Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Building sidewalks, enhancing crosswalks supports our most vulnerable residents. Creating a better community for all.

When you create a community that supports its most vulnerable residents, you create a community that is better for everyone. Vulnerable residents can include young children, seniors, people with mental and/or physical disabilities, and people with lower incomes.

While education, health, and social support systems play critical roles in building strong communities, so does the built form of a community. How we design our buildings and neighbourhoods, how we place buildings in relationship to other buildings and our streets, and how we design our streets are also critical elements to creating communities that either support or detract from creating an inclusive community.

If you have lived in Langley City over the last decade, you will have noticed that there has been a renewed focus on investing in people-powered transportation infrastructure. Whether it is building sidewalks, enhancing crosswalks, or building safer cycling lanes, these investments support some of the most vulnerable residents in our community.

If you are a parent (or imaging being a parent), would you feel safe letting your child ride a bike on 208 Street in the shoulder bike lane? Would you feel more comfortable with them riding down 203 Street? If you had a scooter or other mobility-assistance device which corridor would you feel safer on?

To the point that when we build communities for the most vulnerable, we build better communities for all, more people in general are now using active forms of transportation along corridors like 203 Street than ever before. This promotes better health outcomes, builds a strong sense of community as people start seeing their neighbours, and gets more eyes and ears on the street which reduces crime.

Much of Langley City was built-out during an era when planners actively discouraged walking. As such, many parts of our industrial area, commercial areas outside of Downtown, and single-family housing areas lack the most basic form of infrastructure: the sidewalk.

I was reminded of how important sidewalks were this weekend as I watched a senior negotiating 62 Avenue on a scooter. The north side of 62 Avenue is in the Township while the south side is in the City.

A senior riding their scooter along 62 Avenue. Select image to enlarge.

The same seniors trying to cross 62 Avenue to get onto 203 Street.

Langley City council is investing in walking infrastructure. As I posted about previously, we are investing more than $1 million to support walking in this year alone. I was reminded this weekend that Langley City must not slowdown investing in transportation infrastructure that supports our most vulnerable residents. This situation of a senior navigating 62 Avenue needs to be a thing of the past in our community.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Rental zoning will give municipalities new tool to support affordable housing

Yesterday, I posted about the state of rental housing in the South of Fraser based on information compiled by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association. The short of it is that market rental housing is becoming less affordable for people in our region. In Langley City, close to half of renter households spend more that 30% of their income on housing. Spending more than 30% of a household’s income on housing costs is considered unaffordable.

Transportation costs are significant for most renter households. The Metro Vancouver Regional District has done research around how to increase affordability for households that make a moderate income. Langley City’s average household income is around $50,000 per year. This is considered a moderate income.

Pinetree Way in Coquitlam is near high-quality public transit

Metro Vancouver’s solution is to build rental housing near high-quality public transit. One of the challenges with this today is that land near high-quality transit normally goes for a premium. One of the ways around this is to zone areas near high-quality transit for rental housing. This would dampen increasing land costs, as it would reduce speculative practices. Rental zoning would encourage people to create rental buildings for the long-term. This will result in more rental units, stabilizing rents throughout our region.

Currently, local governments don’t have the power to create rental zones, but this is about to change. The provincial government has a bill that is currently working its way through the legislature that would allow municipalities to create rental zones.

In Langley City and Surrey, rental zoning could be applied along sections of Fraser Highway, 104 Avenue, and King George Boulevard near transit stops. It could also be applied along B-Line routes. One of the good things about the proposed new rental zoning is that local governments don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach to creating rental housing. The proposed zone would allow a municipality to make anywhere from 1% to 100% of building housing units rental within the zone. This would work well for mixed-use buildings.

While the provincial and federal governments hold most of the power to create affordable housing, the proposed new rental zoning will give local governments the ability to encourage affordable rental units for moderate income households in our region.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

New index shows state of housing costs for renters in the South of Fraser

Ensuring that everyone can afford a place to live is one of the biggest challenges that our region has ever faced. Whether looking to own a home, rent at market rates, or get into some form of subsidized housing, most people are feeling the pressure.

The Canadian Rental Housing Index is put together by the BC Non-Profit Housing Association. It looks at rent affordability throughout Canada. The index was recently updated with the latest census data, and includes information at the municipal, regional, provincial, and federal levels. What does the index say about South of Fraser communities?

Langley City has some of the lowest household incomes in Metro Vancouver. The following chart shows the average and median gross incomes for renter households in 2016.

Average & Median Incomes in 2016: The average and median gross incomes of renter households. Select chart to enlarge.

The next chart shows the average monthly rent and utility costs in 2016.

Average Monthly Rent and Utilities in 2016: Includes heat, hot water, and electricity. Select chart to enlarge.

Langley City had some of the lowest housing costs in the South of Fraser, but because we also have the lowest household income levels, close to half of Langley City renter households are spending more than 30% of their income on housing. This means that these households are overspending on housing. Between 2016 and this year, the cost of housing has increased, so I would expect that the number of renter households that are overspending on housing costs is now larger.

Overspending in 2016: Households spending more than 30% of their before-tax income on rent and utilities are generally considered to be living in unaffordable situations. Select chart to enlarge.

Transportation is a critical component when it comes to affordability. In communities where driving is the only option, transportation costs can equal a third of housing costs. While in community where walking, cycling, and public transit are viable options, transportation costs can equal about a quarter of housing costs.

Transportation costs are not presented in this index. In the future, it would be good to see transportation costs also included.

The provincial government has recently put measures in place to address creating more affordable transportation and housing options. It will be interesting to see what impacts these policies will have over the next several years.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

May 14 Council Meeting Notes: Increasing budget for Downtown Langley Business Improvement Area. New Employer Health Tax will rise property tax 1%.

As last night’s Langley City council meeting was only one week from the last meeting, it was brief.

The meeting opened with awarding Emily Condon, a student at Alice Brown Elementary, the winner of the Local Government Awareness Day poster contest. She drew the winner poster encouraging people to leave their phone alone when they are driving. Her and other student’s posters can be seen at Timms Community Centre.

Emily Condon receiving an award from the mayor. Select image to enlarge.

The Downtown Langley Business Association represents merchants in the business improvement area (BIA) as shown on the following map.

Downtown Langley Business Improvement Area highlighted in grey. Select map to enlarge.

One of the special features of a BIA is that property owners can choose to tax themselves over-and-above normal property tax to pay for additional services which are delivered through a business association. The City must enable this additional property taxation through a bylaw. The currently bylaw for the Downtown Langley BIA is expiring in 2019.

The Downtown Langley Business Association executive was present last night as Langley City Council considered giving first, second, and third reading to a new enablement bylaw for the period 2020 through 2029. The bylaw will enable a 7% budget increase per year for the business association, funded by an additional property tax applied only within the BIA. Their maximum budget will be $497,976 in 2020, rising to $915,508 in 2029.

Besides supporting merchants in our Downtown, the association partners with the City to deliver events that benefit all local residents. These events include Arts Alive, Fork ‘N’ Finger, and the McBurney Plaza Summer Series.

Council gave three readings to the BIA bylaw.

The provincial government is ending MSP premiums, replacing the lost revenue with a new Employer Health Tax. As local governments are employers, we will be subject to this new tax. For Langley City, this means that our property tax will have to increase by 1% or $291,000 in 2019 to cover this new Employer Health Tax. This will leave less funding available to fund critical local infrastructure and services.

This is a classic example of provincial government downloading. Langley City council passed a motion calling for the BC government to exempt local governments, regional districts and school boards from the Employer Health Tax to lessen the financial burden on local taxpayers. Council also asked that a letter be written to other municipalities encouraging them to also write letters to the province regarding the impact of the tax.

Langley City council gave final reading to the updated Parks & Public Facilities Regulation Bylaw, and associated updated Municipal Ticket Information System Bylaw. These updates include new restrictions on camping in our community. I posted about these changes in more detail last week.

Council also gave final reading to discharge the land use contract for 5139 206 Street to facilitate a secondary suite.

5454, 5464, 5474, 5484, 5490 Brydon Crescent are subject to rezoning. Select map to enlarge.

In order to allow a public hearing, council gave first and second reading to a zoning amendment to accommodate a 30 unit, 3-story townhouse project along Brydon Crescent as shown.