Affordable housing a critical concern across riding, MP says

A piece of property deeded to the Town could be used to provide for affordable housing in the community.

MP Richard Cannings got an earful of complaint when he went on an ears-open tour of his riding in late January — much of it centered around one issue.

“Housing, housing, housing,” he writes in a regular report delivered Monday.

“Employment agencies tell me that people are looking for work and businesses are looking for workers,” the MP for South Okanagan-Kootenay said. “But too often workers can’t find affordable housing and so move on to look elsewhere.”

Those who do find accommodations are paying too much, he added.

“This region has one of the worst ratios of the cost of housing to average income in the world. Half of renters are paying more than a third of their income for housing.

“And with average house prices in the south Okanagan ranging around $475,000 or more, young families can’t even dream of buying their own home.”

Affordable housing is a problem in Osoyoos, admits Mayor Sue McKortoff, who said she didn’t get a chance to meet with MP Cannings during his tour. But, she added, it’s not the Town’s responsibility to make housing available to residents.

“I don’t think that’s in my job description,” she said Monday afternoon. “My thinking is it’s our job to provide good services, good land-use bylaws, good sewer and water and all kind of other stuff, but we’re not in the building business.”

Instead, she said, the Town can “encourage builders and people to develop various forms of housing” in the community and provide support when others come up with plans.

“Everyone wants affordable housing; it’s just a matter of how we get that done,” she said.

Last fall, the Town was shut out of a province-wide program that will put more than 4,900 mixed-income rental homes in 42 B.C. communities — including Oliver and Keremeos — over the next three years.

It has, however, a $700,000, 1.02-hectare East End property deeded to it by a Victoria-based foundation that could be used for affordable housing.

“Rental housing, small housing. We just have to able to put in the zoning and hopefully make it attractive from someone to want to come in and do something,” said Mayor McKortoff of the property adjacent to The Palms by the Lake development.

“BC Housing may be involved in that. Those are the kind of agencies that you hope will help get things off the ground.”

The Town has also provided for near-market housing in the Meadowlark Place development off Hwy. 97 and last year helped local tourism providers put up temporary housing for workers.

“Everybody has their own thing they can do and you have to really work together,” the Mayor said of solving the housing crunch. “You have to come up with ways that you can make best use of the means that you have, the money that you have and the property that you have.”

Mr. Cannings, in his remarks, suggests providing for housing is a senior government issue.

“The federal government abandoned the housing issue 25 years ago and now needs to create a half million units of non-market housing to catch up,” he said. “And that work must begin now.”

Mayor McKortoff, however, said the Town would likely end up in the mix if the federal government found money to start building non-market housing.

“The federal government downloads to the provincial government and who gets stuck with dealing with things? The municipal government,” she said. “And it can get a little difficult. We can’t solve everybody’s problems all the time.”

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