EDITORIAL: Affordable housing rises to the forefront.Which path will we go down?

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
May 12th, 2011

 If you’ve had a quick scan of the Telegraph over the last couple of weeks you may have noticed that there has been a background theme that keeps popping up in different forms and different fashions. There seems to be a growing critical mass of awareness, desire and action centred around affordable housing. But there are questions. Who is ‘average’ around here? How would we like to be housed? How do we make it happen? Finally, to sum up, do we really care?

As the volume goes up on any issue the different notes of the song become clearer. As studies such as the current  region wide affordable/attainable housing study take shape, as city councils debate and then choose action over playing it safe, and as developers come to the table ready to risk their own money to solve this issue, we’re forced into forming opinions and making decisions. It would seem that we’re now entering a phase in which for better or wrose Rossland will decide its future on the issue.  This week city council voted in favour of  a spot zoning that will facilitate a small lot duplex. The move is a dipping of the City’s toe into the affordable housing pool. An abstract debate now gets a ‘toe’ hold in reality: a chance to try, analyze, improve and either implement or stop if it goes somehow terribly wrong before you’ve had a major impact on the city. Small risk, potentially game-changing reward. An easy decision.  Of course, before we can venture too far down the affordable housing path, the question must be asked: ‘What is affordable housing?’.  The most commonly used definition states that housing should cost less than 30% of one’s household income. By that definition, if one were to look at average salaries (let’s say 50 thousand a year to be conservative) that gives us around $1,250 a month to play with, not factoring in monthly energy bills. If one was renting, that sum would get you a 3 bedroom rental. If one was buying housing, depending on mortgage lengths, rates and down payments made that should comfortably buy you a $225,000 house.  A quick scan of MLS shows 19 units in Rossland currently for sale for less than $225,000, ranging from one bedroom, one bath condos to three bedroom one bath houses around 30 to 70 years old. With a less than on-fire real estate marketplace of late, 19 affordable units would appear to be a healthy supply on the purchase side of the equation.  When we ask about affordable housing is there actually not a need, or is the commonly-used definition not as accurate as it should be? At this stage it can’t be known exactly, but the good news is we’re soon to find out as the three headed beast that is the public, developers and politicians are all coming at the issue from their own angles with City-guiding plans supporting it.  What does affordable housing mean for you? If you could design it, and design as if it’s about to be built on your street (it’s not a good idea if you wouldn’t want to live near it, but would happily support the concept if it was next to someone else’s house). What would that housing look like?  Czeary Ksiezek has one concept in mind, but is putting that question out to the public himself in order to get a better answer before building. Kevin Fairweather’s concept, which we’ve all become familiar with, is a two-for-one deal. Uniquely designed, his recently-approved St. Paul Street duplex project aims to take full advantage of a small lot and sharing the expense of one building between two families.  Are there other options? Certainly.  Walk past the great old black and white photos on the Ferraro’s exterior walls and look at the shot of the north block of Columbia between Washington and Queen St during Rossland’s Gold Rush boom time. The good old days could be one inspiration. From the Bank of Montreal Building to the Post Office, that block featured two and three story buildings.  Glancing across the street from that sign one could visualize a modern interpretation of that old facade build in a sustainable, green manner. Simply eyeing it up you could imagine around 20 one bed, one bath plus den and some larger units in such a development. If you could rent out a portion of those units and sell the rest for under $150,000 you could potentially bring a lot of life into the downtown core.  Such a development might bring in more of the much-desired young family demographic to town. It might bring economic life and new opportunities into the downtown core. It might add to our town’s remarkable walkability, despite our horizontally-challenged geography.  There are other opportunities out there. But do Rosslanders want to make an effort towards densification, lower priced real estate and rentals?  We’re behind the concept. We know that much already as a city. The number of folks involved over the lifespan of the Visions to Actions project, the new OCP and spinoff initiatives like the Sustainability Commission, task forces and the LCI / LCCDT acronym loving Lower Columbia Initiatives / Lower Columbia Community Development Team groups all support the concept of densification and affordable housing.  We’ve already shown that we support the concept in many ways. There are folks out there ready to implement existing ideas and a whole host of other ideas out there waiting to be uncovered. So the ball is now in our court. Are we prepared to walk down the path we’ve mapped out for ourselves? We’ll soon find out.

Categories: Op/Ed

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