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Concentrated effort needed to provide local housing, study finds

Government agencies, developers, industry and residents should be involved

Stronger connections and collaboration involving residents, non-profit agencies, government agencies, local government and industry is being recommended to provide greater housing options for all ages, income levels and abilities.

That’s the conclusion reached by a District of Houston-commissioned housing review conducted by the University of Northern British Columbia’s Community Development Institute.

“Any successful action plan will need to coordinate initiatives across different types of housing and community development investments to meet the need of people through all ages and stages of life,” the review states.

More and better information for renters and landlords will improve existing housing stock, assistance to apply to various senior government housing programs, attention to the needs of residents who are getting older who want to downsize while providing new housing for entrepreneurs either living now in Houston or looking to settle in smaller communities and what the development institute calls the “next generation workforce”.

“Housing strategies and investments will need to reflect the integrated nature of actions needed to address the breadth of housing interests and demands,” the study stated.

It listed everything from short-term priorities such as stronger maintenance and unsightly premises bylaws and annual government inspections of large-scale rental properties to longer-term priorities such as affordability, energy-efficient subsidized housing and new single family-friendly residential developments.

Such collaboration requiring deep involvement of all sectors of the community has already happened before in Houston, the study noted.

That concerned the 2014 closure of Houston Forest Products and the resulting impact on the community’s economy driven by local job loss.

From that closure the District of Houston has crafted a long-term vision of renewal, a part of which is now evident in the just-started downtown beautification project, work which also involves improvements along Hwy16 as it passes through the community.

Some of what the study advocates is already taking shape — there’s a new standards of maintenance bylaw in place, the District is to split the cost of a bylaw enforcement officer with the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako and the District is set to lease an empty lot to the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre for an affordable housing complex.

But the study also noted that new housing projects require “a long-term commitment of time and resources” and that it’s important to “streamline rather than expand, collaborative structures in order to avoid overwhelming the small network of stakeholder resources in Houston.”

In speaking with experienced stakeholders, the study authors found that project location, having a ‘buy-in’ from local governments, having the money needed before construction begins and ensuring building codes are understand are some of the keys to success.

One complication found by the study concerned the capacity of local non-profit agencies and volunteers able to become involved in housing priorities.

“Houston is not only now challenged by a lack of volunteers, but the existing volunteer pool is aging. Thee is a need to recruit more and younger volunteers to support future housing projects,” the study stated.