A pink piggy bank on a pink background

SRD Seeks Electoral Approval To Raise Up To $10 Million For A Housing Service

The Strathcona Regional District (SRD) wants to set up its own housing service. They hope to raise up to $10,000,000 for applicable projects and non-profits. This is to be administered through loans, which projects must pay back, but would initially be funded through property taxes. The cost to individual homeowners is small, up to $25 a year for a house assessed at $500,000 until the service pays for itself. The SRD will be seeking your approval through an Alternate Approval Process. If 10% of the electorate (i.e.- 3,456 people) notify the SRD that they are opposed to this new service before 12:00 noon on Tuesday, January 2, 2024, it will be considered defeated and the SRD will have to consider other ways of raising the money.

Screenshot from video of previous SRD Board Meeting

A recent report from the CMHC estimates that in order to restore affordability, Canada will have to build 3.5 million housing units by 2030. 

Meanwhile in the SRD, 45% of the renters who responded to last year’s Housing Needs Report stated they were paying more than they could afford for shelter. They were said to be ‘at risk’ of homelessness. This was brought home by Campbell River’s recent Point In Time count, in which 33% of the city’s unhoused population reported they lost their homes because they did not have a sufficient income. 

Last August, Senior Manager Aniko Nelson told the Board that if they set up the proposed housing service, “We will  enable ourselves to champion housing related projects throughout the region, as opposed to being that local government which is unable to assist those that are working so hard to provide affordable housing and below market housing throughout the region.”

Regional Director Robyn Mawhinney, of Area C, subsequently told Cortes Currents, “The Regional Housing Service and borrowing bylaws would afford opportunities for the Strathcona Regional District to partner with local housing societies across the Regional District. The SRD can work to address specific challenges, such as workforce, housing and social housing issues. Each project would be individually examined and measured by the board.”  

Aniko Nelson: “It would enable partnerships with First Nations, which are looking to provide housing throughout the region right now. There’s First Nations that are currently purchasing land. It would enable us to work together with those First Nations to provide that housing. It would allow us to work with other not-for-profit agencies that are providing housing and working towards applications to support funding for those initiatives and it would also enable us to provide opportunities for provincial lobbying.”

Robyn Mawhinney: “In a Regional District, everything is siloed in services.  If there isn’t a service, there isn’t a way for the regional district to approach a subject or work on a specific item. One of the benefits of having a Regional Housing Service would be that the Regional District is able to access Federal funds such as the Housing Accelerator Fund.” 

The SRD was able to apply for a Housing Accelerator grant because it could show it was working towards setting up a housing service. 

That decision was made at the August 16, 2023 Board meeting. 

Cortes Island Director Mark Vonesch said,  “I support the creation of a Regional Housing Service. Looking at our campaigns eight months ago, a lot of us ran on the fact there’s a lot of need for housing in all of our communities, including Cortes.”

At that time the proposed loan limit was $6 million, Director Vonesch suggested that be raised to $10 million:

“The tax requisition that we are proposing right now could support higher borrowing and I want to make sure that we put in the right amount of borrowing so that we can get projects done and really take seriously the needs in all of our communities.  I would like to make a motion that  we move from six million to ten million. That number would still be covered in the amount of tax requisition that is being proposed, so we’re not having to change that.” 

Only one Director spoke against the proposed service. Regional Director Gerald Whalley, of Area A, was concerned about another ‘at risk’ sector. 

“There’s a lot of people that are struggling with the increase in interest rates to make their own mortgage payments. To subsidize other people’s mortgage payments is a bit of a stretch for many of them. I think we need to take that into consideration that for the wealthy, this is a non event. They can buy whatever house they want, anywhere they want. For those who are struggling to make their own mortgage payments, this is a challenge.”  

If the housing service is established, property owners could be taxed up to 5 cents per $1,000 of their assessed value to finance projects until there are rents available to take over the burden. This works out to up to $25 a year for a house assessed at $500,000 and $50 for a house worth $1 million.

The Board voted to establish the proposed service and sought the Inspector of Municipalities approval, which has now been obtained. 

At their November 8 meeting the Board unanimously agreed to move forward. 

Senior Manager Thomas Yates explained, “In accordance with the board’s notification bylaw, we will be putting this on the Regional District’s web page. We’ll also be advertising in the Campbell River Mirror, and we do make an effort if there are local newsletters, et cetera, to try and have those notices also published  through those mechanisms.” 

In deference to Director Whalley, Yates added, “I’m not sure what exactly still exists in the Sayward Valley, but if there’s something there, we would like to use that opportunity as well.”

To which Whalley responded, “We don’t get the Campbell River Mirror.  If you could put it on social media, that would probably be the best way to reach those people that have access to it.”

Cortes Island residents should soon see a notice on the Tideline

Top image credit: Piggy Bank by Jacob Edward, Senior Planning.org

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