments.

Regional policy and process review — high

Convene regional governments to conduct a review of development approvals processes and systems to identify opportunities for coordination of regional and municipal processes, implementation of servicing efficiencies, and reduction in development timelines.

This could also include a review of potential incentive packages to encourage purpose-built rental and affordable housing across the region.

Region-wide monitoring and evaluation system — moderate

Work with municipalities to create a system of tracking and sharing progress on affordable housing development goals. Include metrics such as:

• Number of affordable units built across the region;

• Number of different housing typologies built, including purpose-built rental, below market rental, deep subsidy, supportive, etc.; and

• Number of projects built with municipal and regional support.

Regional housing service bylaw — moderate

Explore community support and feasibility of a regional service to support affordable housing.

Across the province, multiple regional districts have added housing to their suite of services, increasing taxation to provide housing supports and capital.

With an annual financial contribution, RDCK could reduce barriers to the development and operations of affordable housing across the region through:

• The provision of seed funding for housing organizations to help kick-start development projects;

• Capital contributions to affordable housing development projects including renovations and maintenance of affordable rental housing; and

• Capital to assist in the acquisition and disposal of land suitable for affordable housing.

Regional housing advocacy strategy — moderate

Identify funding at different levels of government and coordinate a regional housing advocacy strategy.

Consider alignment with provincial and federal housing policy to approach higher levels of senior government for additional resources and support.

Update and maintain housing need reports — moderate

Continue to update, maintain, and share regional housing needs data and information to support the development of housing that is informed by and responsive to community needs.

Collaborate on funding and resource development efforts — moderate

Maintain staff awareness of senior government funding programs and identify opportunities to develop joint funding proposals with community stakeholders and other levels of government for affordable housing projects and support services.

Permit and development fee discounts and waivers — low

Formalize the provision of regional district permit and development fee discounts or waivers for affordable housing developments.

Review of underutilized land holdings — moderate/high

Identify surplus or out-of-use buildings and/or community spaces in central areas for renovation or redevelopment that could support increased residential supply.

Inventory of publicly-owned land, suitable for affordable housing development — moderate/high

Identify municipal and regional district-owned sites which are appropriate for affordable housing. Include sites that could be developed in partnership with not-for-profit organizations.

Land acquisition and disposal strategy

Develop an affordable housing land acquisition and disposal strategy to support increased land available for affordable housing. Include:

• annual affordable housing land needs;

• estimated land costs;

• location selection criteria;

• land disposal criteria aligned with housing needs and long-term objectives; and

• provision of preferential land development opportunities to mission-driven, not-for-profit housing entities or other local housing proponents.

Growth management planning — high

In the absence of a full regional growth strategy the regional district can still identify key areas for targeted residential growth in rural areas.

Consider:

• co-location of housing with social and physical infrastructure;

• a diversity of housing options in growth areas close to amenities, services, and transportation networks; and

• alignment of long-term water and sewer servicing requirements with housing needs and long-term objectives.

Source: May 18 RDCK board agenda

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