Make homes more affordable? Kelowna council priorities put to the test Monday - InfoNews

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Make homes more affordable? Kelowna council priorities put to the test Monday

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May 04, 2019 - 7:30 AM

KELOWNA - The top two priorities in Kelowna’s Healthy Housing strategy, adopted less than a year ago, are to “promote and protect rental housing” and “improve housing affordability.”

Both may be under attack at Monday’s city council meeting.

First up on the agenda is rental housing, followed by a hit to new home affordability.

Bowing to pressure by homeowners at a public hearing in March, Kelowna council ordered staff to come up with rules for renting basement suites and carriage houses to tourists, along with condos and houses.

“Part of the reason why we’ve made it easier, over the years, to add secondary suites and carriage houses is because they really provided a more affordable option in terms of rental housing,” Laura Bentley, the city’s Community Planning Supervisor, told iNFOnews.ca.

In her report going to council, she said there are 2,247 legal secondary suites and carriage houses in the city, compared to 5,176 “purpose built” rental units, meaning apartments and townhouses. The suites rent for 13% less than apartments.

By opening the suites up to nightly tourist rentals through things like Airbnb, that’s likely to cut into the number available for full time renters and could force people into more expensive apartments.

That’s not to say all 2,247 suites will go to Airbnb but a great many may do so. That may also hit students hard if their landlords opt for the more lucrative tourist rentals.

If council agrees to the new rules, they will likely go to public hearing May 21 and could be in place a few weeks after that.

Later in the meeting, council will be asked to make the B.C. Energy Step program mandatory by Dec. 1, 2019.

Step is a five-stage voluntary program to make new homes more energy efficient. Cities have the ability to make it mandatory up to Step 3 but the province plans to, over time, make the whole program mandatory. At Step 5, new homes are to be 100 per cent energy efficient.

A study by the Central Okanagan chapter of the Canadian Home Builders Association estimates Step 1 will add $11,000 to $27,000 to the cost of building new homes that now cost $464,000 to $518,000 to build.

That’s just to go to Step 1 of the five step program. The city wants to move to Step 3 by June 1, 2021.

The home builders have opposed making it mandatory in the past but, since it’s going to eventually become required by the province, they’ve recognized that it is inevitable so have supported it with a few conditions.

One is that the city draft a retrofit strategy to make older homes more energy efficient. Right now, the city doesn’t have the power to enforce such strategies.

It also wants the City to monitor Penticton and Lake Country, which recently implanted mandatory rules for new homes, just to see if there are issues raised there.

Ironically, the past president of the association, Les Bellamy, is opposed to the mandatory rules, even though he will make more money once they’re imposed.

“When the Step code comes in, my cost to build goes up,” Bellamy told iNFOnews.ca, stressing he was speaking for Bellamy Homes, not the association. “Because I’m a custom builder, I get a percentage of the cost of construction. So, when the Step code comes in, my company will make more profits. And, I’m still opposed to the implementation of the B.C. Step code on a mandatory basis. So, I’m speaking against my own company making more money.”

He argued that older homes are causing much more pollution than new homes, even without the Step rules. If the government is serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it should be focussing its attention on upgrading older homes, he said.


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