Affordable housing concerns raised

The City of Penticton has a lot less money in its affordable housing reserve than people might expect.

The City of Penticton has a lot less money in its affordable housing reserve than people might expect.

During a recent public hearing, a local developer stated he had paid $400,000 into the fund, but that turns out not to be the case.

Colin Fisher, the city’s chief financial officer, says he isn’t sure where Tony Vant Geloof of Starline Enterprises got his figures from for the actual amount contributed to the city for their Athens Towers project.

“The total amount was approximately $270,000, of which half went into the reserve for affordable housing in accordance with the policy and bylaw of the day,” said Fisher. “That amount plus one other minor contribution plus investment income makes up the $160K amount of the reserve.”

Developers pay the money to the city as a densification bonus, when their projects exceed a level of units that would put a higher strain on the city’s infrastructure in a small area. Those funds are split in two, with half going to the affordable housing fund, and half to the Amenity Contribution Capital Reserve Fund.

That’s the fund the city drew on when they agreed to loan the PenMar Community Arts Society $125,000 to support their project to rehabilitate and repurpose the PenMar Theatre.

Lynn Kelsey, who works with the South Okanagan Women in Need Society, raised concerns about affordable housing during the public hearing for Starline’s project. She’s disappointed to find the reserve only has $160,000 in it.

Kelsey said she would like to see the full contribution going to the affordable housing reserve, and see it expanded so more developers are contributing.

“It’s an absolutely huge issue. It’s not just affordable, it is affordable and safe housing,” said Kelsey, adding that rents in Penticton are very high, which often forces people into a roommate situation that may not be safe, or they go into substandard housing where they are dealing with rodents and pests, poor insulation and other defects, meaning higher utility costs.

“Or you will find a single mom moving into a motel with her kids,” said Kelsey. “The bottom line is if you don’t have safe housing, you can’t put the rest of your life together well. That’s the base upon which you build anything else.”

Starline will also be paying a bonus to the city for their new project at 3388 Skaha Lake Rd., but Fisher said he doesn’t yet have an estimate of how much it will be, if and when the project proceeds.