With a historic municipal election just weeks away, eighteen council hopefuls campaign for a seat in the Council Chambers. Along with four mayoral and trustee candidates, they form one of the largest pools of candidates the municipality has ever seen. With voters facing a wide variety of choices, the Herald looks to engage candidates and showcase their responses to the community’s question.
This week, the eighteen candidates for council were sent a question regarding the state of housing in the Nicola Valley, and the role of City Council in addressing it. Their responses, in random order:
This week’s question: What role do you think council should play in developing safe and affordable housing?
“Council plays an integral role in housing development by providing suitable zoned land, streamlining the regulatory process, tax or fees incentives, and other concessions and benefits. Another challenge is to encourage developers to include affordable housing units within a development plan. As long as they maintain the affordability of the units, they would continue to receive the benefits on a long term basis, which would also protect the units from rate increases. The city can also create a housing reserve fund to get contributions from a variety of sources that would be designated for affordable and special needs housing. Also by creating strong partnerships with government agencies, community and health organizations, to help address housing issues.”
“Council should be aware of all the factors that contribute to housing being unaffordable. High taxes and city utilities are the only factors that the city really has any control over, insurance rates, actual value of housing, etc, are controlled by the free market . Council needs to direct staff to reduce spending, no more new equipment or pick-ups at city works. All that new stuff doesn’t keep people in affordable housing. The wish list at city hall keeps growing as do the numbers of homeless on our streets.”
“The city should be involved in safe affordable housing. Sometimes policy gets in the way of progress, but in our case we don’t have the infrastructure as a city to provide such necessities, so we need to help shape that.”
Adam Etchart (incumbent, 2018-current):
“The council could request a meeting with the Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister to present information on our current housing needs and lobby for housing projects. We recently had a meeting with them to discuss this at UBCM and discussed our increasing homeless population and the need for supportive housing and health supports needed for the vulnerable sector. Another option is to offer a density bonus to larger construction projects offering units for rental. Offering quick development permits for rentals is another role where we could assist with developing safe and affordable housing.”
“Local Government can play a major role in facilitating and delivering affordable housing. City Council can plan to ensure there is an appropriate supply and mix of housing to meet community needs and can encourage the construction of affordable housing. Access to safe and affordable housing is vital to a healthy economy that has become a challenge that plagues communities throughout the province of British Columbia and throughout Canada. Merritt is no exception, and more than ever after the November floods. Adding to this challenge, many people face disproportionate barriers to access housing that is affordable. These include seniors, newcomers, indigenous peoples and those with disabilities.
“Safe and affordable housing is a right, yet it’s out of reach for many. Where we live affects educational opportunities for our children, health outcomes for our families, and whether we have easy access to the most basic needs such as food and transportation.”
“The shortage of safe and affordable housing is province wide, if not countrywide. I believe the role our council should play is to encourage and attract developers in and to our area. We should strive to assure the process of development is as smooth and timely as possible. It is our job to support safe and affordable housing, but not attempt to be developers or realtors ourselves.”
“The one word is “zoning”. Fortunately for Merritt, the present City council has worked hard in upgrading our old zoning bylaws. The new zoning rules have become more friendly to new construction such as easement, lot size, parking lots and multiple units per lot and carriage houses. Also council must work closely with BC Housing and Ask Wellness to maintain specific uniqueness of neighbourhoods without unduly displacing people. Council must be very respectful and cognitive of their impact decisions on the families in the area they wish to rezone. Residents in general buy into areas of town based on the zone. Changing this zoning could have a negative impact on the neighbourhood, however, “form-based zoning” can regulate the design of buildings for a better fit.
“Finally, the council must work closely with the First Nations ownership of land in the city and aggressively encourage vacant land to be developed with some areas which could offer affordable housing i.e. mobile home parks. Bottom line is that Council’s role is to try and make sure everyone has a decent place to live and enjoy our community. They must try to prevent the general failure of both public and private sectors to build affordable housing. Council should strive to develop more supply than demand and strengthen itself when it comes to planning rather than de-emphasize.”
“Council should be instrumental in assuring safe and affordable housing. The city seems like it has limited options at the moment but perhaps that will change with a fresh new council with some new ideas.”
Melvina White (incumbent, 2018-current):
“Local Government, consisting of the Mayor and Council, are responsible for providing and supporting safe and affordable housing, but not in the way many residents think. Council has the power to use planning and development tools to implement housing policies and decide on locations and types of housing by zoning or rezoning land to accommodate the community needs for affordable housing. This usually includes multi units by way of high-density buildings. Then the challenge becomes that many residents don’t want the high-density buildings in their neighbourhood.
“The other challenge Merritt has is there is not enough available land. We are surrounded by crown land that isn’t available to the city and we have also lost land due to the flood. The city is in continual talks with senior levels of government both Provincially and Federally trying to find solutions to our affordable housing crisis (30% of gross household income is considered affordable).
“Mayor and council are doing what they can within the obligations and responsibilities of their position in local government. The community wants affordable and low-income housing which has been made clear in the Housing Needs Report. Council has recognized that need and has been working towards that goal but also needs the support of the community when decisions are made to accommodate those needs.”
“I believe that the role City Council should play in developing safe and affordable housing is a multifaceted undertaking with the first step being safety. Crime is a major concern in Merritt, as it is in many other cities. I would like to make an effort to promote things like block parties to get to know our neighbours better. The RCMP does their best but cannot be everywhere at once, but if neighbors look out for one another this would be a good step towards increasing safety in our community. The affordability side of housing will not be solved overnight by anyone, but we can collaborate as a team on council to lobby the government for funding projects to encourage timely housing development. We can also look into tax reductions or grants for contractors building more low and medium density housing. We need more townhouses and duplex style housing to accommodate the extremely pressured working class people that are finding it very hard, if not impossible to find adequate housing in Merritt.”
“I believe that safe, affordable housing for the still displaced residents from last year’s flood, should be priority, but the only way council can have a role is working with builders of multi-unit housing developments and having them allocate a percentage of the units as low income with a priority of those units going to the displaced residents first.”
Claire Newman (incumbent in District of Logan Lake, 2018-current):
“Council is very important to the process of not only developing safe and affordable housing strategies and options for all residents but planning for future housing needs as well.
With my experience in municipal housing development, I know it takes ongoing community engagement and a continuous review of community strategic plans to correctly identify the needs of a growing community. Elected officials are the boots on the ground connection between residents and the various levels of Government, their respective agencies and private partners who can often provide additional funding for these projects. It is imperative to the successful growth of a community to keep all lines of communication open between those that need housing services and those that provide the funding opportunities for shelf ready development. Our current homeless population has been increasing over the past year and many residents are still displaced from the flood, this alone shows a call to action is necessary. A good Council will understand there will always be a need for safe, affordable housing.”
“I believe the city should be a little hands-on when it comes to making affordable housing available to people. Things like what happened last night in the council meeting where a low income housing not-for-profit group was given a tax break. These things are good for the city and they encourage good healthy economic growth. If this city is too expensive for people to live in then people will seek more affordable places to live.”
“A safe, secure and affordable home for all should be a top priority for Council. The lack of housing options is a current problem across Canada and beyond. It is time to be creative and consider housing options through innovative public-private partnerships. Council needs to:
- Ensure that all decisions on affordable housing, fair housing, tenant rights, and homelessness are made through an equity lens, and with input from low-income residents and those who have housing insecurity or are or have been without housing.
- Work on policies that actively further promote the creation of fair housing and facilitate economically diverse and inclusive neighborhoods.
- Implement programs that aim to see more affordable housing by reducing processing and approval times.”
“The government’s role to invest in housing is to ensure that they are not implementing bad government policies or creating excessive laws, rules, and regulations such as the carbon tax that directly impact the costs to build affordable housing. We can directly correlate this tax to raising the cost of materials, contractors, labour, and transport for the creation of affordable housing.
“The City is left to pick up the pieces of these disastrous policies, laws, rules, and regulations. How can the city help? We can work with private industry by lending our name to assist them in receiving grants that would otherwise not be available to build rent-controlled housing. The city could create a housing corporation for rent-controlled housing. The City can create a rental housing by-law that creates rules and regulations concerning rentals, as well as variances on permits and discounts on property taxes for rent-controlled properties that sunset after a specified time.
“The City should consolidate its property usage so that prime downtown land can be redeveloped for business and medium-density housing.”
No photo submitted.
“From where I sit as a taxpayer in this community, the funds should not come from the City
coffers. I believe it is the Provincial Government’s responsibility to provide funding for a city that has come up with a safe & affordable housing plan within the Official Community Plan. The City of Merrittpartnered with the TNRD in 2020 to determine the Housing Needs for our area by 2028. The MerrittHousing Needs Report was published in 2021 but to me it only indicates that we need more planned housing for our growing senior population and did not take into effect the fires or floods of 2021. The role that Council should play going forward is to review the findings of that report and base any further housing development decisions AFTER taking into consideration the City’s current needs.
“As Merritt’s population is trending towards having more senior citizens in the coming years, that Plan needs to focus on more Seniors Housing including Independent Living and Extended Care. Further, the Plan needs to include how to provide safe, temporary havens for it’s citizens during a time of crisis as well as how to assist neighbouring communities who have fled due to crises in their own community.”
“Firstly, I believe Council’s role should be to keep an open mind and listen to both the concerns of the neighbourhood that the housing is going in, and the developers rationale of wanting to build on a particular parcel of land. If possible, incentives should be offered to those developers committing to affordable housing. Merritt is still a small community so there are less concerns about what areas are safer than others. However Council should always be cautious as to not concentrate certain types of housing in any one area that could in turn create unsafe housing. City Councils should encourage affordable & safe housing by creating conducive zoning and development bylaws. They are not developers or residential landlords. They pave the way for others to do the task.”
This submission was indeed received in time, and the Herald apologizes for the delay in its upload and prior statement.
This candidate has not met the print deadline for written submissions, but online coverage may be updated to reflect a received response in the future. More information on this candidate, as well as all others, can be found on the Merritt Herald website under the ‘Civic Elections’ tab.
To view the weekly question asked to council and school trustee candidates, along with all of the Herald’s coverage of this election, view the ‘Civic Elections’ tab on the Herald’s website.
The municipal election will take place on October 15, and will see Merrittonians elect one Mayor, six Councillors, and four Trustees to a four year term. For more information on the election, visit www.merritt.ca/election22.