~The following is Guest View by Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain
The focus of this article is what the City of Prince Rupert can do about affordable housing. As a renter myself, I know first-hand the pressures many residents are feeling at the moment.
Rest assured that council is focused and being proactive in the matter. To start, our previous council organized a housing workshop with a diverse group of community members in the fall to discuss an assortment of housing needs, and the report from that is available on the city’s website. On top of the discussion and solutions presented at the workshop, we now have a precise and accurate bird’s eye view of Prince Rupert’s empty lots and housing conditions thanks to the fine work of city staff. Now it’s time for the next step – executing a city-wide housing strategy.
There are different levels of housing needs — assisted/subsidized living, social housing, low-income rentals, affordable mid-level homes, etc. Many of these fall into a provincial jurisdiction, but our council and city staff are rolling up our sleeves and getting to work.
In our last council meeting, Coun. Cunningham brought forward a resolution to form a housing committee. The committee will be tasked with taking us from our discussion and data collection phase towards creating a housing action plan with clear and realistic deliverables. We will also be reaching out to regional First Nations communities and relevant community organizations to create a team effort in order to address such a large and complex issue.
As Coun. Thorkelson has suggested, we need to be in contact with municipalities that have existing models that can be integrated into Prince Rupert. For example, the municipality of Medicine Hat, Alberta, has employed a ‘Housing First’ strategy and is on track to eliminate homelessness in their community by next year. The idea is rather than create temporary shelters, homeless people are put into their own places without imposing rules or conditions. So far they have moved 672 residents, including 220 children, out of homelessness over the last five years with 72 per cent of those able to keep their housing. This could be an effective strategy for us during a potential LNG boom.
In addition, the City of Prince Rupert are land owners. We have the ability to offer incentives to developers and contractors, such as selling lots at below market values, and applying affordable housing conditions in exchange. The same could be done with targeted developments such as affordable seniors housing complexes.
I also believe now is a good time to explore ‘out of the box’ solutions such as allowing residents to construct ‘Tiny Homes’ on their property as rentals, developing co-housing or co-op housing, and re-zoning certain areas to allow the development of new rental suites.
Lastly, it’s important for people to understand their rights as tenants. Landlords are only able to raise your rent once per year at 2.2 per cent of your total rent. This means a landlord cannot raise your rent overnight by however much they want and cannot evict you if you decline the increase. Ensure you are up to date on your rights by visiting the B.C. Government’s Residential Tenancy Office website. In the meantime, we will coordinate our housing committee progress with proposed solutions from higher levels of government.
We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are all in this together. The quality of life for all our residents is council’s number one priority and we look forward to creating solutions as a community team effort.