Housing, Transportation and Smart Growth
Despite a recent dip in housing prices, a home in Kelowna is still out of reach for too many.
Kelowna City Council can simultaneously address the housing and climate crisis by rapidly approving new housing near transit, the rail trail corridor and schools, and by saying YES to new childcare spots so Kelowna residents don’t have to commute to the suburbs. However, this takes visionary planning. If elected to Council I will be happy to work with and encourage my Council colleagues to move quickly in this direction.
Short Term Accomodations:
Kelowna City Council has an increasingly important role to play in facilitating the creation of affordable market and non-market housing through policy, zoning, partnerships, financial incentives, and staff support. Families with low to mid income, seniors, others in the workforce are often hard-pressed to find suitable and affordable housing in the long-term rental market that meets their needs.
New construction in the secondary rental market is largely being used as short-stay accommodation or vacation rentals (AirBnB, VRBO), rather than alleviating the pressure on the rental stock intended for long-term renters. I applaud the City of Kelowna for introducing short-term rental policies and bylaws, however they have been poorly enforced and have had limited success in alleviating the affordable housing crises.
Cost of Housing:
The rapidly increasing cost of land has created challenges for the delivery of housing projects to the market for both the private development industry and the non-profit housing sector. The need for housing tools to reduce the cost of delivering all forms of housing — from acquiring land to the approvals process and construction costs — is becoming more of a necessity than an incentive to ensure project viability.
I have met with local representatives from non-profit organizations, restaurant/small business owners, educational institutions, as well as Kelowna’s largest private employer (KF Aerospace) and they have all shared with me a common fact: they remain understaffed because prospective employees cannot afford the high costs of living in Kelowna on the salaries being offered. As such, large and small organizations alike continue to struggle to build reliable, properly skilled teams to carry out their organizational objectives. As a result, everyone suffers; both the employees and the local residents who seek to utilized these services.
Population Growth and Approval Timelines:
Since I was first elected to City Council in 1996, the population of the Kelowna CMA increased by 62.7%. That’s nearly 100,000 more people living in the Kelowna area today than there were in 1996! We’ve outgrown our infrastructure which has led to pressing and significant issues and striving for quick-fix solutions.
Over the last 25 years, new home construction times have increased 171%. After adjusting for population, we’re building 28% fewer homes each year than we were 15 years ago. All of that while Kelowna has become the fastest growing metropolitan area in Canada with the average home price now exceeding one million dollars.
When it comes to the overall housing market, the City of Kelowna is simply taking longer to build fewer homes than we did decades ago. A large part of this time delay is because of increased provincial and municipal regulations. Each time a new regulation is introduced, for political reasons or otherwise, it creates further delays in in approving plans, issuing building development permits and longer inspections times. The overall construction process is delayed, which then creates a housing shortage that then drives up prices.
Regulation Substitution; not Creation
We need a better balance of regulation and it won’t be easy. Therefore, I propose that every time Kelowna Council wants to add a new regulation, that City Council agree they will remove a regulation. The Official Community Plan (OCP) is a living, breathing document. Over the last two years, the City has spent tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on consultants and staff time to ask the community what they would like their city to look like into 2040.
Consistent Interpretation and Application of the OCP
City Council just recently adopted the 2040 OCP and have already made numerous amendments. Developers like consistency and predictability. City Staff and Council need to be as consistent as possible with their interpretation with the OCP. Land speculators might have to be more realistic with their expectations. The OCP can’t change just because of whose name is on the development application. Council can’t keep demanding “world class” standards plus requiring a special “WOW” factor be added to every application and then not expect the cost of development to increase. There needs to be some consistency of process, common sense as well as practicality and affordability of development proposals.
Staff Approaval of Development Permits
Why doesn’t Council allow City Staff to approve Development Permits if they conform to the OCP? This could shave several weeks and possible months off the approval time for a permit to be issued and a development to proceed. Time is money. Ask any builder/developer and I believe they will agree with the fact that increased regulatory burden and time delays do nothing to help address the affordability issue in our city. This is another small example of how City Council can help reduce the time and cost of building in Kelowna.
Creating Concrete deadlines and Time frames to accelerate the approval process
Another leading policy expert says the best way to reduce housing costs is for government to get out of the way by speeding up the approval process through hard and fast deadlines. Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy recently created a policy brief for think-tank SecondStreet.org where they examined how governments can reduce housing costs in Canada.
Key to accelerating construction and creating more housing supply is to put the onus for approvals on the government.
If elected, I would encourage Council to consider developing a policy where the City of Kelowna bureaucracy must approve a project within a certain time frame. If they don’t approve it in a timely manner, then the project could be approved automatically for good or bad (with some reasonable conditions/exemptions).
Staff will need to ensure building code compliances, etc. However, if we have a hard deadline that says this project will be approved, then perhaps City Council can hold the bureaucracy more accountable if the process goes awry. Overall Kelowna City Planning staff have been good to work with and try hard, however there is always room for important in the process!
Oppose new regulations that create delays and/or drive up development cost
Council can’t keep asking why housing is so unaffordable in our community and then turn around and add new regulations and rapidly increase development cost charges. High rises don’t equate to affordable housing. If vertical densification was the answer, then Vancouver should have some of the most attainable housing in their downtown, right? High rise living provides a housing option however they are not the panacea as they are expensive to build and maintain.
Mitigating Transportation Costs
Affordability/attainability extends beyond housing costs; child care, transportation, and good paying jobs/adequate fixed incomes are all factors for ensuring an affordable, livable region. The combined costs of living are leading individuals and families to make trade-offs [sacrifices] to afford housing. For example, some households are choosing to live farther away to afford a new single-detached home, accepting the trade-off and financial burden of a longer commute. Other households are choosing to stay close to town to enjoy better transit, biking and walking access, accepting the trade-off of a potentially smaller type of housing or an older single-detached home.
Transportation is generally the second highest cost for a household after shelter. Households that live closer to town and transportation options could free up approximately $7,056 per year by only requiring one vehicle per household. These savings could be diverted to shelter costs — $588 monthly could be directed to a mortgage payment. With the additional income available for a mortgage payment, households could qualify for a mortgage of approximately $129,077 more than they could by having two cars.
Visionary Solution – Rail Line:
Consequently, if elected, I will encourage Council to explore a full detailed analysis of a rail line from One Water Street (old Train Station) to the Airport. This would be about 14.1 kms long. I have had a rail company do some preliminary work on a concept plan, including an expert train consultant from Chicago. Kelowna could safely install the rail line parallel to the bike trail. Truly a rail with trails model that could function safely and efficiently. To help pay for the rail line, developers would pay for land to be developed on a few stops with housing density along the corridor (ie one stop at PRC, one stop McCurdy Rd so people from Rutland and Lake Country could park their vehicle and ride the rail into Prospera for an event, a stop at UBCO and one at the Airport). This is several years down the road however we need to do some long-range visionary planning as we consider the future population growth for the North End plan and the former Tolko property (40+ acres of land which is one of the most sought after and desired undeveloped waterfront pieces of property in Canada).
Other solutions to manage growth
The conundrum for the Okanagan region is the approach to managing growth. On the one side, concentrating housing in the core employment area (City of Kelowna) is an opportunity to create a regional centre, and to leverage land economics to create mixed-use, walkable streets and neighborhoods, and concentrate growth where existing infrastructure, such as services and transportation, are established. On the other hand, market rental and homeownership prices are often more affordable outside the core, and are more desirable for many including young families, seniors and the average person just trying to make a living and enjoying their lifestyle choice (the missing middle). How about a tiny home community? We are not the first community to experience rapid growth. Kelowna is a very desirable place for people to want to live. We just need to take our foot off the gas pedal, and manage our growth more responsibly.