Perhaps one of the most significant challenges most communities face today is housing affordability.
For Penticton, part of our reality is that we are above the provincial average for those persons over the age of 65, above the provincial average for percentage of population on social assistance of some kind and below the provincial average for annual income. These all add to day to day financial stressors making housing difficult and nearly impossible for many to fall within the classification of “affordable” (30 per cent of income going towards housing).
In terms of attracting families, supporting our economic development strategies and being a sustainable community, housing is one of the primary drivers and concerns. We need to provide a broad range of options across the housing spectrum, including market and non-market solutions.
How do we leverage 2018 becoming another year of record development, our partnership successes with B.C. Housing and the National Housing Strategy? Both levels of upper government are committing dollars and initiatives that address housing. Are we ready to receive those dollars?
Last week the city invited industry stakeholders, interested parties and leaders within the development community to a forum to discuss how, as a collective, we can make a difference and move the needle on this issue. On its own, it seems like a daunting task that touches on social and economic factors greater than what our community has the realm of influence to change. Fortunately there’s hope — by working together we can make some inroads.
During the forum, we noticed a lot of networking between the non-profits and the development community. Bringing funders and organizations together who share a common mission of provide housing, and linking them with the development community, was a great first step.
One presentation went through the timelines to get a project funded, approved, built and open. In many cases it took three to five years, which is frustrating as it doesn’t provide immediate relief. One concept raised was around having non-profits work with homeowners to develop their property into a secondary suite or carriage home. Many people have larger lots on which they would consider adding a carriage house but aren’t proficient in construction management or interested in being a landlord. What if the non-profit partnered with the homeowner to help finance, construct and manage the carriage home? It would give the community an opportunity to provide input to address housing and housing affordability.
Another interesting concept was around co-housing which would see private homes clustered around shared spaces such as a gathering room, games room, guest room, workshop, garden, playground, etc. This concept allows for a smaller footprint and therefore lower building costs, maintains privacy and still provides amenity spaces that, because they are shared, also lowers development costs.
These are examples of some of the energy and ideas the forum facilitated. We also have an opportunity to build a sense of community. We have grown into a society that drives into our garage and then walks into our home, cutting out social interaction with our neighbours. Having different housing models that have more people interacting and sharing with one another can be a good thing.
I hope some of these ideas or concepts sparked interest among people that attended the forum and from you as you read this column. We need to rally towards some options that make a collective impact on housing affordability in Penticton.
Government (at all levels) is more receptive when others have skin in the game when asked for funding or participation in a new program or model … which is another reason we need collaboration and partnership from a variety of interested parties.