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Government to focus on bolstering rental supply in Vernon in effort to get residents housed

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January 18, 2017 - 10:29 AM

VERNON - Getting Vernon residents housed was the focus as politicians, social agencies, and realtors met yesterday to discuss the city’s affordable housing and homelessness issues.

“It was a good conversation,” North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold says.

Arnold says the big problem is a lack of housing stock. While homelessness and affordable housing are challenges faced across the country, Arnold said the situation in Vernon may be more acute than other places.

“I think it’s amplified in Vernon because we’re such a desirable place to live,” he says. “People are attracted to the area. An influx of buyers from the coast can come up and buy a better home than they had…. That’s drawing away from the inventories.”

With local organizations like the Upper Room Mission soup kitchen reporting higher than ever demand, and more families and working poor on their doorstep, politicians are looking at ways to improve housing at every level, from shelters to houses for first time home buyers.

“Anything we can do to help someone move along that scale in the housing market, up the ladder or along the conveyer, any time you move someone forward it frees up space for someone else to get on,” Arnold says.

One issue that came up in the meeting, Arnold says, is that many landlords are feeling victimized by the landlord tenancy act, and are reluctant to invest in new rentals for fear of having the units trashed by renters. He says changes may be needed to encourage landlords to offer rentals. 

Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster also attended the meeting, and says his government will focus on student housing.

“Students are taking up a lot of the lower cost rentals in the community,” he says.

He says the provincial finance committee is looking at ways to allow post-secondary institutions to build more student housing.

“We’re trying to figure out a way for universities and colleges to do this without having the debt fall onto us,” Foster says, explaining it’s difficult because the land belongs to the province.

“If we take students out of the mix — there’s thousands of students — all those units then become available for people to rent,” Foster says.

Foster says provincial investments in new low-income housing projects in Vernon, like the Blair Apartments, are an ongoing conversation. 

At the municipal level, Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund says the city will continue to support secondary suites where possible. While such suites are technically illegal, the city has permitted them in some areas — including a development in the Vernon Foothills — to increase rental stock. He says the shortage of rentals in the city is also driving up prices, putting housing out of reach for many.

“Everything is supply and demand. If the supply is zero and the demand is 100 per cent, you can charge whatever you want,” Mund says.

It’s also been suggested that the city look at reducing Development Cost Charges to encourage the construction of new housing, but Mund says it’s a catch 22. Because money from the charges is used to enhance and maintain roads, sidewalks and parks, lowering them would have an effect on infrastructure.

Lack of employment, low wages, the cost of food, and the need for mental health services were also identified as factors contributing to homelessness. 

Politicians say they plan to meet again to discuss the topic and identify solutions.

Find past stories on homelessness in Vernon here.


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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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