Merritt’s city council will be taking a closer look into provincial housing legislation changes and its implications for the community. 

To address the housing and homelessness issues across B.C., the province is providing one-time capacity building funds to local governments to address the requirements of the new housing legislation.

The new legislation affects municipalities with more than 5,000 people, like Merritt, which will allow multi-unit developments on single-family and duplex lots, with the numbers of units determined by size of a lot and its proximity to transportation, ranging from three to six.

The changes in the legislation will also mandate more frequent updates to zoning bylaws and official community plans (OCP). A deadline of June 30, 2024, has been set for local governments to bring current bylaws into compliance with the province.

During the meeting, Mayor Mike Goetz inquired if a deadline extension would be possible, considering that Merritt is still dealing with flood damage and flood recovery.

“If the province wants us to move in this direction, if they want to buy out all those properties, then we’d be more than happy to have that happen,” he said. “But that needs to be taken into consideration. Same with Princeton, same with Merritt, same with Cache Creek. We still are not back to 100 per cent.”

During the discussion, City of Merritt’s Chief Administrative Office Cynthia White added that if the City doesn’t update the zoning bylaw, the provincial government can impose a bylaw upon the city.

“If we don’t have a bylaw, the province can impose it, whether or not council approves it,” she said. “We have to weigh those things. We can ask for an extension citing our individual circumstances, you know, we are in a difficult position still because … there’s some areas that are environmental danger zones that are not currently identified based on the new flood data.”

CAO White added that while the city may be able to get an extension, it most likely won’t be an extensive extension.

According to the staff report, municipalities across the province and Canada are creating housing corporations or authorities focusing on low or below market housing rental and ownership options.

Also according to the report, the City of Merritt is able to support housing affordability in a similar way. The city has approximately $4 million remaining in the flood recovery housing fund and the units that were purchased as transitional housing post-flood.

Adding to that, the City of Merritt also owns lands that would be ideal for multi-residential or mixed use/multi-residential housing.

“These resources allow us to engage in developing a housing corporation with built in sustainability,” the report reads.

Coun. Dana Egan expressed concerns regarding whether the city’s infrastructure would be able to accommodate new housing.

“These ones where you’re talking about four housing units must be permitted, six housing units must be permitted, it’s ridiculous,” she added. “Especially when our septic system is still damaged from the flood, you know? You can’t keep adding houses and people … no water, no people, no town.”

For City Councillor Wendy Charney, a lot of the housing project could be accomplished without the city entering into a development themselves.

“I really think we need to have a needs assessment of the housing. We have five BC Housing-assisted housing developments in Merritt,” Coun. Charney said. “We have new rental complexes in Diamond Vale that have just been built and we have 87 houses on the market today. I think that we really need to do a needs assessment of what this town needs.”  

She believes that Merritt is in a different situation when compared to Metro Vancouver when it comes to the housing crisis.

On the matter, CAO White added that the idea may not be that the City of Merritt creates housing, but agreements to ensure that there is affordable housing in future housing developments.

“If you have a multi-unit house or multi-unit property that has 10 units for the must-be affordable and the city can subsidize that,” she said. “There are different ways for us to use housing funding to support affordable housing in the city.”

White also added that it is not of interest to developers to build affordable housing because they can’t profit from it and “affordable housing has to be subsidized at this point.”

Coun. Adam Etchart added that “just because housing is available, doesn’t mean it’s affordable.” 

“I remember when people could actually rent reasonable homes for under $1,000 a month and I think right now you’d be lucky to find any kind of apartment in any condition for that kind of money,” he said. 

“We don’t want to become these situations where you have these illegal suites that people have put together that are unsafe and maybe people are overcrowded.”

At the end of discussion, council opted to further deliberate on the matter over a Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 5.