Speaking to about 250 people at the Florence Filberg Centre Monday night, Courtenay all-candidates’ forum moderator Joe Smith said he has never seen so many people seeking office.
Sixteen people are seeking a seat on Courtenay council in the Nov. 19 municipal election, and three people are hoping to become mayor. All 19 candidates were at the forum sponsored by the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board — and they had to be seated in two rows to fit onto the stage.
Many candidates spoke about providing affordable housing as one of their priorities, and they had a chance to expand on that when they were asked what they consider to be affordable housing and what they would do to promote affordable housing when a developer brings a proposal to the City.
Jon Ambler believes local government’s responsibility is to advocate and push for the federal and provincial governments to support housing and shelter.
“People can afford houses in a thriving and balanced economy, so let’s have a thriving and balanced economy,” he added.
Bill Anglin felt people have to change and be part of the responsibility to address the issue.
“If we are going to say it’s our responsibility to take care of it, we all have to take our share of it, and that’s the cold, hard reality,” he said.
Erik Eriksson feels affordable housing still needs to meet a high standard.
“I would rather see income levels raised so that people can afford better housing rather than coming up with cheap housing to meet the level of people’s ability to pay,” he said.
Marcus Felgenhauer believes the definition of affordable housing in B.C. is 30 per cent of your net income going towards your rent.
“Really, all that we can really do as a council is to encourage developers by lowering (development cost charges) for certain types of developments, being flexible with zoning, making land available that utilizes densification so we’re using the same infrastructure so it’s not costing a whole bunch more, and then still ensuring the quality of the projects, making sure we have integrity in neighbourhoods and then get the heck out of the way,” he said.
Doug Hillian feels municipalities don’t have the resources to build social housing, and senior governments have abdicated that responsibility.
“I think as a council, we may be able to take some initiative by sitting down with the development community and the people who work with the disadvantaged and see if we can come up with some innovative solutions, while at the same time actively lobbying our senior governments and getting them back into the business of building social housing in this country,” he said.
Doug Kerr believes making the city livable for all must include the disadvantaged.
He believed the $375 per month that people on social assistance and disability receive for housing is not a lot of money rent anywhere, but he felt he couldn’t give an authoritative answer about how to attract affordable housing right now.
George Knox believes the federal and provincial governments should be chipping in to provide housing like in the past.
“We live in a very wealthy country and a very wealthy province and there’s lots of money out there, and it should be flowing down,” he said. “Everybody should have a warm roof over their head.”
Ronna-Rae Leonard pointed out that rent is one thing, but you also have ongoing costs, such as heating and driving from your home to town.
“I think the one thing you’re going to be faced with as a councillor is working to gain community acceptance, and that’s key to making it work, so that’s what I would do,” she added.
Stu MacInnis was shocked to hear some people are given only $375 for housing.
“I’m not well-versed on how to bring affordable housing developments into our community,” he said. “I think it would be the responsibility of council to lobby the government in whatever manner we have available to get those provincial dollars trickling down to us.”
Mark Middleton feels there is a lot city council can do to address affordable housing.
“We can encourage secondary suites … we can allow and encourage residential units over businesses similar to the Rosewall Crescent area,” he said. “We can work with developers to make that happen; I think city council is doing a fair job at that, but those are also issues of affordable housing I think we can directly control as council.”
Norm Reynolds noted BC Housing is willing to put money into the community to build housing.
“We just have to bring it together to work together and work with them,” he said.
Jean Rowe felt council could advocate for secondary housing and densification such as small front lots and support not-for-profit groups and private landlords.
“We have to acknowledge Maple Pool (Campsite),” she said. “It’s a good option housing for 50-plus people, and we have to make these things work where it makes sense.”
Dave Smith thinks homelessness is directly related to joblessness.
“We need to encourage new business to come into town, new industry,” he said.
Manno Theos feels the city can look to groups like Dawn to Dawn for help to put people in good homes.
“Density is definitely the key for affordable housing,” he said. “We need to have a mix of houses in all different areas so the potential of slum doesn’t occur.”
John Van Egmond noted there are two types of affordable housing: can someone buy a home, and also people who are on welfare.
“We need to get better employment or developers to build cheaper accommodation so you can buy a home,” he said. “Welfare is there to make us comfortable, not necessarily to make us rich. We have to make compromises, and yes we can do things about affordable housing.”
Starr Winchester felt the City could look more aggressively at bylaws to allow more secondary suites and should continue to support organizations like Dawn to Dawn and Habitat for Humanity.
Candidates were asked what their top three priorities are for the City and where the dollars would come from to fund them.
Someone asked the candidates if they would ever consider walking out of a council meeting in protest of a decision with which they didn’t agree — something current councillors Murray Presley, Jangula and Theos did in July during a debate about the homeless shelter site.
Another question related to whether candidates would support constructing pedestrian overpasses at high-traffic areas.
The forum was streamed live on the Internet, and it can be viewed at www.mytechguys.ca.