As work continues Wednesday morning, Sept. 18, to complete a new, much-needed affordable housing complex in Williams Lake, politicians and residents are questioning why the majority of the low-income units will rent for as much as $800 and $925 a month, plus utilities.
Council Scott Nelson raised the issue Tuesday morning calling on the Premier and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to keep all 39 units in the building as low-cost subsidized housing as it was first intended, considering the lakecity continues to facing an affordable housing crisis.
Nelson brought the issue to the rest of council during the regular meeting Tuesday evening and received full endorsement.
“The province does not have the right or the authority to turn it into market rents because they signed an agreement which is subject to the zoning which is on title,” Nelson said, referring to a move by BC Housing to try and recoup construction costs by offering higher rates than council expected.
Monthly rental rates for the project as it stands now be as follows: Three studio units at the provincial shelter rate of $375 a month, five one-bedroom units at $500 a month – low-income units, 27 one-bedroom units at $800 a month and three two-bedroom units at $925/month. These figures were provided by a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Wednesday, Sept. 18.
A three-bedroom Community Living B.C. (CLBC) unit will consist of two accessible units for people with disabilities and one caregiver unit. CLBC will pay the monthly rent of $1,600.
Nelson said those ‘affordable’ rental rates show a disconnect between BC Housing and the North.
“The $800 they want is a new high for Williams Lake. Where they get these numbers from is Vancouver. They have to remember this is Williams Lake. It’s a clear example they are not paying attention to what’s happening in smaller communities. The province has a fiduciary responsibility to look after homeless people. They committed 39 units to Williams Lake, they are going to have to bloody well deliver on that.”
Council, including the Mayor, are especially upset over the deal, as was the talk at the council meeting Tuesday night, because they went out on a limb to approve a much lower requirement for parking space in the area in order to support the project for low income housing.
Nelson provided copies of the original letter from Craven/Huston/Powers/Architects to the City, dated May 16, 2017, which stated the rationale for a reduction in the required number of parking stall for a building of that size, from 80 to 31 stalls.
“The project typography is subsidized housing in partnership with BC Housing. As with most other BC Housing developments, the actual parking needs for subsidized housing is greatly reduced as compared to market condominiums, as a large portion of the tenants will not have access to private vehicles, but will rely on other transportation methods,” the letter stated.
Nelson said he feels like council was misled.
“We needed the affordable housing in the downtown core, that’s why we supported the reduction,” Nelson said.
For their part, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing maintains all 39 units will be subsidized housing.
“All of the units will be at or below the 2017 Housing Income Limits (HILs) for Williams Lake, except for one three-bedroom unit, which will be a specialized Community Living BC (CLBC) unit. Housing Income Limits represent the income required to pay the average market rent for an appropriately sized unit in the private market,” a ministry spokesperson noted Wednesday in response to the uproar created by Nelson..
In July 2019, the operator of the new building, Williams Lake Association for Community Living, updated the rental situation when they announced the Provincial Rental Housing Corporation-owned building’s construction was on time and would be ready for occupancy on Dec. 1.
The board announced there would be eight subsidized units for people affected by intellectual disabilities or mental health issues and the remaining 31 units would be market rentals — with one bedroom renting for $800 per month plus utilities and two bedrooms renting for $925 per month plus utilities.
At the time, Ian McLaughlin, executive director of Williams Lake Association for Community Living, said he was surprised by the cost of the market rentals and the household income threshold for eligibility, noting $71,200 is not a low to moderate income in Williams Lake.
On Tuesday, Coun. Scott Nelson said the project was $4 million over budget, however, the ministry said Wednesday the project is within budget.
“The Province, through BC Housing, is providing a grant of $8 million through the Affordable Rental Housing Program,” the ministry spokesperson said. “This program funds housing for low-to-moderate income renters, seniors and adults with mental health challenges or developmental disabilities.”
During the council meeting Tuesday, council also unanimously approved requesting a meeting with the Premier and the Minister of Housing at the Union of B.C. Municipalities Annual Convention taking place next week in Vancouver to address the issue.
CAO Milo MacDonald said after the conversation with the Premier and Minister of Housing, staff will explore legal options and advise mayor and council.