In 2016, nearly half of the Comox Valley’s renters spent more than 30 per cent of their income on housing. Photo by Scott Strasser.

Comox Valley struggling to reach affordable housing targets

A recent presentation highlighted that the Comox Valley Regional District is lagging behind in its goals related to affordable housing.

Long-range planner Robyn Holme presented an annual update on the CVRD’s regional growth strategy at a committee of the whole meeting on Nov. 21.

The CVRD adopted its regional growth strategy in 2011. It outlines eight policy areas to direct growth in the Comox Valley over 20 years, including employment, agriculture, housing, conservation and other areas.

While the CVRD is seeing success in some of its regional growth strategy targets, one policy area it has regressed in is increasing affordable housing options in the Comox Valley.

Regarding affordability, the CVRD uses the “30 percent rule” in that households that spend 30 per cent or more of their total income on rent and accommodation are defined as having a housing affordability problem.

According to the most recent census data from 2016, 46 percent of Comox Valley renters spent more than 30 per cent of their income on housing in 2016, compared to 50 per cent of renters in 2011 and 43 per cent in 2006.

The regional growth strategy aims for 30 percent of renters (or less) spending that much on housing by 2020 and 20 per cent of renters by 2030.

“Statistics show slower progress than expected for the short-term and medium-term targets,” reads a portion of the presentation’s executive summary.

A discussion on the Comox Valley’s housing issues ensued among directors following the presentation.

Courtenay Mayor and director Larry Jangula questioned what power local governments actually have in addressing housing issues.

“How can we as a municipal government do anything about that, especially for low-income workers? Why comment on it when there’s nothing we can do to fix it?” he said. “We can’t fix it. And you’ll never convince me that we can.”

Ann MacDonald, the CVRD’s general manager of planning and development services, responded to Jangula that local governments actually have the most authority of any when it comes to reducing rental costs.

“…local governments at the time of rezoning can require certain things from developers as a condition,” she said. “There are opportunities in local government for housing agreements that restrict rent to certain levels. We have the most authority to address that.”

Cumberland director Gwyn Sproule cited the Village of Cumberland’s affordable housing committee, which was struck last year to address local housing issues.

“Because of our income mainly coming from residential, we weren’t able to offer development cost charge breaks or anything financial,” she said. “But what we finally came up with was to fast-track any projects that appear to put affordable housing at the front of the queue.”

Comox director Ken Grant called the housing crunch a supply and demand issue and stated that the 30 per cent rule is an unrealistic target.

“Where does the number of 30 per cent come from? I believe if you’re going for a mortgage it’s 32 or 35 per cent [of your income] and that’s what they’d lend you on,” he said. “It seems like an artificially low number.”

After about 10 minutes of discussion, the board approved publishing Holme’s report on the CVRD’s website.

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