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Kamloops council candidates on housing affordability

Housing affordability is in crisis mode, by many accounts. How can council make housing more affordable for buyers and renters?
housing affordability2

During the civic election campaign, KTW has identified four issues and is asking groups of councillor candidates about them. This is the second of a four-part series, with the remaining two issues to be addressed by other, randomly chosen groups of councillor candidates.

Housing affordability is in crisis mode, by many accounts. How can council make housing more affordable for buyers and renters?

• Dale Bass: “Increasing the supply. It’s basic economics. Increasing the supply will help a lot, but it can’t just be single-family homes being built. We have to increase the supply of multi-family and creative multi-family. Not necessarily build up, but build creatively, like fourplexes, duplexes, triplexes, things like that, is one thing that we can start to do right away,” she said.

Bass said some housing in areas with access to transit and near workplaces could have reduced parking requirements to lower costs for builders. She said she would also like to see builders get involved in mass timber construction, which is made by affixing or gluing together many pieces of wood veneers, flakes or dimension lumber to form stronger panels and beams. It is considered a green type of building material and Bass said it is as strong as concrete.

“It’s cheaper, it’s faster, which reduces building costs. It reduces employee costs. It goes up quickly,” she said.

Bass pointed to a mass timber housing project in North Vancouver constructed in 11 days, noting she would also like to see incentives for co-operative housing.

“Maybe we lobby the provincial government to provide some grants or some subsidies or something like that, so co-ops can maybe buy a big old house downtown and turn it into a co-operative housing,” Bass said.

 Kelly Hall: Hall said there is a shortage of accommodations in Kamloops and pointed to the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, which has said there is less than three per cent of usable land in Kamloops.

“I think in our community, we have to be looking at residential construction in more of a timely manner, helping city planning to be a little more creative with some of the solutions,” he said. “I know they have a very good working relationship with CHBA, but I think we need to explore and expand that opportunity. My understanding is permits are not coming out as fast as they need to.”

Hall said city hall needs to reduce barriers preventing builders from building in a timely basis.

“If you talk to homebuilders and developers, they’ll tell you that timeliness equals money,” he said, adding that zoning changes are needed to further encourage densification.

“I know there are some allowances for that, but I think we need to look at that and explore it even further,” he said.

Hall also suggested incentives for builders, including reviewing and potentially reducing development cost charges. He suggested developing an achievable housing reserve fund, noting other communities are looking at a similar initiative, wherein the city and developers establish a reserve fund to help young families and first-time homebuyers with a down payment on a home.

Hall said Thompson Rivers University also needs to be challenged to become a bigger partner.

“There’s just over 13,000 students that access the university on a daily basis. The accommodation requirement on those students is demanding and it’s actually putting significant stress on affordable rental opportunities in Kamloops,” he said.

• Stephen Karpuk: Karpuk said when looking at housing affordability, it is important to look at a person’s complete picture of living costs.

He said the provincial government can mandate efficiencies to cut down on exorbitant extras tacked onto rent, such as heating costs.

“That really applies to new homes, but the majority of the market is old stock, as we would say. I think it’s better off that we look at ways to encourage people to renovate.”

Karpuk said more supply is also needed. He said if someone has yard space or wants to build a carriage house on a garage, city hall should consider it. Karpuk noted an idea out of Quesnel.

“They basically put out five design plans and said, ‘If you want to do this and you’re zoned appropriately, come and get a plan and start work today.”

Karpuk said city hall’s development department spends a lot of time supervising parts of the process it should not be supervising. He said when engineers and architects sign off on projects, city hall should provide a checklist and expedite housing projects. Furthermore, he said, Thompson Rivers University should build more onsite dormitories.

• Margot Middleton: Middleton said housing affordability is not a quick fix. She said it is a big issue that is continuing to evolve, with global and international problems.

Middleton said she will listen to builders and developers in the city to find issues for them in moving forward on projects, as well as look into challenges faced by the city’s development department. Middleton said the city’s 2018 affordable housing strategy should be reviewed and possibly updated.

• Randy Sunderman: Sunderman said the city’s development department is under-resourced, which is causing delays. He said shifting the development process online will also help to speed up the process.

Sunderman is also proposing a “campus of care” concept for the government precinct area downtown.

“You provide a whole bunch of different living conditions in one place,” he said, citing an example of seniors housing in a walkable area with resources like a hairdresser on hand.

Sunderman said additional ideas include an affordable housing task force and affordable housing land trust. He said the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce is advocating for changes to Canadian tax laws that would exclude those that donate private land from taxation.

“There’s some effort, I think, made in Kamloops and will hopefully come to fruition,” he said.

Sunderman also pointed to the Quesnel model of pre-approved secondary dwelling designs.

“That’s going to pick up the pace in Quesnel and I think it would work nicely here,” he said.

Sunderman said zoning needs to allow more units, such as row housing, on single-family lots. He also wants to see a dashboard developed to measure performance and have an annual affordable housing forum to discuss innovative approaches and allow staff to discuss progress.