As Telkwa braces for a housing crunch, Dze L’Kant Friendship Centre is looking for help from the Village to address a shortfall of affordable housing for Indigenous people.
At Telkwa council’s regular meeting Jan. 22, Dze L’Kant housing advisor Lydia Howard outlined the organization’s efforts to fill a growing gap in the Bulkley Valley.
Howard — whose hiring last September was part of the friendship centre’s strategic planning for housing — did not have a specific request for council, but was hoping to open a dialog about community preparedness to take advantage of funding opportunities from the federal and provincial governments.
She cited $7 billion over 10 years announced in the B.C. government’s 2018 budget as “an opportunity we must seize.”
Howard noted Telkwa’s 2011 ‘Housing Needs Assessment and Action Plan’ makes the village, “well-placed to pursue current and upcoming funding opportunities.”
She listed five things the Village has already done to position itself: considering community profile and need in regard to housing; recognizing housing as a significant challenge across many demographics; making housing solutions a key strategic priority; demonstrating an understanding of the complexity of housing challenges; and identifying key actions that will assist in the process of increasing affordable housing, e.g. plans to research existing housing projects in B.C. and support a regional strategic approach.
Telkwa Mayor Brad Layton said housing in general is a top-of-mind issue for council.
“Even when I was on council before mayor as a councillor, it has come up and we know even though we haven’t had funds in Telkwa to deal specifically with it, we have had it on our agenda; and at the Regional District it has been brought up more than once that we’re heading toward an even bigger housing crunch,” he said.
“And we’re starting to see indicators of that; like Mayor Brienen in Houston said they went from, like, 40 houses on the market to 16 in a month.”
The housing problem is exacerbated by economic development, Layton said, citing LNG and Telkwa Coal. The concern is an influx of more affluent residents will further marginalize at-risk populations.
“It’s just discussion at this point,” he said. “Telkwa is really limited in funds, we’re even limited in lands that we own. It will take creative solutions for us to do things here within our community, but we need to work with the other centres to come up with a plan that we can actually action.”
Howard outlined four key requirements for Telkwa to be ready: Evidence of need and demand; a non-profit society with the capacity to manage social housing projects; community support; and land, either through ownership or long-term lease arrangements.
Layton suggested one option to deal with the land issue is for Telkwa to grow geographically.
“Right now we don’t have the funds or the means to do that on the short term, but it was something that was brought up to us when we were at UBCM (Union of B.C. Municipalities) last year of that may be one of the ways for us to get more tax money, is to expand our boundaries,” he said. “We definitely will be having those kinds of discussions in our strategic planning.”
Further economic development could also be a means to achieving housing goals, the mayor speculated, noting extreme increases in commercial property assessments in the Lower Mainland could drive some businesses to relocate.
“This is an opportune time now to attract some of these businesses,” he said. “We have the backbone — we have fibre optics, we have rail, we’ve got a port nice and close to us — but can we even take advantage of it? We have a housing issue and it’s not just low income housing.”