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Association outlines community’s housing challenges

Mayor looking for province to step up
An apartment building in Houston. (Angelique Houlihan photo/Houston Today)

Houston’s mayor acknowledges the community has a shortage of housing of all kinds and that there’s an issue of quality, but says it isn’t unique in that regard within the region or province.

“Everyone is going through the same thing,” said Shane Brienen following a presentation made Jan. 16 by Houston Link to Learning on the state of housing in the community.

“I wouldn’t disagree with anything they said,” Brienen added of the association presenting a list of housing concerns regarding quantity of housing, the cost given the condition of some housing stock and conditions of some rentals.

In many ways a 2020 housing study prepared for the District confirmed the community services association’s presentation, he said.

“Water leaks, heat and mould,” he noted of issues raised by the association as well as in the 2020 study.

Brienen did say the District may have lulled itself into a false sense of economy by trimming bylaw inspections of properties.

“We may have thought we could live without it and it looks good for the [municipal] budget on paper but by not keeping up on bylaws, that could be trouble down the road,” he said.

But the mayor did note that, overall, provision of housing is a provincial matter.

“I think what you are going to see is the province has to step up on housing,” Brienen said of the northwest.

“Resource companies who want to bring in 100 people, 500 people are backing out because there is no place to house their people.”

Brienen also pointed at the continued development of port facilities at Prince Rupert, saying that as the level of traffic and business increases from that port, communities will see growth and from that, a requirement for housing.

Houston Link to Learning was just one of four presenters speaking to council at the Jan. 16 meeting and that limited the time it could engage with council members.

“What we’re going to do is call them back so we can speak more,” said Brienen.

The association also pointed out that low-quality rental housing keeps new people away from the community.

Although local governments may have a limited role to play in providing housing, the District did pass a bylaw in 2021 to provide incentives for residential property improvements.

As with the District’s other tax incentive bylaws, the residential revitalization tax exemption bylaw provides for a descending level of tax reductions over a set period of time provided there are minimum initial improvement expenditures.

It also provided assistance through the Northern Development Initiative Trust for the addition of units at the Pleasant Valley Village senior housing complex.

The 2020 housing study prepared for the District noted troubles with rental housing in Houston.

Based on research and interviews with local residents, the lack of quality rentals, lack of furnished apartments, lack of rentals for large families, lack of duplexes and general lack of homes to rent were highlighted.

“Market rentals that are affordable for low-income residents are generally regarded as in the poorest condition,” the study stated.

A lengthy list of deficiencies was provided, including structural issues, electrical issues, aging plumbing, leaking roof and toilets, mould and asbestos, poor insulation, inefficient heating, pests and inadequate windows and locks.

“With an aging housing stock, there is a lack of new housing to attract and retain professionals and support home ownership,” the study added.

“Fewer smaller homes have been developed to enable older residents to downsize or to support home ownership options for individuals or couples with no children,” it said.