Thursday, March 23, 2017

Federal budget stays the course on infrastructure, transit, and housing investment

Local governments are responsible for 60% of infrastructure like water lines, sewer mains, and roads in Canada, but only collect 12% of all tax revenue. Much of this infrastructure is coming to its end-of-life, and needs to be replaced. The federal government has to be a key funding partner to ensure that our infrastructure remains in a state of good repair, and meets the needs of our growing communities.

Public transit in Canada needs to be expanded and renewed. The federal government has promised a National Housing Strategy to address the affordable housing crises in our major regions, and a plan to reduce the number of people who are homelessness.

Yesterday, the 2017-18 federal budget was released. I wanted to share some of the highlights of the budget as it relates to local government infrastructure, transit, and housing.

For public transit, the federal government is still committed to investing $3.4 billion over the next several years, and $20.1 billion over the next decade.

The federal budget calls out the Vancouver Broadway Subway as an “ambitious transit project.” The funding formula for transit investment will now be based on ridership (70 per cent) and population (30 per cent) for transit services area. This is good as it ensures that the federal government doesn’t cherry-pick projects. This is also good news for our region's 10-Year Transit Vision.

The feds announced a Canada Infrastructure Bank last fall. In the budget, it states that this new bank will invest at least $5 billion in public transit systems.

The federal government is also still committed to investing $5.0 billion over five years and $21.9 billion over the next decade for water, wastewater, and green infrastructure projects that will help local governments and communities.

Another key part of local infrastructure is cultural spaces like performing art centres. The federal government is committed to providing $300 million over 10 years to support the construction and renewal of these spaces. This is a continuation of the funding announced in the 2016-17 budget which was originally limited to just two years.

The federal government is also launching its new $5 billion National Housing Strategy. The feds have committed to investing $11.2 billion over 11 years for housing in Canada.

Much of the new funding doesn’t start until later budget years. This year’s federal spending plan is about staying the course set in last year’s federal budget.

I am happy to see that there are no cut backs to last year’s budget when it comes to investing in local government infrastructure, transit, and housing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Hunter Park restoration moves forward

Last fall, the City of Langley learned that the trees in Hunter Park had Laminated Root Rot. Because of the nature of this disease, most of the trees in the park had to be removed.

While the removal of these trees was sad, their removal did offer an opportunity to rethink the future of Hunter Park. City council recently adopted a new task force model to engage residents in helping shape their community. A Hunter Park Task Force was formed with local community members to help guide the restoration of Hunter Park.

In late February, the City hosted an open house to get feedback on potential features to be included in the restored Hunter Park. Did people generally prefer a more passive park with walking trails and nature, or a more active park with a sports court, additional playgrounds, and picnic shelter?

The clear feedback from the open house was that people wanted to see a more passive park with deciduous and evergreen trees, and native plantings. Along the border of the park, people wanted street trees. There was a strong desire to enhanced the pathway network in the park, and include some more park benches and tables around the current playground area. People also wanted to see some small open grass areas.

Based on the feedback received, the Hunter Park Task Force received a draft design from City staff to further refine last night.

Some design elements being proposed for the restored Hunter Park. Select image to enlarge.

An example of trees that may be planted in and along the border of Hunter Park. Select image to enlarge.

The City design also includes low-barrier, wood fencing along the perimeter of the park which will act as a vehicle barricade. The design includes an iconic entrance. This entrance and proposed benches will be made from wood of the trees that were removed from the park. An interpretive sign with park history, and the retention of some stumps will serve as a reminder of the former urban forest.

There was good discussion among members of the task force and City staff. Based on the recommendations of the task force members, the design of Hunter Park will be further refined. The task force will have one last look at the design in a few weeks’ time, before it goes to council for approval.

Some task force members and City staff reviewing a draft design for Hunter Park. Select image to enlarge.

The goal is to have the park restoration work completed by the end of the year.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March 20th, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: New liquor store building approved along the Bypass, plus unused lane closure

Yesterday’s City of Langley council meeting started off with a Committee of the Whole to allow people to comment on a proposed development application for a new building that will house a liquor store along the Langley Bypass.

The proposed building is to be located at 20670 Langley Bypass in the strip mall that currently houses La-Z-Boy, Visions Electronics, and Cora.

Site plan of 20670 Langley Bypass including proposed liquor store building. Select image to enlarge.

The following renderings show what the proposed building will look like.

Renderings of proposed liquor store building at 20670 Langley Bypass. Select image to enlarge.

There were no comments from members of the public about this proposed building. I asked the architect of the building if the glass that fronts the Langley Bypass will be transparent, so you can see into the building. I was told no. I also confirmed that there will be bike parking as the Langley Bypass is a cycling route according to the Ministry of Transportation. As the proposed building conforms to the zoning and development guidelines of the area, it was approved by council.

Later during the meeting, council approved the removal of a small 55.3 sq. metre piece of land that was originally supposed to be used for a turn-around for a lane-way near the intersection of 204 Street and Park Avenue. This turn-around is no longer required, and the removal officially closed this “highway” to traffic by removing its “highway” dedication.

Plan for closures of a section of unused lane-way near the intersection of Park Avenue and 204 Street. Select image to enlarge.

There were no other items that required council action on the agenda of last night’s meeting.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A detailed look at Compass Card revenue: DayPass revenue up 260%, system breaks-even in 2016

The provincial government decided in 2007 to install fare gates to reduce what they perceived as massive fare evasion on the TransLink system. The end result was the $186.8 million Compass Card program which became fully operational in the spring of 2016. TransLink also eliminated zoned-fares for buses at the end of 2015.

While the stated goal of the Compass Card and fare gate system was to reduce fare evasion, there were two other goals: making the transit system easier to use, and collecting more detailed information on how people use the transit system.

TransLink now has more accurate data on how people use their system. The Compass Card makes using transit easier, you simply tap your card, and the system figures out the correct fare. You can also load money onto your card both online and at vending machines, plus purchase Compass Card fare products at hundreds of retailers throughout the region.

What impacts has the Compass Card and fare gate system had on revenue? I requested detailed information from TransLink about fare revenue over the last three years, and want to share that information.

When it comes to monthly passes, fare revenue has been flat between 2014 and 2016. The Compass Card system has had little impact on the purchasing of unlimited-use monthly passes.

Revenue from monthly pass fare products in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Select chart to enlarge.

Single-use tickets, FareSavers, and stored-value on Compass Card are cash-like fares; you pay per use. Between 2014 and 2015, cash-like fare revenue grew 4%. Cash-like fare revenue grew 8.6% between 2015 and 2016. There was around a 6% jump in cash-like fare revenue starting in the second quarter of 2016 compared to the same quarters in 2015. This jump works out to about $10 million. The fare gates were closed at the start of the second quarter of 2016.

Revenue from cash-like fare products in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Select chart to enlarge.

One of the biggest changes in revenue is from DayPasses. Revenue for this fare type grew from $3.7 million in 2014 to $13.4 million in 2016, a 260% increase!

Revenue from DayPass fare product in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Select chart to enlarge.

In 2016, the Compass Card system cost $8.4 million to operate and $2.8 million to maintain. The amortized yearly capital cost of the Compass Card and fare gate system over 20-years is $9.3 million. For 2016, that works out to about $20 million for capital and on-going costs.

The Compass Card and fare gate system has had a positive impact on revenue, customer convenience, and data.

While the system has resulted in increased revenue, the cost of building, operating, and maintaining the system means that at the end of the day, new revenue that can be reinvested into new transit service is modest. This isn’t surprising given previous research TransLink has done.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

4-storey wood-frame apartments will be required to have sprinklers on balconies.

During the last Christmas season, many residents of the four-storey Paddington Station apartment complex were displaced due to a massive fire that spread from a balcony to the attic space of the building. The scope of damage caused by this fire could have been limited.

Currently, the BC Building Code requires sprinklers on balconies and in attic spaces of five-storey or taller residential buildings. As our Langley City Fire Chief Rory Thompson stated, “Sprinklers on the balconies would have prevented this tragedy [at Paddington Station].”

This is why Langley City Council passed the following motion in early February:

WHEREAS in 2016 the Province of British Columbia has suffered numerous large loss fires in 4-storey wood frame multi-residential buildings that could have been mitigated by the installation of sprinklers on balconies;

AND WHEREAS the British Columbia Building Code is based on the National Building Code with modifications specific to BC and that the National Building Code (2015) requires the installation of sprinklers on balconies of 4-storey buildings;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Minister Responsible for Housing immediately issue a Ministerial Order requiring the installation of sprinklers on the balconies of all new wood frame 4-storey multi-residential buildings.

I’m pleased that the provincial government took note, and that effective July 20, 2017, fire sprinklers will be required to be installed on the balconies of all new four-storey wood-frame residential buildings.

For some background, the National Fire Protection Association's latest standard on sprinklers, NFPA 13R, states that “where a roof or deck is provided above, sprinklers shall be installed to protect attached exterior balconies, attached exterior decks, and ground floor patios serving dwelling units in buildings of Construction Type V.” Type V construction means wood-framed buildings.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The South of Fraser is the key to Metro Vancouver's success as a livable region

Last week, I posted about Metro Vancouver Regional District staff's first look at information from the most recent census. As noted by the regional district, the South of Fraser is where 45% of population growth occurred between 2011 and 2016.

New presentations from Metro Vancouver get into more detail about population numbers, and how it relates to the Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). The following graph shows the projected share of population growth according to the RGS, and where population growth actually occurred. Growth in the South of Fraser has exceeded the projections.

Projected and Actual Growth – Regional Shares. Source: Metro Vancouver. Select graph to enlarge.

One of the major goals of the RGS is to have 40% of new dwelling units (housing) be built within urban centres by 2021. Between 2011 and 2016, Metro Vancouver estimates that 39% of new housing units were built in urban centres. When looking at the numbers closer, it appears that while Downtown Vancouver has accommodated significantly more housing units than envisioned in the RGS, the same isn’t true about Surrey City Centre or other smaller municipal centres. There is work to be done.

Growth in Urban Centres between 2011 and 2016. Rough estimates. Source: Metro Vancouver. Select table to enlarge.

The following map shows where new housing units were built.

Map of Net Dwelling Unit Growth between 2011 and 2016. Source: Metro Vancouver. Select map to enlarge.

One of the interesting slides from the presentation on long-term growth in the region shows that in the next 100 years, the South of Fraser will become the most populated part of the region.

Draft Scenario Population Growth by Sub-regions. Source: Metro Vancouver. Select graph to enlarge.

The final slide I wanted to share from the presentations shows the origin of people that immigrated to Metro Vancouver over the last decade.

Immigration to Metro Vancouver by Origin. Source: Metro Vancouver. Select graph to enlarge.

Now and into the future, the success of our region is tied to the success of how we grow and develop in the South of Fraser. Will we be able to built walkable urban centres connected by high-quality transit, or will we make the same mistakes as other regions throughout North America by locking people into forced auto-dependence, congestion, and sprawl?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

More maps and charts about TransLink's transit plan roll-out for this year and beyond

The Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation which is responsible for approving various TransLink plans, received an update from TransLink at its latest meeting. TransLink’s website contains a good overview of the role of the Mayors’ Council. The update received was on TransLink’s new Ten Year Vision which was approved late last year.

The following graphic from the update provides an overview of the vision. The leftmost column shows the improvements to transportation in the region once the vision if fully built-out. The second column shows what’s currently fully-funded, and being implemented.

10-Year Vision Investment Dashboard. Select graphic to enlarge.

The third column from the left is currently unfunded, but the Mayors’ Council and TransLink are currently working towards securing funding for phase two. Funding for phase two will need to come from the federal and provincial governments, as well as from new regional funding sources. The rightmost column is phase three, and is currently unfunded.

The majority of the big ticket items are contained in phase two including the Broadway Millennium Line Extension, Surrey Light Rail, and the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge.

The next two maps show what routes and areas will be receiving transit service improvements this year, in 2018, and in 2019.

Proposed transit service improvements for 2017 including month of launch. Select image to enlarge.

Proposed transit service improvements between 2017 and 2019. Select image to enlarge.

Also by 2019, TransLink will have rolled out the following B-Line routes:

  • 41st Ave, Joyce-Collingwood Station to UBC
  • Fraser Highway, Surrey Centre to Langley
  • Lougheed Highway, Coquitlam Centre to Maple Ridge
  • Marine Dr, Dundarave to Phibbs Exchange

Over the last few years, the average speed of bus service has been going down in the region. TransLink is planning to implement a new $61 million Bus Speed & Reliability Program in partnership with municipalities to get buses moving faster.

For more information, read the full TransLink presentation from the latest Mayors’ Council meeting.

Monday, March 13, 2017

First Look at New Wayfinding System for Langley City's Trail Network

Langley City has an extensive trail system that connects most parts of the community. Prior to 2012, trails throughout the community weren’t official named. Between 2012 and 2014, all formal trails in the City were named.

Langley City Trail System. Select image to enlarge.

The Nicomekl Floodplain trail system is extensive, and it is relatively easy to get turned-around if you aren’t familiar with your chosen path. To help improve wayfinding, the City has been working hard on developing a new wayfinding system for the trail system that is being rolled-out starting in the next few months.

There are two types of signs that are being rolled-out. The first type of sign will be installed at trailheads. They indicate the name of the trail, what mode of travel you can use, the accessibility of the trail, and a reminder to keep pets on leashes.

Example of a trailhead sign.

The second type of sign will be located throughout the trail system at key locations such as trail intersections. The wayfinding signs will point to washrooms, other trails, parks, roads, and signification locations.

Examples of wayfinding signs. Select image to enlarge.

The signs are metal and will be installed on wooden 6”x6” posts with concrete bases. The installation of the new wayfinding system will help people discover our trail system, and should lead to more usage of the network which is a hidden gem in the community.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

An action plan to reduce homelessness and camps in Langley

About a mouth ago, I was in Victoria and noticed a “No overnight sheltering” sign at the entrance to one of the local parks in the area. The BC Supreme Court ruled that people who are experiencing homelessness can erect shelters and sleep in city parks and properties between the hours of 7:00pm and 9:00am if they cannot find shelter.

A picture of a “No Overnight Sheltering” sign at a local park in Victoria. Select image to enlarge.

Local governments can limit camping to certain parks, but that does not reduce the number of people who are camping because they can’t find shelter space, it simply shifts people around. Now there may be certain parks where camping should not occur to protect an environmentally sensitive area or for safety reasons, but the key to reducing camping is to ensure that people can find proper shelter.

In the case of Victoria, local government and the province worked together to find space for people that were camping. You can read the full details about this in a post I wrote last year.

What step have been taken, are should be taken, to ensure that people do not have to camp in parks in Langley? Homelessness doesn’t respect municipal borders; solutions to reducing homelessness needs to include Langley City, Brookswood, Willowbrook, and Willoughby. Local governments include Langley City, the Township of Langley, and Metro Vancouver. Each order of government and non-profit organizations must work together to reduce homelessness in our community.

As I see it, the following items are key to reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness:

  1. Local governments continue to support the Gateway of Hope’s request for the provincial government/BC Housing to make the recently increased, temporarily funded shelter spaces, permanently funded. The City of Langley provided the land and rezoned the land to accommodate the Gateway of Hope. The Gateway of Hope is operated by the Salvation Army.
  2. Local governments continue to work with the federal government and provincial government/BC Housing to find a location and advocate for funding the capital and operating costs for a supportive housing facility with 24/7 wrap-around care within the Metro Vancouver designated Langley Urban Centre. Local government would need to provide the required rezoning to accommodate a supportive housing facility. The province and/or feds would provide the funding.

    Langley Urban Centre. Source: Metro Vancouver. Select map to enlarge.

  3. Local governments continue to support the recently announced Langley Youth Resource Centre, and ask for feedback from the operators about successes and challenges once it is fully operational for a year.
  4. Local governments continue to advocate to Fraser Health to provide an Assertive Community Treatment team for Langley.

I believe that if the actions noted in these four items move forward, the number of people experiencing homelessness and camping in our community will be reduced.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

March 6th, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Timms Community Centre massive usages numbers, plus info on other City projects

To say that the new Timms Community Centre is well used is an understatement. Langley City council received a Recreation, Culture & Community Services update on Monday night including statistics from the first year of operation for the new community centre.

8,490 people are members at Timms Community Centre which represents about one third of the population of Langley City. Those members dropped-in 97,023 times to programs and activities throughout the year. The top three member demographics by drop-ins are:

  1. Adult: 40,626
  2. Seniors: 29,603
  3. Youth: 12,456
Kim Hilton, Director of Recreation, Culture & Community Services presenting stats on Timms Community Centre.

Timms Community Centre and the people that work at the centre provide a valuable service by providing opportunities for people to participate in positive activities.

At Monday night’s council meeting, an Engineering, Parks, & Environment update was also presented.

Langley City received a $5,230 grant from Tree Canada to plant 35 trees along the BC Hydro corridor. 21 trees were planted in Uplands Park, and 14 near 200th Street.

Traffic calming is a key focus in this year’s capital improvement plan for the City, and as I posted about previously, four areas have been selected this years for calming. The current progress for these areas are as follows:

  • 50 Avenue around Conder Park: Approved by residents in area
  • 198 Street around Brydon Park: City mailed ballots to residents
  • Michaud Crescent around Linwood Park: Ballots are being prepared
  • 201A Street around Linwood Park: Not yet started

Last month, I noted that Metro Vancouver will be doing work on the water main that services Langley City. This work has been delayed to March 13th. On the topic of water, the City will be flushing water mains between March 20th and May 15th. If you notice cloudy water, just run your tap until it is clear. Cloudy or clear, the water is safe to drink.

Other City projects under construction or about to start construction include:

  • Various Traffic Signal Upgrades
  • 203rd Street Corridor Improvements
  • Penzer Action Park Construction
  • Newlands Drive – 210 Street storm sewer installation and water main replacement
  • 56 Avenue Improvements
  • Wayfinding in the Floodplain

Later during the council meeting, Councillor Albrecht noted that due to the wild weather this winter, there will be potholes on City streets. He reminder people to use the City’s Request for Service application to report potholes.

Councillor Storteboom reminded people to nominate their Langley Environmental Hero.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

March 6th, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Proposed 4-storey condominium apartment includes balcony sprinklers

Last night’s City of Langley council meeting started with a public hearing to rezone property located at the corner of 201 Street and Michaud Crescent to accommodate a proposed 98-unit condominium apartment building.

Council received an email, and a petition with eleven names of people that live at 5430 201 Street —the apartment building across the street— opposed to the rezoning at the public hearing.

Another resident who lives in the same building as the petitioners spoke in favour of the rezoning application at the public hearing, but had concerns about construction noise, construction crew parking management, dust, and the cleanup of local roads caused by construction projects. These concerns were also raised by another resident that attended the public hearing.

In response to the concerns raised, City staff noted that the rezoning application is consistence with the Official Community Plan. Staff also outlined the City’s noise control bylaw, and how it relates to construction projects. Staff committed to exploring solutions for construction site parking, dust mitigation, and street cleaning.

After the public hearing, the regular council meeting started. The first significant item on the agenda was the rezoning application to accommodate the 98-unit building.

The architects for the building were present, and I highlighted some of the items that I though were important parts of the proposed project.

Artist renders of proposed project at the corner of 201 Street and Michaud Crescent. Select images to enlarge.

Critically important is that the project’s proponent committed to putting in sprinklers on the fourth-floor balconies of the proposed building which is above and beyond what is required under the BC Building Code, but given what happened recently in the City, is critically important.

The proponent also proposed to include secured bike parking for residents of the building, and visitor bike parking at the main entrance of the building. There is no surface parking being proposed for the project; the City only requires resident parking be “covered.” Both visitor and resident parking is underground which maximizes green-space. The proposed building will also include 10 electric vehicle spots.

When it comes to enhancing the streets, the proponent is proposing to use landscaping to hide the top of the concrete base of the building. Exposed concrete walls are bad news for the public realm as they can create dead zones for walking, and are magnets for tagging. The curb exertions at the corner of 201 Street and Michaud Crescent will also be preserved which helps with both parking management and traffic calming.

Site plan of proposed apartment building project at the corner of 201 Street and Michaud Crescent. Select images to enlarge.

I would certainly like to see some of the things that I’ve outlined incorporated into other condominium apartment projects in the City.

Council gave third reading to the rezoning application. Council also gave final reading to an updated Fees and Charges Bylaw which was required due to the update of our Streetlight Banner policy.

Tomorrow, I will be posting about the other items discussed at last night’s council meeting.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Latest census data shows Metro Vancouver’s Regional Growth Strategy is working

Statistics Canada recently started to release data from the 2016 Census. Metro Vancouver —the regional district— will be releasing information that incorporates this latest census data throughout the year. The following topics are scheduled for release:

  • Population/Housing Growth – April
  • Dynamics of Our Aging Population – July
  • Housing Choices – September
  • Agricultural in the Region – September
  • Ethnocultural Diversity – December

Metro Vancouver staff have put together a “first impressions” report from the first release of 2016 Census data. Metro Vancouver is still the third largest region in Canada, but when it comes to absolute population growth, other regions are starting to grow faster. For example, Metro Vancouver prior to the 2016 census grew faster* than Calgary or Edmonton. This time around Calgary added 178,000 people, Edmonton added 162,000 people, and Metro Vancouver added 150,000 people.

Metro Vancouver staff also noted that the population in the Abbotsford-Mission area has increased by 10,300 between 2011 and 2016. This is consistent with the growth from 2006 through 2011. Staff noted that “there has not been a significant shifting of population growth from Metro Vancouver to the Fraser Valley over the past five years.”

Census data shows that Metro Vancouver has the third highest population density of Canada’s major metropolitan areas at 855 people per square kilometre. Our region includes both the Agricultural Land Reserve and the North Score mountains. When looking at the areas in our regional that are designated General Urban and Rural in the Regional Growth Strategy, the population density is actual 3,130 people per square kilometre which is closer to the population density of the Island of Montreal.

One of the important goals of Metro Vancouver is to build a compact region that protects and preserves our green spaces. 80% of all population growth between 2011 and 2016 was infill growth within existing urban areas. In Toronto, 55% of population growth was infill, and in Calgary that number was only 25%. Metro Vancouver continues to set an example of how to grow with less sprawl.

About 50% of new housing was within walking distance of TransLink’s Frequent Transit Network.

Population in Metro Vancouver municipalities from 2006 to 2016. Select table to enlarge.

In our sub-regions, the South of Fraser accommodated 45% of population growth between 2011 and 2016. The Tri-Cities accommodated 12% of population growth, Ridge Meadows 5%, and the North Shore 4%. The remaining part of the region absorbed 35% of population growth.

For more information including the percent of total dwellings occupied, and average persons per occupied household, read the full report in the latest Regional Planning Committee agenda starting on page 140.

*the prior three census periods.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A recap of Metro Conversations #2: Renewing rentals without kicking people to the street.

From Tuesday night's Metro Conversations. Select image to enlarge.

On Tuesday night, the second Metro Conversations was hosted in Langley City. Metro Conversations is based on the format of SFU City Conversations where experts and attendees engage with each other about a top-of-mind urban topic. Metro Conversations takes City Conversations from Downtown Vancouver to the rest of the region.

This latest conversation was around purpose-built rentals. How do we ensure that people at different income levels have access to rental housing that they can afford, and how can we ensure that the rental housing stock in our region is kept in a state of good repair?

One of the experts at this conversation was Marilyn Fischer who is the chair of Triple A Senior Housing, and is an active member of the Langley Seniors Community Action Table. Her perspective was from tenants currently living in affordable rental housing, with a focus on Langley.

Another expert was Dr. Penny Gurstein who is the Director of the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC. Her research focuses on strategies for housing affordability, and she brought her perspective based on that research to the conversation.

The final expert was David Hutniak who is the CEO of Landlord BC. Landlord BC’s mandate is to support a balanced and healthy rental housing market with an emphasis on private sector solutions. His perspective was from responsible landlord’s who managed purposed-built rental buildings.

The discussion between the experts and other people who attended was lively, and covered a good amount of ground. I wanted to share some of the ideas that stood out to me.

Many rental units are affordable because they are older and worn-out. While landlords in BC do have the responsibility to comply with health, safety and housing standards, some landlords take this responsibility more seriously than others. One of the ideas proposed at the conversation was to update provincial laws and local government bylaws to ensure that rental units and buildings are maintained more consistently.

At some point buildings reach their end-of-life. A building’s envelope, electrical, heating, and plumbing systems start to fail. Buildings do need to be replaced eventually. In BC, a landlord is only required to give 2 months noticed to terminate a tenancy to either renovate or demolish a rental unit. At the discussion, everyone agreed that this minimum requirement was unacceptable. Landlords should be required to work with tenants to find them new accommodations, and tenants should be treated with respect and dignity throughout the process of a relocation.

While local governments can set policies that landowners can voluntarily adhere to regarding tenant relocation when a purpose-built rental building is demolished, it would take a change in provincial legislation to make relocation policies that respect tenants a requirement.

One of the big questions of the evening was should older, and in some cases sub-standard, rental units be relied upon to be the only source of affordable rental housing. The clear answer was no.

It was acknowledged by many in the room that both the federal and provincial governments have policies in place to encourage home ownership, but for many, this is no longer possible.

At the same time, it was also acknowledged that the feds and province are also now stepping up to provide housing for people who have no or very limited income. What is currently missing is support for people in the middle who are slowly being priced out of both the ownership and rental markets.

To provide affordable rental units for people in the middle, both provincial and federal government support will be required, working with local governments.

There was discussion about bringing back housing co-ops into Canada which were successful in providing affordable housing. The Whistler Housing Authority was also cited during the conversation as an innovative way to not only provide affordable rental units, but also affordable home ownership.

There were many other ideas discussed last night, and this post only covered a small sampling of these ideas. While there is no magic wand that can be waved to provided instant affordable rental housing, there is certainly a path forward after listening to Tuesday night’s conversation.

Councillor Patrick Johnstone from New Westminster, Councillor Mathew Bond from the District of North Vancouver, Councillor Kiersten Duncan from Maple Ridge, and I are helping organize Metro Conversations. We are currently working on putting together podcasts from both the first Metro Conversation and this conversation, so you can hear the full discussions. Our next conversation will be in North Vancouver in May.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What can municipalities do to reduce homelessness in Metro Vancouver?

Yesterday, I posted about the Metro Vancouver Regional District’s new 12-point homelessness reduction action plan. Reducing the amount of people who are experiencing homelessness will take the help of the provincial and federal governments working in cooperation with local governments and other community organizations.

One of the questions that I get asked regularly is what can municipalities do to reduce homelessness. Based on Metro Vancouver’s new action plan, I want to highlight some of the ways that municipalities can do their part to reduce homelessness.

Local government’s can play a role in advocating to other orders of government to get resources in their community to reduce homelessness. They can also work with other orders of government, non-government and faith-based organizations to make sure that resources are being delivered in the most effective way possible in a community.

An example of this would be the Community Liaison Coordinator position that Langley City council recently approved.

While supportive housing and shelter facilities are generally funded by the provincial and federal governments, and operated by non-government or faith-based organizations in BC, municipalities are responsible for approving any zoning changes required for supportive housing and shelter facilities. Municipalities can also donate land for these facilities and provide a tax-break for the facilities.

A Langley City example is the Gateway of Hope. The City provided zoning approval, leases the land to the Salvation Army, and provides a tax exemption for this facility.

Based on Metro Vancouver’s 12-point plan, the last area that municipalities have direct control over when it comes to reducing homelessness is to ensure that policies are in place to support the creation of affordable housing.

Two of the tools that local governments have available are density bonuses and housing agreements. Density bonuses allow developers to create more units of housing than would normally be allowed in a specific zone, if the developer agrees to build a prescribed number of affordable housing unit.

Density bonuses can also be given to developers that sign onto housing agreements which can be used to ensure that housing units remain affordable. There is a good article at West Coast Environmental Law about housing agreements.

Langley City has an older affordable housing strategy which I’ve posted about previously.

Municipalities certainly have a role to play when it comes to reducing and preventing homelessness, but the heavy lifting must be done by the provincial and federal governments.