Ladysmith council learned about the next steps to take to address affordable housing last month.
Ann Kjerulf, a planner with the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD), presented the Regional Affordable Housing Needs Assessment Summary to Ladysmith council’s municipal services committee Feb. 16.
The full report can be downloaded at www.cvrd.bc.ca/housing.
The study was undertaken for the region as a whole as a precursor for an anticipated Regional Sustainability Strategy.
“We wanted to identify housing needs and gaps within the region and within individual communities,” said Kjerulf. “Another important purpose of this study was to produce a document that could be used by non-profit agencies or others wishing to secure grant funding; grand funders often ask for a needs assessment report to be undertaken as a condition or qualifier for grant funding, so this report will satisfy that requirement.”
For the purposes of this study, the committee looked at affordability being housing and shelter — which includes mortgage or rent, property taxes, heat and electricity, and maintenance — that doesn’t cost more than 30 per cent of household income.
In the national household survey, it indicates that 24 per cent of households — renters and owners combined — in Ladysmith are spending 30 per cent or more of their household income on home and shelter, that’s owners and renters combined, according to Kjerulf.
“I think generally what we would find if we did the math is Ladysmith would be doing better than the region as a whole and some other areas, but still 20 per cent of households spending more than 30 per cent of their income on housing is still significant,” she told council.
Coun. Carol Henderson wondered how meaningful that statistic is.
“If you’re making a huge amount, it hardly matters; you’ve got thousands left over after you’ve paid your housing costs,” she said. “It’s definitely a very meaningful statistic if your income is low and you’re having to put a third of it out. “
Kjerulf told council that 30 per cent is a national standard and is the guideline used by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, but Ladysmith as a community could have a discussion about what affordable housing is here, and many communities have done that.
The study recommended that a housing action plan be prepared, either as an independent plan or as part of the Regional Sustainability Strategy, and this plan would identify the strategic actions that are needed to address the housing gaps and needs in the region.
“Local government can define its role in providing affordable housing in a number of ways,” said Kjerulf. “Because local government is responsible for adopting the Official Community Plan and zoning bylaws, you have an opportunity to look at those policies and regulations and identify potential barriers that might exist for affordable housing. There’s a whole range of things that a local government can do, and as part of the housing action plan, that role can be defined.”
The study also recommends creating a financial sustainability strategy to find ways to provide housing in a way that doesn’t create an undue burden on other taxpayers; providing a standards of maintenance bylaw for rental housing; creating accessible/adaptable housing guidelines (which Ladysmith already has), providing education, and forming partnerships.
“Partnerships are the key to trying to address housing needs and challenges across the region,” said Kjerulf. “I don’t think you can do it any other way.”
One area the study looked at was housing diversity.
“In general, urban areas have a more diversified housing stock than rural areas,” said Kjerulf. “In Ladysmith, 73 per cent of the housing stock is in single detached homes, 24 per cent are ground-oriented and apartment units, and three per cent are manufactured homes. Seventy-nine per cent of the population are home owners, and 21 per cent are renters. Fifty per cent of the housing stock here was constructed prior to 1980 and roughly six per cent is in need of major repairs, compared to seven per cent across the region, so that’s better than the regional average in terms of the quality of housing.”
Kjerulf says there are 63 low-income families and seniors who are receiving BC Housing supplements in Ladysmith.
Kjerulf told council that in Ladysmith, the rent is roughly equivalent to the regional average — $1,000 a month for all housing types.
A homeless count was conducted for the region last year, and 58 people who were surveyed considered themselves to be absolutely homeless.
“Many of these are staying in the emergency shelter in Duncan and the transition house or in motels,” said Kjerulf. “But the actual number of homeless people in the region would actually be higher, and you have a hidden population, such as couch surfers; they’re also homeless but obviously difficult to count.”
Numbers were not determined for specific communities, and Kjerulf told council that the count is considered to be an under-estimate, as it relied on people identifying themselves as homeless.
Following her presentation, Kjerulf congratulated the Town of Ladysmith on the work it has done to address affordable housing.
“I think in comparison to some of the other jurisdictions, Ladysmith has done quite a bit of work,” she said. “In the first part of our research and the indicators report, there was actually a comparison table and charts that identify the different types of activities that can be undertaken to address affordable housing, and Ladysmith has actually checked a lot of the boxes, so you should be commended for that.”