It’s no secret: Smithers has a rental problem.
The Town, along with Telkwa, are two of 30 approved applicants involving 50 municipalities and ten regional districts across the province that will benefit from nearly $1.5 million in provincial grants to be used for planning long-term housing needs and community support.
Smithers will get just under $20,000 for the assessment, while Telkwa will get $15,000.
“I am excited to see so many strong applications from municipalities and regional districts that are eager to identify and meet their housing needs, so people can live, work and continue to build prosperous lives in their communities,” said Selina Robinson, minister of municipal affairs and housing.
“Collectively, we need to work together to build the right kinds of homes for people across the province. These reports will give us the kind of community-specific information we need to make sure we meet people’s housing needs.”
Smithers mayor Taylor Bachrach said the funds are well-received, especially considering Smithers’ housing situation.
“We have long known there are gaps in our housing supply and a low rental vacancy rate,” he said. “A housing needs study will give us a community-wide view of our housing situation and help us choose approaches that will best meet current and future demands. We greatly appreciate the funding announced today and our ongoing partnership with the Province to ensure appropriate, affordable housing for all.”
Telkwa mayor Brad Layton also said the money was welcome, but it is not nearly what they need to do a comprehensive and adequate housing plan. The village, however, is committed, he said, to developing an adequate plan as housing was recently one of five key strategic priorities for Telkwa for the next four years.
“We have other planning funds,” Layton said. “We do have a housing plan, but it’s out of date, so basically to take that and then get new data and where our shortfalls are and then if we need more [money] we’ll look at our other funding opportunities.
“We’re going to make sure it’s not a bandaid. I’m tired of those kind of [projects] where you get 10 or 15 thousand dollars so you do what you can and it doesn’t answer the question.”
The grants come as new legislation requires local governments collect data on anticipated housing needs. To support this initiative, the Province plans to provide $5 million over the next three years through the program, which is being overseen by the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM).
Under the new requirements, local governments must produce their first housing needs report by April 2022, with additional reports every five years.
“UBCM is pleased to be working with the Province to deliver this funding program to our members,” said Arjun Singh, UBCM president. “Effective housing policy needs a high level of collaboration and co-operation between orders of government. This new provincial funding will improve data collection and consistency across communities and support evidence-based policy, as called for in UBCM’s housing report.”
Successful applicants were required to outline their plans for a comprehensive approach to understanding local housing needs, including public and Indigenous engagement, as well as speaking to various vulnerable populations throughout communities.
Some of the key focuses of the reports are the requirement for affordable housing, senior housing, living spaces for people with special needs, family housing and various communities’ levels of homelessness.
The Province is also making most of the data compiled by municipalities as part of the assessments available online to the public.
Once complete, the reports will be presented to a local government council or board — in the case of Smithers and Telkwa, both municipalities’ respective town councils.
In partnership with local governments and other partners, the Province has plans to build 114,000 new affordable homes throughout B.C. by 2028.
With files from Thom Barker