Prince Rupert population much higher than census

Krekic presented to council the summary of staff’s work in 2015, including a major finding that sees an increased population vs. BC Stats

The hurry up and wait is over.

The City of Prince Rupert Planning for Major Projects initiative has been working since early 2014 to envision what the greater Prince Rupert area will look like if up to 10,000 new and temporary workers came to the city.

City planner Zeno Krekic and city staff have completed various indicators – components that are crucial to the socio-economic makeup of the city and area. The boom in population would result from the construction of one or a number of industry projects, mainly new terminals coming online within the Port of Prince Rupert, such as LNG export facilities or an expanded container terminal.

Last Monday night, Krekic presented to council the summary of staff’s work in 2015 – a complete look at Rupert’s current population trends, housing data and land base evaluations, all referred to as ‘indicators’.

The message was clear: the waiting period is over to prepare for a booming forecast of this magnitude should any of the projects proceed.

“If 2014 was hurry up and wait, then 2015 was all about hurry up.  There was absolutely no wait whatsoever,” Krekic said as he presented his findings.

First, the population indicator presented findings that were extremely dissimilar from Stats Canada and even the Province of B.C.’s census results.

In 2011, Stats Canada’s census findings concluded that Prince Rupert had a population base of 13,052. In early 2015, BC Stats estimated that Prince Rupert’s population stood at 11,918, the lowest number in four years for the coastal city.

Anecdotal evidence and general observations led the City of Prince Rupert to believe that this was absolutely not the case. Not only was the population not declining, it was increasing, and at a steady rate.

So the City launched their Go Plan Survey and their Non-Market Housing Survey – both of which were scientifically driven to identify the number of people living in Prince Rupert and what kinds of living conditions and type of housing its residents currently reside in or need.

The results were in line with council’s predictions. Rupert’s population was found to sit at 13,766 – a significant increase in BC Stats’ 2015 findings by over 1,600 people. The increase was found to be due to a ‘shadow population’ that was not taken into account by Stats Canada or BC Stats.

As Krekic reported to council in August of last year and again on Jan. 11, this ‘shadow population’ made up of migrant workers will only increase as potential projects break ground.

“We had doubt on a continuous basis that … [the official stats] were correct … We finally conducted our own survey. Our numbers were just less than 14,000, so you’re looking at a difference between 10 and 15 per cent. Those are noticeable numbers that we should be mindful of,” said Krekic.

There was another reason why the City conducted their own tallies and it has to do with its land base (land that the City owns) and affordable housing – a topic that exploded last year with residents telling city council that there is not enough affordable housing for Prince Rupert residents.

Mayor and council took the information and numbers detailing availability of affordable housing in the city and are currently using it to persuade the B.C. government (the real agents in charge of affordable housing anywhere in B.C.) that there is a dire need for it in Prince Rupert.

But in order to get help from the B.C. government, the City is competing against places such as Surrey, which has had a consistent population boom of around 50,000 people. Rupert Mayor Lee Brain has noted that it is extremely tough to be a blip on the Province’s radar when all of B.C. is appealing for the same thing. But the baseline data produced by the Go Plan Survey will go a long way in convincing the Province that there is a significant need for low-income and seniors’ housing in town.

“We’re taking a leadership role, we’re working as fast as we can with the resources we have. This year we’re going to lock in,” said Brain.

In addition, Krekic noted that 2015 brought the most development permit applications (18), development variance permit applications (13) and zoning bylaw amendments (11) since 2009.

The City of Prince Rupert can only do so much. As Coun. Barry Cunningham noted, at some point, the Province needs to start paying attention. The good news for those seeking low-income or seniors’ housing is that the City’s Housing Committee plans to start its first development.

“We’re going to have a draft report by March … We’re really starting to make traction now with this piece,” said Brain.

Krekic will now work with city staff in the next eight to 10 weeks to combine the Planning for Major Projects initiative, the Official Community Plan, new zoning bylaws and affordable housing policy developments and create a final publication that can be presented to potential business developers and the Province.