The Revelstoke Mountaineer’s question and answer series with city council candidates covers a wide variety of issues that are likely to be central to the upcoming municipal election on Oct. 20, 2018. The series features verbatim answers written by the candidates themselves. The questions were created by the Mountaineer’s civic affairs reporter Melissa Jameson and former Revelstoke Review editor Alex Cooper.
In this fourth edition of the Mountaineer’s question and answer series with city council candidates we asked council candidates to consider the following:
Rental market housing, and in particular more affordable rental housing, continues to be an issue in Revelstoke. How far do you think the city’s involvement should extend? Should the city continue to be involved in supporting affordable housing initiatives? If so, how? If not, why not?
Here are the responses from the candidates who responded prior to our publication deadline:
Tony Morabito (candidate for council)
I think the City should stay involved supporting the affordable housing initiatives, but should not be directly involved in providing it at taxpayers’ expense. I would instead call on societies and service clubs to step up their recruitment efforts to recruit potential affordable housing proponents and possible qualifying recipients to join their organizations to help raise funds for affordable housing or subsidized housing initiatives. Many good things have been done in the past with co-operative community initiatives and there is no reason with resolve this could not work.
Tim Palmer (candidate for council)
There would be more rental housing available today if the City:
-issued building permits on a timely basis.
-considered regulations to ensure that large development make appropriate contributions for staff housing.
-provided development incentives to encourage affordable rental housing.
-refined DCC bylaw to encourage infill development.
I grew up in subsidized housing and know firsthand the importance of its availability. I also know that Governments are financially inefficient in undertaking construction projects. Whenever possible it is better to have incentives for the private sector to create affordable housing. It is foreseeable, for a variety of reasons, that government subsidized housing will continue to be needed. The City can facilitate acquisition of funding and provide appropriate resources congruent with the communities values. These values are identified in our Integrated Sustainability Plan. Personally, I favour affordable housing that is integrated throughout the community and not isolated in specific areas. This opinion is an outcome of my own experience growing up in government subsidized housing.
Steven Cross (candidate for council)
I believe the city has to be involved – city support is key – but I don’t think ownership is essential. Having worked on this a bit already, I believe there are ways to get this done without the taxpayer owning housing per se.
An outdated OCP is at the root of the challenge here for the current OCP zoning does not support effective affordable rental build out. I am keen to help work on this and I would seek to make an update of the OCP the number one job.
Developer engagement is key. Developers want to build. We need rental units. Lets sit down together and figure out the business model for this to work for everyone. Such a model may need to include DCC credits so our community can solve this pressing problem. This problem is not just about affordable rent; it is also about affordable homes for families and affordable accommodation for seniors.
There is funding available for these things but we can only tap those funds when we have a plan, the land, and the right development proposal to move on. I am keen to work on this to make it happen.
Steve Kent (candidate for council)
The city should definitely continue to be involved in supporting affordable housing initiatives. However, our current approach is not accomplishing enough. Current residents already struggling to make ends meet can’t find a reasonably priced place to live. We have businesses closing or reducing their services because potential staff can’t find housing. Many establishments have a “Help Wanted” sign on the door.
We should further support affordable housing by relaxing our rules and regulations about secondary suites and alternative housing options. People wanting to build carriage houses, secondary suites and tiny homes should be encouraged to do so. The city could also provide tax breaks for people who are willing to build accommodation and enter into a covenant requiring that the unit will always be rented monthly.
Rob Elliot (candidate for council)
Long term rental rates have steadily increased for many years. As Revelstoke’s recreation appeal grows, rental demand will likely follow the same trajectory. In a perfect world, landlords would increase the supply of rental units until fair price equilibrium. Unfortunately, the rental market is not perfect: BC’s Landlord Tenancy Act leans heavily toward tenant protection rather than landlord; cost escalation and financing structures force builders to pursue the higher returns associated with condominium or townhome development. If municipal process and bylaw variations are included in the discussion (and we change little else), Revelstoke won’t see an increase in rental specific properties (apts.) anytime soon.
Recognizing rental affordability as a supply side issue is the first step. My opinion is that municipal government shouldn’t be directly involved in rental housing. It should however, recognize its influence on construction costs and project viability. Lower DCCs, property tax reductions and streamlined process are significant options to encourage supply increases. Land contribution or deep discounting might also be considered for non-profit housing agencies.
Peter Humphreys (candidate for council)
Affordable living is the number 1 priority and local government needs to take a leadership role in achieving it. I would support direct incentives, either through tax breaks or DCC exemptions, for developers to build long term rental units. I would continue with an effort to build non-profit units and co-op units but place more emphasis on private builders because they can build them faster. The Mountain View School and the Mt. Begbie school sites are the only vacant large development parcels left and would be excellent locations to build multi story apartment buildings.
Gary Sulz (candidate for mayor)
The City is involved and instrumental in bringing some affordable housing to our community with the designation of land for the Housing Society. The City will continue support this issue with the Housing Society. We need to address housing for those coming to work in the service industry and this may have to be through staff housing projects. Affordable or lower cost housing may need to come in the form of higher density such as suites, apartments, townhomes or carriage homes. We may also need to encourage development to provide this through incentives.
Cody Younker (candidate for council)
The lack of affordable housing in Revelstoke is one of my main priorities that I would begin to address if voted into Council. I believe the city needs to be involved every step of the way in creating more affordable living spaces. I believe we can begin to solve the problem through a variety of ways. These include looking at rezoning specific areas to require all developments to provide a certain percentage of affordable housing. All new medium to large businesses would also be required to provide staff housing or pay a fee (tbd) to the city which would then go 100% towards building more affordable housing. We also need to continue to work as much as possible with all levels of gov’t to get more housing built through grants and funds that are being given out. Lastly, we need to look at making it much easier and less taxing for people who want to build secondary suites for long term rental situations.
Michael Brooks-Hill (candidate for council)
The city needs to do much more to address this urgent need. Yes, the city should continue to support the Revelstoke Community Housing Society as it works to build 21 additional units of housing next to the ambulance station. (Full disclosure, I sit on the board.) But, the city needs to use all of the mechanisms at its disposal in order to keep Revelstoke affordable – especially for the people who call this place home. Any large development, be it residential, commercial or industrial should be required to provide either staff accommodation, or rental market housing. Failing that, they should have to pay a certain percentage of the total cost of the project. (5% being a reasonable number.) Whether the city wishes to have its own housing corporation or not, is a discussion that needs to take place.
Another approach to this problem would be addressed by a complete overhaul of our building code, an update of the OCP, and having discounted DCC rates for affordable housing. Making the process of building easier and less ambiguous would help alleviate the frustrations of both developers and contractors, as well as city staff.
Jackie Rhind (candidate for council)
We cannot continue to treat the symptoms of this issue. I think the city will find that delegating the responsibility of affordable housing will become much easier once it has done its part to update the OCP, update/remove outdated bylaws, and prepare specific development guidelines. With this will come clear definitions for what land is to be devoted to affordable housing, what exactly “affordable” means and who is to regulate that the properties remain as such. Keeping properties and rentals “affordable” requires a lot more than putting a covenant on a lease (or purchase) agreement – this is where the city will have to decide what funds and resources they can commit to the independent association/society that will take on the mandate of enforcing and governing affordable properties.
So to answer the question, yes I think the city needs to be involved in supporting affordable housing initiatives but I think it has to commit to much more than simply approving developments that meet the ‘affordable housing’ criteria. We need a strategic review of the OCP and to have purposeful resources assigned to the Housing Society (or other) to devise and implement a plan that keeps housing affordable for all Revelstoke residents.
Nicole Cherlet (candidate for council)
My husband and I have moved 10 times in our 10 years living in Revelstoke. We’ve lived in Columbia Park, Southside, Catherwood and in the central core. The Big Eddy just never worked out, and Arrow Heights and Johnson Heights seemed unreasonable since we’d need a second vehicle to make it realistic for work.
I say this to show my understanding of the current housing crisis. Over 40% of our community earns less than what is considered a “Living Wage”. That means that affordability is important to a large segment of our voters.
Anything that is important to our citizens should be important to us; the City is the level of government closest to them. So yes, the city should continue to support affordable housing initiatives.
Affordability is a complex issue that involves transit, housing, and food security. All of these issues are currently being tackled by incredible people in our community, but they are being held back by outdated policies and bylaws. Council needs to create the regulatory framework that lets these groups do their work more effectively.