Rice: Blanket housing plan just doesn’t work

The reality faced by people in Prince Rupert is nowhere addressed by the housing minister's Op-Ed.

~Guest view from MLA Jennifer Rice

Thanks to the Northern View for the opportunity to respond to LNG and housing Minister Rich Coleman’s opinion editorial: Building for the Future: Housing Matters.

Lost in the haze of statistics about homeless shelters and rental subsidies, most of which are concentrated in Vancouver and area, the reality faced by people in Prince Rupert is nowhere addressed by the housing minister’s Op-Ed.

Minister Coleman and the BC Liberals are so confident that the LNG industry is so robust that it will pay off the provincial debt, create 100,000 jobs and shower the province with $100 bills, so they should have no qualms about investing a few dollars into housing supports now. Preparation not only supports the industry, but the people who want to live and work here with industry. It builds livable communities that thrive instead of boom-bust economies.

An urban-centric, province-wide, blanket housing plan is not providing real solutions for the people of the Northwest. The diverse needs of First Nations, seniors, singles, families and people with physical and mental health issues are not addressed by Mr. Coleman.

Right now locals are being priced out of our community because of the BC Liberal government’s failure to plan. We’ve learned from the recent housing crunches of Terrace and Kitimat that industrial development without concurrent social development strains a community. This failure to plan is undermining our chances to build an LNG industry.

Despite increased need for affordable housing there are over 20 units that sit in such disrepair they are uninhabitable because of BC Liberal policy. The rental subsidies that Minister Coleman speaks of are inadequate. The income cut-off threshold to qualify is set so low it excludes many and is unrealistic for today’s market. The same goes for social assistance, with the housing amount for a single person set at $375 a month, it is no wonder people are using their food money to put a roof over their head.

LNG speculation is fueling increases in rental rates, but neither the subsidies nor the real wages and incomes of people are keeping pace. Many people are paying 50 per cent or more of their yearly income on housing.

People in this community want to see LNG succeed and they want to be part of that success, but for that to happen the provincial government needs to step up and make sure people can afford to live here. We need a comprehensive housing strategy that builds community.

The Northwest needs direct and targeted investments that match the scale of the industrial activity being proposed here. The BC Liberals’ one size fits all solutions are clearly not working.

As we face dramatic changes in the housing market both positive and negative, we need to be armed with the best information. Homeowners dusting out their vacant suites and capitalizing on the current rental market are becoming landlords often with little experience.

Tenants are facing transition pains as BC Housing essentially gets out of the housing market and M’akola housing takes over. Renovictions and pressure to move out so rents can be dramatically increased or even doubled are also not uncommon challenges faced by tenants currently.

To address these issues, I will host educational workshops, bringing in experts for both landlords and tenants. Stay tuned for details in February.

I will also continue to inform LNG and Housing Minister, Rich Coleman that any LNG plan needs to include a housing plan.

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