Brendan Pawliw, My Prince George Now, September 17 (interview with BCNPHA CEO Jill Atkey)
The CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association noted Prince George residents are feeling the pinch of the affordable housing crisis plaguing our province.
Jill Atkey addressed the issue during the virtual Union of BC Municipalities Convention.
Atkey talked to Vista Radio about the benefits of modular housing, an approach the city is undertaking to help curb the social issues downtown.
“It can go up within six months but what is really important about that supportive housing is that the right supports are in place to help people through trauma that they may have experienced in their lifetime, which has led in some cases to addiction or mental health challenges.”
Earlier this week, a crane moved large module buildings along 1st Avenue to help construct 50 new fully furnished homes for our homeless.
These pre-built units are fully furnished and just need electrical and plumbing connections to be ready for occupancy.
This is part of the collaboration between BC Housing, the City of Prince George, Northern Health, Indigenous housing organizations, non-profit housing operators, and other partners to create 162 new supportive homes:
- 1201 1st Ave., 27 units under renovation at the former National Hotel
- 1919 17th Ave., 35 units
- 805 1st Ave., 100 units with integrated health services at the former NR Motors location
The construction project began this spring, and the housing will include 24/7 support services like meal programs, life, and employment skills training, and health and wellness supports.
In addition, the city is enjoying a construction boom in 2021. In July it was reported 89 building permits worth approximately 100-million dollars have been awarded for single and multi-family homes.
Meanwhile, a new 6-story student housing development located at 1404 Patricia Boulevard beside the Public Library is now complete.
Veda Student Living saw UNBC and CNC students move in on September 1st. The building consists of 205 single units, which each cost $995 per month including utilities, internet, and furniture.
While Atkey believes the progress on modular and multi-family units is a step in the right direction, she cautioned the work is far from over noting the federal government has not constructed many purpose-built rentals, which are often structures of three units or more in nearly four decades.
Atkey also mentioned Ottawa made the mistake of ending funding for social housing.
“That funding stopped in the early 1990s. BC did pick up on some of those programs but they were not able to sufficiently able to fill that gap so that is why people are experiencing a real squeeze.”
According to 2016 data from the Canadian Rental Housing Index, 43% of BC households are spending over 30% of their income on rent and utilities.
Atkey stated the most recent Census data on housing and income will be published in 2022.
She is of the opinion municipalities can do more in reducing rents through investments into non-profit affordable housing – two of her solutions, among many would-be property tax exemptions as well as a direct contribution from an affordable housing fund.
“Many municipalities are starting to create this. Things like residential cost charges, and waiving those fees can contribute to a 50 or 70 dollar rent reduction per unit, per month on any new building.”
“The reason why non-profit rental development is important is that what is built at affordable rates through new developments stay affordable forever because our mission drive is to keep rents as low as possible while still renting and maintaining well-quality buildings,” added Atkey.
Rapid conversions of housing or property stock that might be sitting could be another route in addressing the affordable housing crisis in BC.
Dr. Alina Turner is a former Prince George resident and is also the co-founder and co-president of HelpSeeker Technologies who spoke on what conversion options could be available.
“Conversions of office buildings that might be sitting empty because of economic recession challenges. We also see conversions of hotels/motels into affordable housing but the trick of course is to have those wraparound supports.”
Turner estimates the homeless trend in BC to take a turn for the worse – she states the province is second only behind Ontario in the likely growth of homelessness on a per-capita basis.
Turner believes British Columbia could see as many 9,000 homeless people on the streets province-wide on any given night.
The UBCM Convention wraps up today (Friday).
– with files from Dione Wearmouth and Brody Langager, MyPGNow.com staff