Candidates make promises on affordable housing

Penticton riding candidates give their thoughts on the housing crunch

Madison Raabis is like many people in the Penticton provincial riding who struggle to find affordable housing.

After three months of searching the 21-year-old finally found a place to rent, with her dog, only to then have her building pegged as a place where criminal element dwell. Then, last week a fatal shooting occurred leaving her and at least one other resident in the building questioning why there aren’t more housing options in the city. Raabis pointed to a small group of residents huddled on curb of the street near the building, who were waiting for RCMP to let them return, as people like herself who struggled to find a place to live in the city.

“There is a woman who has a son that lives with her here, there is a man with a teenage son, a full-time working single dad. There are families here, it’s not a bad building. We are not all criminals, we are not all drug addicts,” said Raabis. “The majority of people have been fighting and fighting hard to make this a safe building. We complain, document everything – like I said there is families and people with pets living here. It’s the rental rate. We are paying $1,000 a month here or more. It’s one bedroom units of 600 square feet because there is no rentals in the city, especially if you have a dog.”

When a listing does pop up, Raabis said she is immediately campaigning against hundreds of others looking to rent.

“I’m looking for a place now and have been having zero luck. I’m 21 years old and have a pit bull, it’s hard enough for me but I know a lady in her 50s looking for a place. She works a full time job, doesn’t party or do drugs and she can’t find one. There is no options for people to rent.”

Green Party candidate Connie Sahlmark said the struggle to find housing is a reality in her life as well. She said even her own son has had to rent a Sea container to keep his belongings and has been couch surfing while trying to find a place to rent.

Sahlmark said the Green platform is looking at spending $750 million per year ton construct 4,000 new units per year. She added municipalities and the provincial government need to work closer on densification and zoning. As well, they need to address the landlords to keep rentals up to code to ensure heating costs are not exorbitant and making sure bylaws are being enforced on vacation rentals.

“Absolutely I would be working closer with the municipality. In our town it is such a severe problem,” she said.

Sahlmark feels because of having gone through the struggle of trying to find affordable housing herself, it puts her in a better position to address it.

“It use to be that you would graduate high school, get a decent paying job and buy a house. It is not like that anymore unless you come from a wealthy family. I feel there is a big disconnect between the affluent and those who are not. I don’t mean to be naming names, but both Tarik and Dan come from very wealthy old families. I don’t know if they can relate to the struggle of finding a place to buy. It is really hard to identify with problems that aren’t your issues and I think that get overlooked a lot with people making our bylaws.”

The Green Party is looking to move the home owners grant to an income based grant so it is fairly distributed to make it more equitable.

They also want to implement a provincial housing plan for affordable rental accommodation. Party leader Andrew Weaver’s platform projects a deficit of $146 million next year and another $71 million in the red for 2019-20.

BCNDP candidate Tarik Sayeed said out of the 10 doors he knocked on, seven of them are bringing housing affordability as one of their main concerns.

“I met a lady who is a nurse and she was at the access centre almost getting evicted and on that note The BC NDP will be reviewing the tenancy act. There are owners evicting people saying the house has to be renovated but turning around and jacking up the rental price which is not right or fair.”

Sayeed points to the B.C. Liberals ignoring the issue for so long as to why it is such a problem now. The BCNDP platform states they will supply 114,000 affordable housing units — a mixture of co-op and partnerships. They also have committed a $400 rental rebate at the beginning of the year. He is adamant some of those housing units the NDP promise will be in Penticton.

“Oh absolutely and the reason I say that is ever since I was nominated John Horgan, not only has been here three times, he is looking at the issues and he heard the issues from the volunteers. I have volunteers going through this very same thing and they are helping because they believe in a BC NDP government,” said Sayeed. “We can make it happen, we must make it happen in Penticton.”

A current City of Penticton council member, Sayeed said he can use it to harness the provincial-municipal relationship.

“It has to be a partnership and also hopefully private developers who want to do it for a greater cause to help Penticton,” said Sayeed.

The soaring housing costs are out of control, said Sayeed because of the Christy Clark led B.C. Liberal government and forcing young people into debt and causing them to move out of Penticton.

That is something that Liberal incumbent candidate Dan Ashton shakes his head at. He said he has a proven track record of moving the area forward in bringing affordable housing, starting when he was a Penticton city councillor and then mayor and chair of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

“In my tenure as MLA, there has been 179 units of affordable housing committed to Penticton. Are they all going to fit the resident (Raabis)? No, but a lot of them are,” said Ashton.

About 70 new housing units are slated to be built in the north-west of the city and Ashton said that is because of a partnership with the city and Liberal government. He said those complement other projects in the past few years that provide accommodations for seniors and those with disabilities.

Ashton said since 2001 the Liberals have invested almost $5-billion into low-cost housing in B.C. He added since that time the government has also created over 24,000 units of affordable housing in the province.

“My competitor is saying they are going to build 114,000 units, but the entire time they were in office they created 6,500 units from 1992 to 2001. Now they are saying they are going to create 114,000 units in the province in 10 years?,” he said. “Do the math. At $179,00 per housing unit, being conservative, that is over $2 billion a year. Where is the money coming from?”

Ashton gave Penticton city council kudos for moving along projects with the provincial government to provide land and work together to get funding to build projects. The Liberals platform says they will continue to work with municipalities to speed up permitting to open new opportunities to housing, expand the renovation tax credit eligibility to accommodate a secondary suite, raise the threshold on the First Time Home Buyers’ Program to save buyers up to $8,000 and invest $700 million to the BC Home partnership program to provide mortgage down payment assistance loans to an estimated 42,000 first-time home buyers over the next three years.

As far as promises that other parties are offering, Ashton said they need to be realistic.

“Does $1 a day make a difference on rental housing? Let’s take a look at the track record. I’m not just promising stuff, I’m delivering it. Four years and 179 units in Penticton, I am very proud of that. Is it enough? To qualify that, is it enough? No, but it is the right step in the right direction.”