Four candidates who say working with developers is the best way make housing more affordable - InfoNews

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Four candidates who say working with developers is the best way make housing more affordable

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October 17, 2018 - 9:18 PM

VERNON - The high cost of housing is a hot topic this Vernon municipal election but luckily there are diverging opinions on how best to help the situation.

As part of our election coverage iNFOnews.ca sent out a questionnaire to all those running for Vernon city council. Our goal was to help voters get to know the candidates better and where they stand on important community issues.

We asked this question: What can council do to make housing more affordable?

Candidates generally fit into four different categories: Build density in existing neighbourhoods, work with developers, build a better economy and ask for help, then a few others. 

Below is an excerpt of their comments and full responses are available at the bottom of the page.

Five candidates who say find ways to densify:

Victor Cumming
Victor Cumming
Image Credit: Facebook

Victor Cumming (for mayor): The relatively high cost of the spread-out infrastructure limits the City’s flexibility to directly contribute to the entry level housing within the current tax base and rates. As infill takes place along these infrastructure corridors, and modest increases in density in built areas, the City’s financial flexibility will improve enabling it to increase its contribution to addressing these types of critical issues facing the community.

Dave Deshane: Higher density in the downtown core and decreased city fees. DCCs and other fees should be decreased. Maybe if we eliminated one of the city council’s and decreased the management of the three (3) jurisdictions that make up Greater Vernon we could have more money and better overall planning.

Teresa Durning: Continue following of the OCP using property for high density housing creating more suitable inventory. There are also new housing projects coming, but that process isn’t quick. We need to work as a municipality, continue to be diligent about processing permits and zoning with reasonable wait times. I do believe that again, the most important role I as a councillor can play, is being a voice for the citizens at a provincial level.

Gordon Leighton: Promote in-fill as a preferred development strategy over new suburban or fringe development. Reducing development cost charges for in-fill projects can be a good incentive. Removing unjustified restrictions is an additional option to promote in-fill.
Relax or completely redefine zoning in single family residential areas to allow construction of duplexes. This strategy was recently implemented in Vancouver.

Shawn Lee
Shawn Lee
Image Credit: Facebook

Shawn Lee: Council can use the approval development applications to encourage a mix of housing types and price ranges. Council can encourage affordability by the approval of infill projects such as subdivision of large lots in established neighbourhoods, the construction of “carriage houses” either for rental or purchase. If done well they enhance their neighbourhoods.

?Work with developers
Kevin Lepp: 
My vision is to see us support mixed use residential and commercial projects in the downtown core.  The former Legion sight was to be slated for this type of project but appears to be at a standstill. We need to work with developers and find ways to streamline our process within the City to further invite solid development concepts to town.  We can foster the development of both affordable housing and rental projects for the city.

Kari Gares: The only way for local municipalities to adjust for these market changes is by reducing the “red tape”.  Allow for builders and developers to get their projects from conception to permit stage faster. Look at ways to reduce costs (whether in DCC charges or permit costs) for the builder as these costs are almost always transferred to the consumer, thus making house prices higher. They can also look for rezoning applications that allow for high-density, mixed-use buildings that can help increase inventory in this market – which is typical in condo/townhome projects.

Jasmine Finlay: Vernon is the fifth fastest growing community in the province with a population over 25 thousand and many people are dealing with the impact of a lack of affordable housing. Cities need to make sure they are an attractive place to build, especially rental units, and I think Vernon is doing fairly well in that department.
Beyond that, as I mentioned earlier, we need to offer more flexible housing options like tiny houses etc. Improving bylaws can have a lot more impact than many people realize.

Dalvir Nahal: I believe in today's market it is imperative for the city to work with our local builders and developers to offer some sort of tax incentives. Over the last few months I have been meeting with many stakeholders to see what the city can do on its part to bring developers to the table. Over the last year both the federal and provincial government have also taken initiatives and introduced incentives to encourage municipal stakeholders to come together and partner on creating more affordable housing.

Build the economy and the rest will come

Jamie Morrow: With more people living downtown, our downtown would see an increase in local customer traffic. This increased traffic will be profitable for businesses and they would employ more people. This will create an environment where more businesses will want to be located downtown. This will bring more people to shop, eat and have coffee downtown. Now we will see more life downtown. Restaurants, Bistro’s and Coffee Houses would be open later which in turn brings more people downtown. This will also lead to a more safe and secure downtown.

Darrin Taylor (for mayor): Instead of trying to force down housing costs, I am inclined to look at ways we can help young families get ahead and increase their disposable income. As mayor, I will work hard to bring investment to Vernon. Employers providing well paying, stable jobs will be what allows us to retain young families and ensure a thriving vibrant city for the next generation. Vernon is uniquely positioned to attract employers from the lower mainland and across western Canada.

Sherrilee Franks: As someone who works in the housing industry, I see affordable housing concerns at every level. Municipalities have limited ability to create affordable housing. Kevin Poole does a fantastic job at economic development. As a Councillor I would be open to continued development. I actively participate in provincial level conversation, seminars and educational committees in which affordable housing is discussed at length and will continue to do my part in combatting this situation.

Don Jefcoat: The only honest answer is not going to win votes.  Hopefully people will see this answer and go here is a guy who tells the truth even if people don't want to hear it and votes for me. Council can do nothing to make housing more affordable. All we can do is make policy decisions that make Vernon attractable to developers of affordable housing. We can make sure city amenities are what investors are looking for.  We already have a subsidy for some affordable housing options we can look at how we can reduce red tape to get shovels in the ground faster.

Get help

Kelly Fehr: Continue supporting the strong relationship that the City of Vernon has formed with the provincial government. We have had several provincially funded housing options announced in Vernon over the last year and will be seeing roughly 130 new units coming to Vernon. We are making steps in the right direction. This fall the Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy will be accepting applications/proposals from communities across Canada. We must be ready to submit our Vernon application.

Dawn Tucker: We can continue to build on what is already occurring and meet this challenge with progressive ideas.  We need to continue to strengthen and support our nonprofits in garnering B.C. Housing funding from the Provincial Government. We also need to work in partnership with our nonprofits and get our city designated to receive federal Housing First funding. As a city we need to embrace different types of housing and update our zoning to allow and encourage new builds in the areas of micro apartments, laneway housing, carriage houses etc...

Something different

Terry Vulcano: Prepare and develop plans for zoning that does not require parking or the use of automobiles to reach residences. A large portion of costs is in allocation of land for street travel and parking. Owning and operating a vehicle is a large expense.  Residences designed without the need of vehicles will go a long way to making housing affordable.

Sam Zaharia: Retrofit our neighbourhood while we still can. Smart re-developers have contributed tremendously to the stock of appropriate and affordable bachelor suites, all while maintaining the character of the surrounding neighbourhoods. Obtrusive trophy homes, on the other hand, create a hierarchy of social status and pit new neighbours against the old neighbourhood. Gentrification attempts to impose equanimity. What about those of us with no desire to climb your social ladder? Peace cannot be kept by force. Why is a homogenous middle class the apparent goal in a city that claims to be inclusive?

Rick Lavin: This is an area where council can make a significant impact.  There are simply not enough units available in our community which is causing sharp increases in the cost to rent or buy a home.  Council can make it a priority to ensure that there is an appropriate balance of units for purchase and units for rent. Building permits can be expedited for projects that demonstrate they are addressing shortages and have balanced representation.  Council can ensure that Zoning encourages new projects and can support variances when doing so will directly impact the availability and cost of housing.

Full responses

Victor Cumming: Many desirable cities and towns in the Province are facing the same challenge of attainable housing for those in the bottom 60%.

The City needs to work directly with the Federal and Provincial governments to access capital to support building social housing for those with the highest need. The City, in conjunction with housing agencies, can engage private developers as partners in building affordable homes for individuals and families. The City will continue to successfully partner with non-profit agencies who have been at the forefront of providing housing to our most marginalized citizens. The Rental Housing Incentive Grant Program to cover development cost charges and other upfront expenses for not-for-profit housing needs to be expanded. Other cities have had some success in reducing the number of people living on the street and we have to learn from their practices and continue to take prompt action involving our partners.

The City will benefit from rethinking planning guidelines, development regulations and approval processes to ensure the cost of development is not an impediment to building attainable housing. In critical situations the City will need to get directly involved as a current land owner, service provider and guiding institution to create and ensure there is housing for those with modest incomes. At times this may mean trading or selling existing land assets to obtain land for entry level housing developments. Council needs to continue the practice of quickly approving zoning and variance permits for lower cost housing where these adjustments are required. Continue to require affordable units to be build in developments where the City has an ownership stake, e.g. McMechan Reservoir Lands.

The relatively high cost of the spread-out infrastructure limits the City’s flexibility to directly contribute to the entry level housing within the current tax base and rates. As infill takes place along these infrastructure corridors, and modest increases in density in built areas, the City’s financial flexibility will improve enabling it to increase its contribution to addressing these types of critical issues facing the community.

Dave Deshane: Higher density in the downtown core and decreased city fees. DCCs and other fees should be decreased. Maybe if we eliminated one of the city council’s and decreased the management of the three (3) jurisdictions that make up Greater Vernon we could have more money and better overall planning.

Teresa Durning: Continue following of the OCP using property for high density housing creating more suitable inventory. There are also new housing projects coming, but that process isn’t quick. We need to work as a municipality, continue to be diligent about processing permits and zoning with reasonable wait times. I do believe that again, the most important role I as a councillor can play, is being a voice for the citizens at a provincial level.

Kelly Fehr: The high cost of housing and low vacancy rates in Vernon have a substantial impact on recruiting and retaining employees for our business community. Vernon is not able to attract new businesses to Vernon when potential employees cannot find housing specifically, housing that is affordable, within most entry level positions.

The high cost of housing places low and middle-income families in jeopardy. Healthy food and extracurricular activities for children quickly disappear when most of one’s income is allocated to housing. Our housing crises cripples the growth and equal opportunities for our children.

Our low vacancy rates, specifically, place women and children in danger. As wage inequality still exists woman are frequently forced to stay in unhealthy environments to support their children and themselves.

Homelessness rates are growing across the country and Vernon is no exception. As the cost of rent, food, insurance and utilities rise; citizens are increasingly struggling to get out of debt. Once people lose their housing it is extremely hard to be rehoused when so many are competing for the few available rental units Vernon has.

When our neighbours struggle to support their families, get out of debt and maintain safe and affordable housing it increases the costs for us all. Furthermore, health services, municipal services, RCMP and court costs all increase as do health issues and substance misuse. Council must make affordable housing a priority. Affordable housing is not just a political issue is a humane community issue.

In working to address Vernon’s affordable housing crisis council can:

Continue supporting the strong relationship that the City of Vernon has formed with the provincial government. We have had several provincially funded housing options announced in Vernon over the last year and will be seeing roughly 130 new units coming to Vernon. We are making steps in the right direction.

This fall the Federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy will be accepting applications/proposals from communities across Canada. We must be ready to submit our Vernon application.

Support stakeholders in establishing a centralized housing list which assesses applicant vulnerability/needs and places them in the appropriate housing and or program I.e. housing, supported housing, youth housing, mental health housing or addictions treatment.

Work with private citizens, non-government organizations, applicable governing bodies to identify partnership opportunities.

Support city staff’s work with developers to find the right location for new housing developments. When appropriate for our community, we need to support new housing developments.

Closely investigate what other communities have done and learn from their successes and mistakes. This could include in providing city land for affordable housing, tax incentives for developers and the private market as well as prioritizing affordable housing initiatives/development permits.

Jasmine Finlay: Vernon is the fifth fastest growing community in the province with a population over 25 thousand and many people are dealing with the impact of a lack of affordable housing. Cities need to make sure they are an attractive place to build, especially rental units, and I think Vernon is doing fairly well in that department.

Beyond that, as I mentioned earlier, we need to offer more flexible housing options like tiny houses etc. Improving bylaws can have a lot more impact than many people realize.

Sherrilee Franks: As someone who works in the housing industry, I see affordable housing concerns at every level. Municipalities have limited ability to create affordable housing. Kevin Poole does a fantastic job at economic development. As a Councillor I would be open to continued development. I actively participate in provincial level conversation, seminars and educational committees in which affordable housing is discussed at length and will continue to do my part in combatting this situation.

Kari Gares: Housing Affordability is, for the most part, regulated by supply and demand or economics if you will.  As demand heats up but inventory lags, housing simply becomes less affordable. But there is another concept that most levels of government aren’t acknowledging and that is the concept of filtering.  In basic terms, filtering happens when families move into more expensive homes, they free up homes for others from more modest incomes. The challenge we are facing now is that we have several new regulatory changes that is impeding this move up process by making it harder for people to acquire financing.  This is placing an even further burden on affordability as it is condensing multiple families from different economic backgrounds into a specific market – and it’s the level entry market where homes are typically more affordable. The only way for local municipalities to adjust for these market changes is by reducing the “red tape”.  Allow for builder’s and developers to get their projects from inception to permit stage faster. Look at ways to reduce costs (whether in DCC charges or permit costs) for the builder as these costs are almost always transferred to the consumer, thus making house prices higher. They can also look for rezoning applications that allow for high-density, mixed-use buildings that can help increase inventory in this market – which is typical in condo/townhome projects.  An effective municipal regulatory environment will be influenced by its:

land-use and development policies: secondary suites, density targets & development standards, encourage infill development, hybrid developments/mix use, density bonusing, financial incentives and partnerships

strategic plans; and/or

fees and levies placed on development.

Following a housing strategy that focuses on increased supply will not only improve affordability for those that are buying but it will also improve affordability for rental housing as well.

Don Jefcoat: The only honest answer is not going to win votes.  Hopefully people will see this answer and go here is a guy who tells the truth even if people don't want to hear it and votes for me. Council can do nothing to make housing more affordable. All we can do is make policy decisions that make Vernon attractable to developers of affordable housing. We can make sure city amenities are what investors are looking for.  We already have a subsidy for some affordable housing options we can look at how we can reduce red tape to get shovels in the ground faster.

Rick Lavin: This is an area where council can make a significant impact.  There are simply not enough units available in our community which is causing sharp increases in the cost to rent or buy a home.  Council can make it a priority to ensure that there is an appropriate balance of units for purchase and units for rent. Building permits can be expedited for projects that demonstrate they are addressing shortages and have balanced representation.  Council can ensure that Zoning encourages new projects and can support variances when doing so will directly impact the availability and cost of housing.

Shawn Lee: There is much City Council can do to make affordable housing available to Vernon residents and to those who would like to make Vernon their home.

Council can use the approval development applications to encourage a mix of housing types and price ranges. Council can encourage affordability by the approval of infill projects such as subdivision of large lots in established neighbourhoods, the construction of “carriage houses” either for rental or purchase. If done well they enhance their neighbourhoods.

Many city councils choose to grandfather in illegal suites. Many homes have what are euphemistically referred to as “summer kitchens”. We actually rented such a house when our family first moved to Vernon in 1984. The process involves conforming to safety standards and recognizing the beneficial role such housing plays in our community. Some communities actually provide grants to assist in the investment to bring these rentals up to standard.

With the zoning that encourages multi-suite construction, Council can increase the availability of yet another type of housing in our community.  Property tax incentives could encourage developers to invest in this market and in the long run make our city more affordable for more of its citizens.

The City of Vernon does not lack single housing lots, but these lots are located in pricey subdivisions that are beyond the grasp of many who call Vernon home. Nevertheless these lots will be available for decades to come for those who can afford them.

Lastly the demand for temporary shelter outstrips the supply. With winter coming we will need provincial assistance to help. Working through consultation with local agencies, such assistance and support could be forthcoming.

All need a place to feel secure and call home.  Council should refer to the City of Vernon’s Official Community Plan which addresses this issue.

Gordon Leighton: There are several ways that Mayor and Council can contribute to affordable housing in Vernon. There are three sectors in the concept of “affordable”; 1. Affordable home ownership.  2. Affordable workforce housing, primarily rentals for low and medium income families. 3. Social Housing, including subsidized housing for persons with special needs, transitional housing for previously homeless or addicted persons and emergency shelters – short term housing for homeless people.

For the first two sectors, I offer the following strategies:

Help home owners maintain older housing – a concept well suited for seniors who might then choose to remain in an older home where they otherwise may be forced to sell because they cannot afford the maintenance.  In most cases like this, the older unit is demolished.

Reduce parking requirements for apartment and condo developments, which will allow developers to optimize land utilization.

Promote in-fill as a preferred development strategy over new suburban or fringe development. Reducing development cost charges for in-fill projects can be a good incentive. Removing unjustified restrictions is an additional option to promote in-fill.

Relax or completely redefine zoning in single family residential areas to allow construction of duplexes. This strategy was recently implemented in Vancouver.

Many homes are located on lots that are narrow in width, but are quite deep.  Allowing home owners to develop “tiny” housing for rental can provide some help and could be a source of needed income for the original home owner.

Encourage the development of secondary suites, by minimizing red-tape and eliminating obstacles for home owners.

Government subsidies, such as the NDP promise of a $400 annual rental rebate, would be helpful of course, but this is a provincial issue.

Deferral of property taxes (to the extent permitted by the law) can be used as an incentive for in-fill.  The same concept can be effective as an incentive for developers to dedicate a specified number of below-market housing units in any new development.

Vernon is experiencing an aging population, which will result in seniors being a much higher proportion of the population in the future, some of whom will have mobility challenges and special needs. The City should work in partnership with BC Housing and private sector developers to stimulate construction of rental units for seniors, perhaps through non-profit organizations. 

There will be no single solution that will resolve the affordability issue.  Instead, it will likely take a number of strategies to be implemented in unison.  The City cannot solve housing affordability concerns alone, but must play a key role in partnership with the federal and provincial governments, who have the primary responsibility, along with the private and non-profit sectors.

Kevin Lepp: My vision is to see us support mixed use residential and commercial projects in the downtown core.  The former Legion sight was to be slated for this type of project but appears to be at a standstill. We need to work with developers and find ways to streamline our process within the City to further invite solid development concepts to town.  We can foster the development of both affordable housing and rental projects for the city.

Jamie Morrow: A priority of mine will be to actively promote mixed-use developments to re energize and revitalize downtown.

As I mentioned earlier, I would advocate that we need to act now towards mixed-use developments downtown. We need to build up, go vertical. I believe that we should build to the model where there is for example; commercial space on two or 3 floors (High-Tech for example) and then residences for rent and for sale. I believe that an increase in residences downtown will in turn lead to a rejuvenation of our downtown core. People want to be where other people are.

With more people living downtown, our downtown would see an increase in local customer traffic. This increased traffic will be profitable for businesses and they would employ more people. This will create an environment where more businesses will want to be located downtown. This will bring more people to shop, eat and have coffee downtown. Now we will see more life downtown. Restaurants, Bistro’s and Coffee Houses would be open later which in turn brings more people downtown. This will also lead to a more safe and secure downtown. See where I am going with this…...This will also show we are open for business throughout all of Vernon.

Benefits of mixed-use developments include:

• greater housing variety and density, more affordable housing (smaller units), life-cycle housing (starter homes to larger homes to senior housing)

• reduced distances between housing, workplaces, retail businesses, and other amenities and destinations

• better access to fresh, healthy foods (as food retail and farmers markets can be accessed on foot/bike or by transit)

• more compact development, land-use synergy (e.g. residents provide customers for retail which provide amenities for residents)

• stronger neighbourhood character, sense of place

• walkable, bike-able neighbourhoods, increased accessibility via transit, both resulting in reduced transportation costs

The downtown City core and mixed-use developments is a priority of mine.

Dalvir Nahal: We are starting to see our seniors become vulnerable and younger families are finding it a challenge to find attainable let alone affordable housing. This is forcing some to couch surf or live on the streets. We need a long-term solution that would include a poverty reduction plan with actual goals and timelines in place. This is not something the city alone can fix, therefore, a three-pronged collaborative approach with other levels of governments, social service agencies and the city is essential and necessary for success.  I believe in today's market it is imperative for the city to work with our local builders and developers to offer some sort of tax incentives. Over the last few months I have been meeting with many stakeholders to see what the city can do on its part to bring developers to the table. Over the last year both the federal and provincial government have also taken initiatives and introduced incentives to encourage municipal stakeholders to come together and partner on creating more affordable housing.

Darrin Taylor: Forces of supply and demand have driven up the cost of housing province wide. Municipalities have very little ability to affect that. As previously mentioned, there are things council can consider to increase inventory. Council has already approved several mid to high density development projects that will provide much needed inventory. However, new construction will not produce rental units as inexpensive as many families require. New construction is very costly. For that reason, we must consider creative ways to encourage homeowners in certain areas of the city to rent basement suites for instance. Unfortunately, we have a provincial government whose response has been to actually provide disincentive for people to consider becoming landlords.

Instead of trying to force down housing costs, I am inclined to look at ways we can help young families get ahead and increase their disposable income. As mayor, I will work hard to bring investment to Vernon. Employers providing well paying, stable jobs will be what allows us to retain young families and ensure a thriving vibrant city for the next generation. Vernon is uniquely positioned to attract employers from the lower mainland and across western Canada. This city has been built by large employers like Tolko Industries, Kal Tire, Tekmar, Predator Ridge, and Silver Star Mountain. We have a story to tell and I intend to help attract business here.

Dawn Tucker: We can continue to build on what is already occurring and meet this challenge with progressive ideas.  We need to continue to strengthen and support our nonprofits in garnering BC Housing funding from the Provincial Government.  We also need to work in partnership with our nonprofits and get our city designated to receive federal Housing First funding. As a city we need to embrace different types of housing and update our zoning to allow and encourage new builds in the areas of micro apartments, laneway housing, carriage houses etc.  We should encourage more co-operative style housing developments like other municipalities such as Vancouver are doing. We can even look at some out of the box ideas such as mixed use housing including young families and seniors as a way to reduce overall costs. We have the ability to use variance approval process to ask for an exchange of such items as parking variances for a set number of affordable units in new developments.  A great way to see what options we have to make housing more affordable is to look to other cities and countries and model our decisions after proven ideas. In the end we must be willing to look beyond the traditional models for housing to aid the difficulties our residents have in affording housing.

Terry Vulcano: Prepare and develop plans for zoning that does not require parking or the use of automobiles to reach residences.  A large portion of costs is in allocation of land for street travel and parking. Owning and operating a vehicle is a large expense.  Residences designed without the need of vehicles will go a long way to making housing affordable.

Sam Zaharia: Retrofit our neighbourhood while we still can. Smart re-developers have contributed tremendously to the stock of appropriate and affordable bachelor suites, all while maintaining the character of the surrounding neighbourhoods. Obtrusive trophy homes, on the other hand, create a hierarchy of social status and pit new neighbours against the old neighbourhood. Gentrification attempts to impose equanimity. What about those of us with no desire to climb your social ladder? Peace cannot be kept by force. Why is a homogenous middle class the apparent goal in a city that claims to be inclusive? These differences that 'make people feel' (please, own your feelings) uncomfortable are the same stuff that inspire art and culture. This is the stuff we celebrate by allowing. How can anyone express from a place of individuality when the community demands we all colour within the lines? How about true equanimity, and a full range of lifestyle choices, even if they wouldn't be yours? "If you talk to the animals they will talk with you, and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them, you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear. What one fears, one destroys." ~Chief Dan George

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