The demographics of Richmond tell a compelling story. We have the longest living and most active senior’s population in Canada, with even larger number moving into those ranks in the years to come. This is in contrast to the lack of available housing for various incomes, and that is a blight on our city.
Given skyrocketing real estate prices, one might ask if we have a housing crises in the Lower Mainland. Certainly, I would maintain that we have one here in Richmond. The number of affordable housing units is minimal, and for our valued seniors there is none. Richmond has fallen behind in recent years, and it’s only getting worse.
We need to look at a multitude of options open to us to address this issue. For example, we need to rebuild a much needed seniors center at Minoru Park, and explore the idea of having up to 10 floors above it with affordable housing exclusive to seniors. Today, the fastest growing age cohort in our province is for those over the age of 85- and they will unquestionably need a place to live.
I was recently impressed when I visited Abbeyfield Houses in Delta that provides seniors their own homes with the security, companionship and supportive atmosphere of small households. This has been the spin-off benefit of being a focal point for friendly contact within the community. This concept could be put into action in any area within Richmond to ensure seniors could stay in their own neighbourhoods.
Another issue surrounds the fact that the number of rental units is dwindling in our community. Developers today simply do not want to build this type of housing. However, we need to address this issue as it has contributed to the current shortage.
Co Op housing in past has proven very successful for many of our residents. This kind of housing needs re-examination as it could provide much needed help to our crises. This housing enables residents to have a sense of community and neighbourhood.
Legalization of secondary suites will go a long way to relieve our housing shortage.
How do we tackle this issue? Traditionally it has been the role of the senior levels of government to provide funding for social housing programs. In 1992, the Federal government began to phase out its commitment to funding new non-market housing projects, totally withdrawing in 1994. The BC Government’s recent expanding of the SAFER Program, offering rental subsidies to low-income seniors, has surely been helpful, but more must be done as we go forward.
While available land for these developments has become too expensive, our city needs to demand that housing units be built in new complexes rather that take cash in lieu for other things. We will never save up enough cash to buy other land for these purposes. In multiple family developments, we must demand that a percentage of the units be entry level ownership and partially subsidized, this will also keep Richmond within our city’s goal of decentralizing affordable and social housing. As well, we must put a moratorium on development applications which involve the demolition or conversion of the existing rental stock unless they are equivalently replaced or increased.
At the same time we must take the lead and seek out partnerships with senior levels of government and the private sector to build the much needed housing. The affordable housing strategy for the city has come forth from staff. It could not have come fast enough because the problem of housing will not go away as there will always be a need. Let’s focus on it now! We need to encourage the provision of a variety of housing types for the diversity of lifestyles at all income and ability levels. To do so otherwise would be neglectful to so many people who have given so much to our city.