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REPORTING · 1st April 2014
Walter McFarlane
MLA Robin Austin was in Kitimat on Tuesday, March 18th to hold a housing forum.

“The reason why we are doing this is because, of course, we want to share information. We want to recognize there are a lot of challenges that are happening in this community and all the communities here in the Northwest as a result of the boom that is happening with so much development and potential development coming into the area,” said Austin.

He said the vacancy rate in Kitimat was 42% in the past, and it was incredible to think that Kitimat has gone from bust to where it is today. While the town is getting economic activity and the community is happy to see it, Kitimat is also faced with multiple challenges.

The Forum was turned over to Anne Moyls, Kitimat’s Housing Resource Worker. She explained the service she offers is a place for people to go who are in a housing crisis. She said most people are familiar with the term: Renovictions, when a land lord wants to upgrade the property and give 2 month notice. The tenants are given first offer of the renovated suite or townhouse when the work is complete but the improved dwelling is more expensive.

It started at the Northstar, swept to the Kuldo Apartments and the Wedeene Townhouses. Now it’s at the Viewpoint apartments. “We’re running out of space. The people I’m working with are seniors on very limited income or people with disabilities, also on very limited income. When it comes to the options of the once 42% vacancy rate, that was a very luxurious state of affairs for those on a limited income, those spaces are simply not there anymore,” said Moyls.

She finds out what the problems are, informs the people what subsidies are available for them and helps them with the affordable housing opportunities in Kitimat, Terrace and throughout the province. A lot of these people are people who have lived in Kitimat for a long time.

Gwen Sewell, the City Planner was the next speaker. “We’re going to share the problem definition statement with you, talk a bit about the nature of the shortage that we are having in Kitimat currently, what the tenure issues are, what the cost issues are, who the special populations are that are uniquely challenged to find housing that is appropriate and suitable and also some potential solutions and policy options,” said Sewell.

She explained the goal of the official community plan was to create a range of housing options in Kitimat. They need places for families, for persons with disabilities and for people who need supported independent living space. She explained who would be involved in providing these opportunities, pointing out it would be a market driven response because not everybody qualifies for social housing and not everyone wants social housing.

Sewell explained there were lots of options for rental in Kitimat. There were apartments, secondary suites, coach houses which are secondary independent housing, condominiums and rental condominiums.

In 2012, the Housing Advisory Committee did a Housing Needs Assessment Survey. “At that time, we found we needed 217 units of different kinds to meet the needs of people who needed supports for income assisted housing in our community. A range of types were needed and we made some progress on many of these but not progress on all yet,” said Sewell.

However, the community has changed since then. Sewell explained they are now doing an economic base model based on an export industry.

Sewell stated Kitimat has been shedding industrial jobs for as long as she has been in town and there is a 1 to 1 ratio between an industrial job and any other job in the community. She explained there are four scenarios for growth in Kitimat.

The first is if the smelter modernizes and Kitimat gets nothing else, they estimate Kitimat’s population will drop by 2,500. If one of the LNG plants open, Kitimat’s population will be around 1,000. If two LNG plants come, Kitimat will hit 15,000 people. If the Kitimat Clean population goes ahead, if they assume half the people will live in Kitimat and half will live in Terrace, Kitimat will increase to 17,000.

According to the estimate, Kitimat will not have a housing shortage until the population hits 12,500-12,800. During the last major boom in Kitimat, this was the population. In addition, not many units of housing in Kitimat have been lost.

However, because of the low rents and low housing prices, there were people who could afford to leave home. “Unless you’ve been in the market for a while, you probably can’t afford that any more. We think we’ll have some people going back to their parent’s house. We think we’ll have people, instead of living independently in their own two bedroom unit, they’ll be sharing a 2 bedroom unit or they may be sharing a 3 or 4 bedroom unit with some other friends. People will be… matching up and it’s partly what you do in a higher income market. It’s just a natural part of evolution,” said Sewell.

She stated only 95 units have been built in Kitimat over the last 20 years and expected that number to change. They believe there are enough housing units in Kitimat to house between 10,000 and 11,000 people. They think they can create enough housing for 12,500 and Kitimat is at 9000 people right now.

She talked about how Council adopted 6 housing priorities at prior meeting.

“There will be lots of opportunities for public input to Council on housing issues and housing initiatives. We have a public notice page on our website and you can always go there and find more information, and you can always call the office to find out something specific,” said Sewell.

Kevin Coelho expressed he was asked to be there as a landlord and was there to answer questions and do whatever he can to help. He expressed he was fair.

Stacey Tyers, the Poverty Law Advocate from Terrace stated she works closely with Moyls. She was happy to have someone on the ground in Kitimat because it makes her job easier.

“My primary role is dealing with administrative law of which a piece of that is tenancy,” said Tyers. “It is the priority right now and I work on educating both tenants and landlords on their rights and responsibilities. The more tenants and landlords who are out and following the law makes my job easier.”

She said this is the worst she has seen housing crisis, and well there are units in Terrace, they are currently moving people to Prince Rupert and Prince George. She expressed Kitimat has a diverse housing stock. Terrace has a lot of secondary streets and they are permitted in any zone.

“Most communities are working very hard and, while there are some bad landlords out there, I’m not going to lie, there are some really bad landlords, there are some really good landlords and there are some really bad tenants who make really good landlords get rid of their rental units. To be fair, there are a bit of both. The more we can educate people on what they need to be doing, the better off we’re going to be,” said Tyers.

She expressed something needed to be done to keep long term residents in the community. In addition, Terrace has been cautioned against overbuilding, although she felt it was impossible to overbuild affordable housing.

Tyers stated when she talks to BC housing, she describes Kitimat and Terrace as a whole. She said both communities are in trouble and while there are subsidized units, there were not a lot of apartment buildings.

The Q&A section following the presentation concerned co-op housing, the destruction of the Kitimat Graveyard and PTI Camps.

Mayor Joanne Monaghan expressed the amount of hoops which needed to be jumped through. “You have to get a developer, you have to get a developer who has money, you have to get a developer who can buy land, you have to get the land, then you have to get BC Housing involved in it. It takes a long time to get all of these little pieces of the puzzle together,” said Monaghan. “We’ve got three or four situations where I think we can pull it off.”

She hoped to get something started when the building season started.

Austin explained the Federal Government got out of housing in an attempt to balance the books. Prior to this, they provided millions of dollars to the provinces for different types of houses. Housing was downloaded to the province who did not have the funds to back this up.

Councillor Corinne Scott asked how much help Austin would be as a member of the opposition would be to provide more assisted living. “I think there are housing challenges across Canada and across British Columbia. There are plenty of housing challenges in ridings which have a government MLA and I assure you, they don’t get to walk into Rich Coleman’s office and have the solution, solved the next day,” said Austin.

He stated Coleman has held this portfolio in Government. There was a lot of media around the homelessness in the lower mainland and the government did not recognize it. Then Coleman bought 13 hotels and converted them for low income.

Austin stated he has to push hard like every other MLA has to push hard with him. While he may think of solving the problem when the LNG’s come into town, it needs to be pointed out there is a housing crisis long before any LNG plants.

Marilyn Furlan told those gathered there were a lot of senior citizens who gave up their houses to rent so they would not have to take care of lawns. Now, they find themselves in a far worse scenario then lawn care.

At the end of the evening, those who were in attendance shared with Austin the things which they felt needed to be improved, which Austin could take back to Victoria and the community could use. The list is reprinted below:

• More Government (BC Hsg, CMHC) funding for affordable/accessible housing (construction)

• Require BC Legislation to allow municipalities to write bylaws to remove derelict buildings.

• To have a more affordable safe more permanent place for my children to settle and grow and not worry about money

• Pierré RV Park year round park

• Renovate closed schools for mini apartments

• Be innovative for solutions

• Address housing needs for new families coming to Kitimat for work

• Affordable social housing for families

• Better daycare in community – extended hours etc to manage a higher paying job with flexible hours, evenings and weekends.

• Government acceptance of social responsibilities for healthy communities

• Men’s shelter

• Affordable social housing, co-ops tied to services

• Keep having a housing resource worker

• Government funded and run affordable housing

• To raise my children in a community where they are able to grow and be children and not worry they will sleep.

• Whitesail townhouses – bring to code, tear down and sell

• Incentives to developers to encourage low income or subsidized housing

• Possibility of bringing in trailers for housing for low income, disabled, ect… as a contingency plan until affordable housing projects are actually built.

• More secondary suites

• Secondary suite incentives

• Smaller apartments – lowers rent approx. 500 sqft

• Room for more families

• Convert excessive recreation/green spaces for Low income housing project

• Continued housing needs documentation and advocacy

• Mayor and Council push governments for more subsidies for low income workers

• Partner with college to build low income housing to reduce cost and increase experience

• Rent subsidies in transitional times

• Higher rent subsidies

• Stacey for premier or prime minister