Penticton has seen incredible growth over the last five years, far outstripping projections, with an average of 250 new residents per year according to the city.
“How do we manage growth in a way that builds a great community?” asked Penticton mayor Julius Bloomfield who along with city staff spoke to builders, developers and those interested in the future of housing. “We need to work as partners.”
The sold-out ‘Let’s Talk Housing’ presentation was put on by Canadian Home Builders’ Association South Okanagan (CHBASO) at Cannery Brewing Tuesday night.
The group learned that developers are building about 400 units per year in Penticton — which should be more than enough — but the demand is so high that the rental vacancy rate still remains under 0.08 per cent, said city planning manager Blake Laven.
Laven and Anthony Haddad, general manager of community services presented the housing information.
Eighty per cent of new builds are multi-family and 20 per cent single-family homes.
There was a time when Penticton’s population went down around 2015 and 2016, said Laven. That was also around the same time that Penticton re-did its official community plan (OCP). At the time, the focus was on parks and amenities.
Penticton’s OCP is coming up and this time around the focus will be on housing, said Laven.
Laven told the crowd that there is a lot of opportunity for infill in the core and on the valley bottom while there is still plenty of room for hillside developments like the one going on in Columbia Heights and in the future with Wiltse where a mix of over 700 homes are expected.
The city’s bread and butter projects have been duplexes and four-plexes. But higher density housing is on the forecast. The city planners also said they will be looking at removing parking spaces at multi-family in favour of building more units in the downtown core.
“What do we want? More housing or more parking spaces?” asked Laven.
Big projects are coming on like the Timmins Street project, the El Rancho and Villa Rosa redevelopments, as well more growth in North Gateway. The 103-room hotel on Westminster Avenue will open this summer.
But as the city grows so too does the need for more amenities, said Haddad.
To attract more people to the workforce, there has to be affordable housing for them to live here. But the city recognizes there is no profit for builders in that kind of housing.
“So how do we support the workforce in getting housing in Penticton?” asked Laven.
Ellis Don built an affordable rental building on city-owned land on Ellis Street. While the city planners didn’t offer any suggestions, they did mention that maybe the city should look at partnering with developers and look at city-owned land. They also mentioned that one of the biggest developers is BC Housing, which has been buying up land all over Penticton.
Some builders in the crowd said some of the city’s requirements, like the energy efficiency Step Code, drive up the cost of a home furthering the crisis. The city said it’s trying to find ways to break down barriers for builders while also striking a balance for the environment.
Bloomfield, a realtor, said some of those requirements have contributed to top quality building in Penticton.
“Twenty-five years ago, they were trying to build as cheap as they could and it showed,” said Bloomfield.
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