Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A regional response to reducing homelessness in Metro Vancouver

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Metro Vancouver has been climbing over the last decade. The Metro Vancouver Regional District estimates that 4,000 people are in immediate need of housing now, and that number will only continue to grow.

Reducing homelessness is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the most economically prudent thing to do. When someone is homeless, it costs taxpayers on average $55,000 per year in local and regional resources. It cost $37,000 to provide that same person housing annually, a significant savings.

In Langley City, we’ve seen both an increase in the number of people who are experiencing homelessness in our community, and an increase in the direct financial cost of homelessness to the City’s bottom line.

One municipality cannot reduce homelessness alone. Reducing homelessness is a regional challenge, and will take local governments working together with the provincial and federal governments to tackle.

As I posted about earlier, Metro Vancouver launched a Regional Homelessness Task Force late last year. The regional district just released the results of that task force with the following recommendations.

  1. Preventing pathways into homeless:
    • The development and implementation of comprehensive federal and provincial poverty reduction strategies, with alignment between both.
    • The improvement and expansion of home care for chronic health issues, mental illness and addictions.
    • The establishment of transitional supported-living programs for youth aging out of foster care / child welfare system.
    • The expansion of programs to meet the need for holistic and culturally safe support services to assist Aboriginal individuals and families in securing and maintaining housing.
    • The establishment of discharge planning programs to ensure subsidized or market housing on release from incarceration.
    • An increase in the supply of rental housing that is affordable to households with incomes below $30,000 per year.
  2. Serving people who are homeless:
    • An increase in the shelter component of income assistance to reflect average market rents.
    • The provision of additional transitional housing units to meet the need.
  3. Fostering pathways out of homelessness:
    • The improvement and expansion of appropriate, accessible and timely communication and information about available shelter services.
    • The provision of additional social housing units to eliminate the waitlist in the region.
    • The implementation of a coordinated access and assessment approach in which all agencies adopt a standardized approach, and information and data is centralized and harmonized.
    • An increase in the affordable rental housing supply, including through supporting retention of existing affordable rental units, as well as through supporting the construction of new units.

As the number of people who are experiencing homelessness is continuing to grow, it is clear that the current systems in place aren’t working as well as they could. For example, the following chart shows the breadth of agencies that could play a role in reducing homelessness in Metro Vancouver.

Agencies involved in addressing homelessness in Metro Vancouver. Source: Metro Vancouver. Select image to enlarge.

Many of these agencies work in silos with narrow scopes of authority. A holistic systems approach is required. The following graphic from the new regional plan shows how this could work.

An example of a holistic systems approached to reducing homelessness as proposed by the Metro Vancouver Regional District. Source: Metro Vancouver. Select image to enlarge.

The Metro Vancouver Homeless Count will occur on March 7th and 8th. The regional district is expecting the number of people who are experiencing homelessness to be significantly higher than in previous years.

Reducing homelessness is a serious challenge in Metro Vancouver. With all levels of government working in a coordinated manner, the number of people who are experiencing homelessness can be reduced. I hope this latest report from Metro Vancouver will lead to continued action.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A path towards mobility pricing in Metro Vancouver

In Metro Vancouver, we pay for our transportation system through a combination of general taxation such as income, sales, and property tax, and user fees.

Some of these user fees are direct such as paying for bridge tolls, parking, or transit fares. Other fees are indirect, such as paying fuel tax and auto insurance. Fuel tax is both a source of general taxation and an indirect user fee in Metro Vancouver as 23.75¢ per litre of fuel taxation goes directly towards roads and transit.

Within our region, it is well understood that how we currently fund our transportation system is broken. The Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation notes some of the challenges such as:

  1. A well-developed, but uncoordinated system in place to charge for the usage of parking, transit, car-share, and bike-share
  2. An undeveloped and ad-hoc system of charging for the usage of roads and bridges such as tolling on some new bridges, and indirect fees such as fuel tax, insurance premiums, and vehicle permits.

Over the last several years, there has been an increasing desire to shift away from the current way that we pay for transportation towards mobility pricing. What exactly is mobility pricing, and why is it better than the current “system” in place within our region today?

Examples of how we pay for our transportation system today. Source: Mayors' Council

The Mayors’ Council has defined mobility pricing as “the suite of public and private usage charges associated with using everyday transportation services, including: transit fares, road usage charges, parking fees, and shared mobility services such as ride-sourcing, car-sharing, and bike-sharing.”

Mobility pricing will help manage congestion, maximize fairness, and support continued investment in transportation infrastructure into the future. For example, our current ad-hoc tolling has led to traffic diversion and regional inequity. Fuel tax is currently used to fund a large amount of our transportation system. Vehicles continue to become more efficient, and people continue to shift to transit and active transportation, making fuel tax an unsustainable funding source for transportation.

As has been noted in the media, the Mayors’ Council will be setting up an Independent Commission that will:

  1. Recommend a coordinated approach for regional road usage charging in Metro Vancouver that considers all existing or potential charges (direct and indirect) associated with road usage by motor vehicles.
  2. Assess the implications of the specific proposal outlined above in terms of consistency, compatibility, and coordination with other forms of mobility pricing in the region, including: transit fares, parking fees, and fees for shared mobility services.

The Commission will be arms-length from government, and will be comprised of “eminent and unaffiliated local citizens and community leaders” that are a representative sampling of the diversity within our region.

It is expected that the Commission’s work will be completed early in 2018. More information about this can be found in the most recent Mayors’ Council agenda.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Four areas selected for traffic calming in Langley City

One of the things that I hear regularly from residents in our community is the desire for people to slow down when driving their motor vehicles in our neighbourhoods, especially around parks and schools.

Earlier this week, Langley City council approved its 2017 Financial Plan. Within that plan, $400,000 has been allocated for traffic calming throughout the community.

Langley City proposed traffic calming areas in red. Select map to enlarge.

The following locations made the cut for this year:

  • 50 Avenue around Conder Park
  • 198 Street around Brydon Park
  • Michaud Crescent around Linwood Park
  • 201A Street around Linwood Park

How does a section of street make it onto the traffic calming list? Residents normally have to request that a section of street be considered for traffic calming. If you want to request a section of street, please visit the City’s Request for Service site.

Based on the requests received, the City will get speed and traffic volume data for the section of street where traffic calming was requested. This information will be put into a scoring matrix which evaluates speed, volume, amount of short-cutting, collision rates, sidewalks, and proximity to schools, parks, or community centres.

If a section of street makes the cut, and budget is approved by council, the City will send out ballots to the surrounding neighbourhood where traffic calming is being proposed. If the neighbourhood votes yes, work starts on the design and costing for proposed traffic calming measures.

The proposed design will then be presented back to the neighbourhood for feedback. The design may be refined, and finally sent to council for approval.

As you can imagine this can take some time, but the end result is safer neighbourhoods were people can feel safer walking, cycling, and driving.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

New study: Metro Vancouver is not the most congestion region in Canada by a long shot

Ever since the TomTom Traffic Index started being released annually, it has generated headlines that Metro Vancouver has some of the worst congestion in North America.

Unfortunately, the TomTom Traffic Index has a flawed methodology which favours auto-oriented regions with large freeways over walkable, transit-friendly, and accessible regions. For more information about the why the methodology for the TomTom Traffic Index is problematic, please read a previous post I wrote on the topic.

Earlier this year, the CAA’s Congestion Index was released. This report was focused on freeway bottlenecks, and as I posted previously “there is an underlying assumption that if a bottleneck exists for single-occupancy vehicles, the solution is to expand capacity. Of course, we know that building more capacity simply leads to even worse congestion and/or a shift of the bottleneck to another area.”

Earlier this week, the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard was released. It looks at congestion in regions through the world.

In the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard, Metro Vancouver is the 157th most congested region, and the fifth most congested region in Canada. Montreal, Toronto, St John’s, and Ottawa all had worse ICI scores (an INRIX metric.) So why is the INRIX ranking so different than the TomTom ranking? It’s all about the methodology.

Top 10 list of regions with highest ICI score in Canada. Select table to enlarge.

The INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard has a more robust methodology than the TomTom index.

The INRIX methodology evaluates congestion based on time-of-day, and differentiates highways from local roads. As I posted about previously, this is important.

INRIX defines congestion as 65% of free-flow speed. Free-flow speed is basically driving the posted speed limit on roads with no traffic, at-grade intersections, crosswalks, or construction. Free-flow speed is not the most efficient speed for traffic flow. Traffic flows best at speeds between free-flow and congestion. Wikipedia has a good article on the fundamental diagram of traffic flow.

The INRIX methodology also includes median travel time in its Congestion Index (ICI.) As I posted about previously, Metro Vancouver has a lower median travel time than Montreal or Toronto.

The time it takes to get to work and back. Source: Statistics Canada 89-622-XIE and 11-008-X.

What this all amounts to is a better representation of actual congestion in a region.

Will building more freeways reduce congestion? If Toronto and Montreal are any indication, no. As stated by INRIX, “the fundamental cause [of congestion] is an imbalance between the demand for roads and the supply of road space. Managing demand for road space is critical. That includes smoothing demand through flexible working, avoiding peak hour trips through remote working and encouraging the efficient use of our roads through wider adoption of road user pricing.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February 20th, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: Budget approved, Homelessness Action Table created, and community grants allocated.

Last night was a brief council meeting; several items were given final reading for approval. Final reading is the “sober second thought” for local government bylaws. Final reading does not normally occur at the same time as other readings and debate of a bylaw. At final reading, you can only vote for or against a bylaw. Council tends to go through final readings quickly.

Council gave final reading to a bylaw to update the Official Community Plan to incorporate Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs), and development guidelines for ESAs. You can read more about ESAs in a prior post.

Council also gave final reading to our 2017 Financial Plan. You can read more about the capital projects and operating component of the budget, which includes increases to services, in previous posts. The financial plan was approved unanimously by council.

Council also gave first and second reading for a proposed rezoning to allow a 98-unit apartment building near Michaud Crescent and 201 Street to be built. This will allow for a public hearing about the proposed rezoning at the March 6th council meeting to proceed. I will be posting more about this proposed project after the March 6th meeting.

Rendering of proposed apartment building at the corner of Michaud Crescent and 201 Street.

Putting in place solutions to reduce homelessness in our community is something that is a priority for people in Langley City. Langley City council approved the creation of a Homelessness Action Table —a task group— to guide the implementation of our Homelessness Strategic Plan, as well as track and report on progress, and advocate for projects and funding last night.

The Homelessness Action Table will have members from local, provincial, and federal governments as well as representatives from the Fraser Health Authority, BC Housing, RCMP, and other community social service agencies in Langley. The Township of Langley was invited to sit on the action table, but have declined at this time.

Throughout the City, there are banners on some of our streetlights with a focus around the Downtown area. The current policy that guided the installation of these banners was dated and inflexible. Council approved a new banner policy last night which is more flexible.

The new policy continues to allow seasonal streetlight banners to be paid for and installed by the City in the spring, summer, and fall. The biggest change in policy is to allow the installation of banners that are not seasonal to support civic, charitable, or community-oriented events within the following guidelines:

  • Be specifically happening within Langley City.
  • The majority of the population of the City would be able to participate in or be generally interested in the public event.
  • Benefit locally-based, non-profit organizations.
  • Not be political, religious, commercial, or profit making.

Organizations that request and are approved for the installation of banner, must pay a fee for the installation of their banners. Council gave first, second, and third reading to update our Fees & Charges Bylaw to set the installation fee prices.

Langley City allocates $168,000 per year from casino revenue for community grants. Last night, council approved $131,341.05 in grants to the following organizations:

Monday, February 20, 2017

Population changes in the South of Fraser and Langley

Earlier this month, Statistics Canada released population and dwelling counts from the 2016 census. Throughout the rest of the year, the agency will be releasing further data from the most recent census.

While population in the South of Fraser has grown significantly, it hasn't been evenly distributed. The population in the Township of Langley has increased by 12.6% due to massive growth in Willoughby. Surrey’s population has increased by 10.6%. Langley City’s and White Rock’s population increased by 3.2% while Delta had a population increase of 2.4%.

Communities like White Rock and Langley City are unique because they have already been built-out. All new growth is from urban redevelopment.

In Langley City, the overall population increased by 807 people. Langley City is divided by the Nicomekl River. Single-family housing is located south of the Nicomekl, while the area north of the Nicomekl is zoned for apartments, townhouses, mixed-use, commercial, and industrial.

Single-family neighbourhoods in Langley City saw a population decrease of 40 people. The following map is from Census Mapper.

City of Langley: Area highlighted in blue had an increase in population of 698. Source: Census Mapper.

The area highlighted in blue saw the largest population increase in Langley City with 698 people. This is an area in the City which is being redeveloped from single-family housing to townhouses and apartments. All other north of the Nicomekl neighbourhoods had population increases.

Overall, the highest concentration of growth in the South of Fraser was in Willoughby between the 2011 and 2016 census.

Township of Langley: Area highlighted in blue had an increase in population of 8,703. Source: Census Mapper.

To find out the change in population in your neighbourhood, I suggest that you check out Census Mapper.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Yet more bus service coming to Clayton Heights and Willoughby

Thanks to the approval of the new 10-Year Vision for TransLink which was approved by the Mayors’ Council, with some funding support from the provincial and federal governments, transit service is improving in the South of Fraser.

One of the areas where transit service needs improvement is in Clayton Heights in Surrey and Willoughby in the Township of Langley. TransLink recently introduced bus service along 208th Street. The transportation agency is now looking to introduce another bus service as shown on the following map.

Map of proposed 372 Clayton Heights/Langley Centre bus route. Select map to enlarge.

This proposed new transit service will be within walking distance of 19,000 people, and will give around 2,000 people access to transit who didn’t previously. The route will have bus service every 30 minutes from early morning until 10pm on weekdays, and until 9pm on weekend.

Map of population increase between 2011 and 2016 census. Select map to enlarge. Source: CensusMapper

Some of the other improvements for Langley residents as part of phase one of the 10-Year Vision include:

  • New B-Line on Fraser Highway with 15 minute or better service
  • 501 with 30-minute service until 10:30PM
  • 502 with more trips during weekday peak periods, Saturday mornings and evenings
  • 555 with increased weekday peak periods service every 6 minutes

TransLink is looking for public feedback on these proposed changes. You can submit your feedback on TransLink’s website until March 6th.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Metro Conversations Presents: Renewing rentals without kicking people to the street.

Metro Conversations 2: February 28, 2017

Metro Conversations are once again bringing conversations out of the big city and into the ‘burbs. This is the second event in a series of meet-up discussions aimed at creating a larger conversation, in person and online. Started by four like-minded young City Councillors, Metro Conversations offers a unique format bringing experts in the field together with citizens for two-way dialogue and discourse within a strict 1-hour time limit. Beyond a lecture, it is a sharing of ideas.

“This time we’ll be discussing options for revitalizing old apartment buildings that respect current tenants, and maintain affordability,” said Councillor Nathan Pachal, the main coordinator of this month’s event. The Langley event is the second in a series Pachal is organizing with Kiersten Duncan from the City of Maple Ridge, Mathew Bond from the District of North Vancouver and Patrick Johnstone of New Westminster. The group is continuing the ongoing series with similar events later in the year in their own communities.

“This issue isn’t restricted to Vancouver” noted Councillor Kiersten Duncan. “We lost over 50 low-cost rental units in Maple Ridge during the Sunrise Apartment Fire where 100 people lost their homes. We’re currently working with a developer to rebuild the affordable housing that we lost, but it’s challenging.”

Municipalities across the lower mainland are struggling to upgrade dilapidated apartments without negatively impacting current residents.

“Some of the older buildings don’t meet modern building codes for fire and safety such as mandatory sprinkling for condos four storeys and higher” pointed out Councillor Mathew Bond. “Our panelists include experts from Triple A Senior Housing, LandlordBC and a Professor of Community and Regional Planning. We’re excited to have such diverse expertise – it should make for a great exchange” added Councillor Patrick Johnstone.

Join the conversation with guests:

  • Marilyn Fischer, Chair - Triple A Senior Housing
  • David Hutniak, CEO - LandlordBC
  • Penny Gurstein, Professor and Director, School of Community & Regional Planning and Centre for Human Settlements - UBC

This free event will take place on Tuesday, February 28th from 7:00-8:00pm at the Douglas Recreation Centre in Langley City. Doors open at 6:30pm and everyone is welcome to come and take part in the conversation.

Seating is limited, so while attendance is free and open, we recommend that you reserve your seat.

Reserve your seat at Eventbrite

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Real facts about shifting traffic congestion and the Massey, Alex Fraser, Pattullo, and Port Mann Bridges

Late last week, the provincial government issued an Environmental Assessment Certificate for the Massey Tunnel replacement bridge project.

As I posted about earlier, there are two key facts about the project that make me question the urgency to move forward with the project.

The first fact is that the tolled Massey Bridge will cause people to shift to driving over the Alex Fraser Bridge, increasing congestion along an already congested corridor.

The second fact is that the tolled Massey Bridge will result in less people using that highway corridor. In fact, there will be a similar level of traffic volume over the new bridge as went through the tunnel in 1984!

The recently released George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project Assessment Report acknowledges these two facts.

In the assessment report, the shift in traffic from the Highway 99 corridor to the Highway 91 corridor is downplayed:

In the future, the [Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure] expects that some midday, overnight, and weekend traffic would choose to use the Alex Fraser Bridge rather than the new bridge to avoid tolls, although there is available capacity at the Alex Fraser Bridge during these times.

The [Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure] believes that, as demonstrated by the Port Mann Bridge experience, the new [Massey] bridge would attract peak period traffic in both directions, reducing congestion at the Alex Fraser Bridge.

Now the Port Mann Bridge experience shows that the downstream, untolled Pattullo Bridge has not only had an increase in midday, overnight, and weekend traffic, but also longer and more congested peak periods.

TransLink keeps details, publicly available statistics about the Pattullo Bridge. The following graphs show the average weekday traffic volumes across the Pattullo Bridge before tolling was introduce at the Port Mann Bridge during the third week of November in 2012, and during the third week of November in 2014 and 2016.

Average weekday northbound traffic volume across the Pattullo Bridge. Third week of November 2012, 2014, & 2016. Select graph to enlarge.

Average weekday southbound traffic volume across the Pattullo Bridge. Third week of November 2012, 2014, & 2016. Select graph to enlarge.

The Port Mann Bridge experience has resulted in increased traffic volumes at all times of the day, including peak periods, over the Pattullo Bridge. I would expect to see the same for the Alex Fraser.

The provincial government is going ahead with the Massey Bridge. Without fair, region-wide tolling or increased investment made into public transit, the replacement bridge will just shift congestion from one crossing to another.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Langley City Council passes motion calling for sprinklers on balconies of new 4-storey wood-frame apartments

The BC Building Code has different requirements when it comes to the inclusion of fire sprinklers in new construction. Generally, the following applies:

  • Residential Buildings:
    • Three storeys and under: sprinklers are not required.
    • Four storeys and higher: sprinklers are required.
  • Office Buildings: sprinklers required if more than six storeys.
  • Care Facilities: sprinklers required.

For new wood-frame residential buildings five-storeys of higher, sprinklers on balconies and in attic space is also required. The Paddington Station fire started on a balcony, and spread into that building's attic space. The building was four-storeys.

City of Langley Fire Chief Rory Thompson, in a report presented to council stated, “in the Paddington Station fire, firefighters had the balcony fire knocked down from the exterior within 5 minutes of arrival. However, the first attack team into the apartment of origin reported heavy fire conditions already in the attic space. Sprinklers on the balconies would have prevented this tragedy.”

Since 2007, Langley City Fire-Rescue Service has responded to 80 apartment fires. Collectively, there has been one fatality and 11 injuries because of these fires. Of these 80 apartment fires, 11 started on balconies.

According to Thompson, Burnaby, Coquitlam, North Vancouver, Surrey, and White Rock have all had large multi-residential fires last year.

The Minister Responsible for Housing has announced that the province will include the requirement for sprinklers on the balconies of 4-storey wood-frame apartments when the BC Building Code is next updated. This could take a year or two.

The BC Building Code should be changed immediately to require sprinklers on balconies to prevent another building from being constructed with the same design that allowed fire to spread at Paddington Station.

This is why Langley City council passed the following motion at the February 6th council meeting to be considered at UBCM. If endorsed at UBCM, the resolution will be forwarded to the province to consider:

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.

If we can design buildings to reduce fire risk, we should. I hope the provincial government will move forward on the recommendation made in this resolution.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

February 6th, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: 500 tonnes of salt, major water main repair starting, plus water and sewer rate changes approved

500 metric tonnes of salt. That is how much salt was used this past weekend by City of Langley crews to keep our streets passable over the weekend. Rick Bomhof, Director of Engineering, Parks and Environment provided an update about the departments that he is responsible for at Monday's council meeting.

As you can imagine, salt is running low region-wide. Bomhof stated that City staff are working on replenishing our salt supply, but in the meantime, salt will be reserved for major streets. Plowing and sanding will still occur on all streets.

The City of Langley provides access to its GIS/mapping system online. Bomhof noted that the 2016 aerial photos are now available on online. Arial imagery can be viewed as far back as 2001.

Between February 27 and March 2, Metro Vancouver will be doing major valve repair work on the water main that services City of Langley residents. The City’s water system is also interconnected with the Township of Langley’s water system. During the repair work, City residents will receive water via the Township water system.

The Township water system uses a blend of Metro Vancouver and well water. Some residents may notice a cloudiness in the water because of this. According to Bomhof, the water is still perfectly safe to use. City resident shouldn’t notice any difference in water service during the repair work.

To make sure that switching to the Township water system will work as expected, tests will be performed on February 15 and 16.

The 203 Street project is nearing completion. The new bridge deck across the Nicomekl was recently completed. The whole project should be completed by the end of March.

Bomhof noted the recent funding of $500,000 from the federal government which will be combined with $800,000 of funds from the City to complete the Penzer Action Park.

Kim Hilton, Director of Recreation, Culture & Community Services also provided an update to council on Monday.

Hilton stated that you can head to the Timms Community Centre between 11:30am and 2:30pm to celebrate Family Day on February 13. There will be free family-friendly activities. On February 24, there is a Pro-D Day in Langley. The City will be providing a Pro-D Day program that will run from 9am to 2pm that day at Douglas Recreation Centre. For more information about activities and events in our community, please visit the City's website.

At the end of Hilton's presentation, I asked if we could get statistics about who and how people are using our community centres and services. Hilton stated that she is working on getting this information together, and will be presenting it at a future council meeting.

Council also heard a presentation from Patrick Matiowski of the Langley Care Foundation. He provided an overview of the non-profit Langley Lodge which has been providing, according to Matiowski, some of the best seniors care in the world since 1973. Matiowski thanked the City for its support of the organization, including the permissive tax exemption it receives.

Council gave final reading to the Waterworks Regulation, and Sanity Sewer and Storm Sewer Rates and Regulation bylaws which will change water and sewer rates for most properties as follows:

For water service: $75.00 flat-rate per dwelling unit per year, plus a consumption charge of $1.16 per cubic metre of water consumed during the previous year.

For sewer service: $75.00 flat-rate per dwelling unit per year, plus a consumption charge of $1.04 per cubic metre based on 80% of the water consumption used during the previous twelve months.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

February 6th, 2017 Council Meeting Notes: 2017 Budget and Financial Plan receives third reading, and fixing the taxation imbalance.

Yesterday’s City of Langley council meeting started with a Committee of the Whole to provide people an opportunity to comment on the proposed 2017-2021 Financial Plan for the City. As I posted about previously, the proposed 2017 budget is focused on public safety, addressing homelessness, improving our parks and public spaces, renewing our infrastructure, and bringing more positive activities to the community.

The capital component of the proposed budget will invest some $21.7 million into to the community. The operating component of proposed budget will see service level improvements in the maintenance of parks, boulevard, and trails among other things.

There will also be enhancements to public safety, including an additional bylaw officer. 45.6% of our budget, or $25.7 million is proposed to be invested into protective services.

A Community Liaison Coordinator will be hired if the budget is approved. This person will work with social service agencies, the RCMP and the business community to address critical social issues in our community.

The proposed budget helps address many of the concerns I’ve heard from members of our community.

The proposed budget will require a 3.61% increase in revenue over the previous year. This includes a 0.5% infrastructure levy to ensure that we have the funds to replace critical items such as water and sewer lines.

There were not public comments, written or in-person, received about the proposed Financial Plan at last night's meeting.

I also attended the Financial Open House last week; a hand full of people attended the open house. I spent a good amount of time at the open house talking with a person about improvements they would like to see in the community including upgraded street lighting and enhanced maintenance of sidewalks.

The 2017-2021 Financial Plan was given third reading by council. At the next council meeting, the plan will go to a vote for final adoption.

One of the challenges with the current property tax system is that there is only one tax class and therefore only rate that can be applied to all residential properties. Because strata units and single-family properties appreciating at different rates, there is an imbalance in taxation levels.

The proposed Financial Plan contains a section on selected residential properties. For the selected single-family properties, the tax proposed to be paid this year to the City would change by an average of $105. For the selected strata units, the proposed tax paid would change by an average of -$20.

The provincial government controls property classes. Council is advocating for two property classes for residential properties, and passed the following motion last night:

WHEREAS the Province of British Columbia through the BC Assessment Act –Prescribed Classes of Property Regulation B.C. Reg. 438/81 specifies that there is one assessment class for all types of residential properties and the Community Charter outlines that a municipal bylaw to establish the property value taxes each year under section 197 (3) specifies there is a single rate for each property class;

AND WHEREAS the assessed value of the multifamily strata units change at a different rate than single family residential properties;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Province of British Columbia amend the BC Assessment Act and the Community Charter to allow the residential class to be split into two distinct residential classes so that a different rate may be applied to each type of residential property to more equitably share the tax burden between the single family residential properties and the multifamily residential strata properties.

The motion will hopefully make its way to the UBCM Convention this fall where it could be endorsed by other municipalities, and forwarded to the province to consider.

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

Monday, February 6, 2017

Clearing Snow from Curb Letdowns Critical

This weekend, snowfall records were broken throughout Metro Vancouver. Municipal crews throughout the region have been tirelessly working to clear snow from our roads, and in some cases sidewalks and bike lanes.

Just like in December, I must commend our City of Langley staff for doing a fantastic job of keeping our roads and city-maintained sidewalks and paths clear. While City crews may not get to every side street instantly, our policy is to clear ever single street within our borders.

For more information on road, path, and sidewalk clearing priorities, please visit the City of Langley’s website.

Like most municipalities, the majority of our sidewalks are cleared by property owners who have sidewalks parallel to their property lines.

Looking at the state of sidewalks in other municipalities this weekend, and the Surrey-section of Fraser Highway this morning, Langley City property owners are doing an above average job of keeping sidewalks cleared.

One of the things that some people forget to clear are curb letdowns.

While I’m able-bodied, and can walk through snow drifts that can pile up at intersections, may people cannot. For seniors, people with limited-mobility, or people that require mobility-aids, these snow drifts can mean not going to the grocery store, a medical appointment, or visiting friends.

On my walk to the bus loop this morning along 204th Street, all but two intersections had cleared curb letdowns.

The following pictures are from 204th Street and Douglas Crescent this morning. The first picture shows how intersections should be cleared. The second pictures show the barrier that is created when curb letdowns are not cleared.

Keeping curb letdowns clear ensures that access can be maintained for all people. Select image to enlarge.

Creating barrier when curb letdowns are not cleared. Select image to enlarge.

Keeping our streets and sidewalks clear when it snows is critical to maintaining accessibility for all people in our community, no matter their mode of travel or level of mobility.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Rent increase for affordable seniors housing in Langley City, and government subsidies that aren't keeping up

Langley Lions Senior Citizens Housing Society (LLSCHS) is a major provider of affordable housing in Langley City with 625 units for independent seniors and people with disabilities.

In 2013, the provincial government stopped providing direct rent subsidies for four of the buildings that the society manages. LLSCHS was providing internal subsidizes for the last few years, but this was not sustainable for the society to maintain. There are three other affordable housing buildings that LLSCHS manages which currently receive direct government rent subsidies.

Currently, most residents in LLSCHS independent affordable housing units pay about 30% of their income towards rent. For buildings that no longer have direct government subsidies, this will increase to 33% of a tenant’s income.

LLSCHS is now requiring that most tenants apply for the SAFER program which helps make rents affordable for seniors with low to moderate incomes —under $2,550 per month income for singles and $2,750 per month for couples— who pay more than 30% of their income towards housing.

One of the current challenges with the SAFER program is that there is a rent ceiling. The maximum amount of rent that the province will recognize for the subsidy is capped. For a single person, the maximum rent that the province will use to calculate the SAFER subsidy is $765 per month for singles and $825 for couples.

LLSCHS one bedroom unit rent is $850. If you look around Metro Vancouver, you would be hard pressed to find a rental unit in a good state of repair for $765 to $825 per month.

For people that live in LLSCHS units, the society is committed to ensuring that no tenant will pay more than 33% of their income towards housing.

The new rent subsidy model for LLSCHS independent affordable units.

As rents continue to increase in Metro Vancouver, people that currently use the SAFER program will find that more and more of their income is going towards housing. Without a change to the rent cap, many will be paying more than a third of their income towards housing.

The SAFER subsidy and other rent subsidies seem to be the provincial government's preferred model of providing affordable housing to low to moderate income people. With the increase in rents for even modest units in our region, and the end of direct operating support for many affordable housing providers, the caps for the SAFER subsidy and other subsidies need to increase. If not, there is a real risk that more people will end up living in poverty, or end up homeless.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Creating walkability with simple changes to building design in Newton

Back in 2014, I wrote two posts on the “Central Newton Cultural Commercial District” which is centred around 80th Avenue and 128th Street in Surrey. This part of Surrey was originally an industrial area as it was serviced by the Interurban, and now Southern Rail. Over the years, the area has transitioned from an industrial area into an area with retail shops and offices that cater to the South Asian community in Surrey.

Central Newton Cultural Commercial District around the intersection of 128th Street and 80th Avenue.

This area was regionally rezoned from industrial to mixed-employment, formalizing the development of this area as a commercial district.

One of the proposed projects in that area was a commercial development at the corner of 128th Street and 80th Avenue.

Site plan of commercial development at 80th Avenue and 128th Street in Surrey. Click image to enlarge.

I noted at the time that how a building is sited can make all the difference between creating an inviting, walking urban environment, or creating an inaccessible, harsh urban environment.

This project is sited such that the buildings front the street, and provide walk-in access from the street. There is still surface parking, but it is hidden in the back of the buildings.

If these buildings were flipped around so that the parking was facing the street, and buildings were toward the back, it would be a typical, inaccessible strip mall.

I recently was in the “Central Newton Cultural Commercial District”, and took the following pictures.

View of building at 128th Street and 80th Avenue. Select image to enlarge.

View of building around 128th Street. Select image to enlarge.

View of building from across the 128th Street and 80th Avenue intersection. Select image to enlarge.

As you can see, this recently completed project supports walkability. 128th Street does need some changes to make it feel more urban.

Over time, and if other projects also put their best face to the street, this area will be transformed into a walkable High Street.

Creating an inviting, walking, and transit-accessible community doesn’t require every community to be designed to look like Vancouver. Simple changes to the siting and design of buildings that would otherwise create strip-malls and sprawl, can support place-making and walkability.