Housing action and inaction in a West Coast suburb

1970s-vintage housing, central Maple Ridge

1970s-vintage housing, central Maple Ridge

Late in its 2011-2014 term, City Council in the British Columbia suburb of Maple Ridge  ratified a housing action plan intended to promote housing choice and affordability.

The issue matters because quality housing is a key determinant of population health. At the dawn of the welfare state, as Canadian troops returned from World War Two, the federal government promoted affordable housing investment from the private and public sectors. By the 1980s, Ottawa and the provinces had turned their backs on this effort. The cost of this rollback has fallen mostly on renters, with an increasingly creaky and leaky stock of dedicated rental housing from sea to sea.

Canada’s local governments are left to nibble away at the problem on a volunteer basis, through local regulation and small-scale partnerships. The Maple Ridge plan’s 2014 recommendations were cautious enough that they avoided drawing fire in a middle-class suburb. The authors, a city-sponsored advisory council, started from a basic premise that the availability of housing affects everyone who cares about the liveability of their urban community.

Metro Vancouver’s housing costs are among the highest on the North American continent. Maple Ridge, a peripheral suburb of 75,000 people, is relatively lucky: above-average incomes, below-average home prices and widespread home ownership. However, the housing plan identifies the following deficiencies:

- A scarcity of housing options for seniors wanting to downsize
- A scarcity of quality rental housing
- A critical shortage of housing for the working poor and families living on social assistance, putting some at risk of homelessness
- Poor access to transit, retail services and other services for those housed outside the urban core

The plan’s recommendations for city government generally align with suggestions made on this site, such as:

- Encourage a diversity of housing forms and land uses in each neighbourhood;
- Work with developers to increase the supply of rental housing; and
- Focus housing development in the urban core, so that residents can walk to services.

New supportive housing (2013 photo), central Maple Ridge

New supportive housing (2013 photo), central Maple Ridge

Homelessness — along with  issues associated with homeless people living on the street –  played a big part in the local election campaign that ended on November 15. It was proposed that there should be a Mayor’s task force to tackle these issues, and the main proposer is now the mayor-elect in Maple Ridge.

I will support the work of the task force. At the same time, a too-narrow focus on street poverty, with its scope for blaming and drama, may obscure the more subtle and pervasive housing issues that reduce quality of life for seniors, students and many working families. Housing policy, as the federal and provincial governments have long been aware, is not a big political winner. There is no glory in  applying modest administrative and planning tactics to spin off occasional rental housing units here and there. It’s more likely, in fact, that this kind of change will bring a political backlash from homeowners.

My hope for the newly elected council, nonetheless, is that Maple Ridge should push forward with its modest housing action plan, in the open light of day. With more people housed, it seems logical that we will see fewer people without housing.

Vintage house, decaying reduced

 

Flying over the Fraser River

George Massey replacement 2

Over the past decade, taxpayers have invested perhaps $7 billion in new freeways, bridges, and other major highways in Greater Vancouver.

George Massey replacementAnd there’s more to come! British Columbia’s government has produced a fun video about the bridge that will soon replace the George Massey Tunnel (1959).The video testifies to the persuasive power of images alone. No voiceover required.

The tunnel replacement project is underway, and has completed two rounds of public engagement. Searching online, I find only one minor instance of public protest to this point.

Talking Population Forecasting Blues

Population growth forecasts, Metro Vanouver, 2011-2014Our friend Morgan Jensen, a candidate for city council in Maple Ridge, recently shared a chart that lays out growth forecasts for municipalities in Metro Vancouver. It comes from a planning presentation at the Township of Langley.

The chart shows more than a doubling of population in the Township, putting roughly 225,000 people in that area in 2041. The City of Vancouver would acquire the same number of people as the Township, but grow much more slowly in percentage terms, reaching a population of 765,000. Surrey would become the region’s largest city, with about 880,000 people. Continue reading

The village at Harrison Lake

Dock 4 reduced For the visitor, the impressive view of the lake and surrounding mountains is a big part of the experience – and a dip in the hot pools, of course.

The resident has access to the same views and the poetic cycle of a climate that is on the soggy side*– 69 inches (175 cm.) of annual precipitation through the late 20th century, including the occasional dramatic snow event. There’s also the opportunity for regular visits to Agassiz, a larger hamlet about 10 minutes away in the District of Kent, since Harrison has no supermarket, drug store or bank. The BC Transit bus runs to Agassiz nine times per day. Continue reading

Traffic off the North Shore

Lions Gate Bridge, Saturday morning

Lions Gate Bridge, Saturday morning

If North Vancouver continues to grow at the current rate, the bridges into the City of Vancouver will lock up altogether and people will have to SWIM to work, navigating the oil tankers and seaplanes….

At least, this is what “Ed” suggested recently in an anonymous note to Fraseropolis.  Whether Ed is real or not, the idea that the North Shore of the Burrard Inlet has reached capacity recurs in debates over the pace of development in the Central and Lower Lonsdale communities. “There’s no room for more people on the North Shore: the bridges are already jammed!” Continue reading

Slowing down in Trail, B.C.

Downtown Trail with the smelter on the hill

Downtown Trail with the smelter on the hill

The city of Trail, British Columbia, about 600 kilometres east of Metro Vancouver, lies in a valley near the American border. We visited Trail, which is my wife’s birthplace, as part of our summer vacation, and we took some time to walk around and see what hasn’t changed.

Bay Avenue, downtown Trail

Bay Avenue, downtown Trail

Central Trail presents a museum of mid-20th-century architecture, which is great for a visitor like me. Some residents, however, worry that the city has been forgotten by the outside world.

To be fair, there have been improvements since the 1970s; the city is much greener than it was, due to emissions  improvements at the smelter that dominates the town. Trail’s 1961 hockey world champions were called the “Smoke Eaters”; the smoke used to kill the trees for miles around, as well as driving away tourists; but that is in the past. Continue reading

Along the Number 20 Line

Grain terminal in Port Metro Vancouver, seen from Powell St.

Grain terminal in Port Metro Vancouver, seen from Powell Street

Vancouver writer Rolf Knight published Along The No. 20 Line  in 1980. It’s a book of working-class memoirs and oral histories about the Vancouver of the 1940s.

Cordova Street

Cordova Street

The title essay recalls a 1949 trip on the Number 20 streetcar through East Vancouver, from the intersection of Kamloops and McGill streets, near where the author grew up, to Cambie and Hastings, “the informal boundary of Vancouver East’s downtown.” Continue reading