Thirty-one per cent of renters and eight per cent of owners in Nelson spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing.
Almost half of renters are considering moving away from Nelson because of the difficulty in finding housing.
Those are two examples of survey results and conclusions included in a new housing report presented to council at its Sept. 29 meeting. The report covers demographics, household size, incomes, real estate market, and housing affordability.
Mayor John Dooley said nothing in the report is new. He’s been hearing the same information now for decades, he told council, and he chastised other communities in the region for not building enough low-income housing and letting Nelson carry the regional load.
The housing information for Nelson and area was extracted from the 750-page regional housing report prepared for the Regional District of Central Kootenay, and was presented to Nelson council by consultant Sandy Mackay, one of the report’s authors.
The information covers the City of Nelson as well as Areas E and F of the RDCK, which include both sides of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake from Balfour to Blewett, Cottonwood Lake, and Bonnington.
Additional highlights presented by Mackay included:
• The population is growing and aging. The population is expected to increase from 11,045 in 2016 to 11,910 by 2025.
• In 2016, 14 per cent of the population was over 65. By 2025, the 65-plus crowd will comprise 21 per cent.
• Household size is declining, meaning growth rate in demand for homes will exceed the population growth rate.
• The number of renters is increasing across nearly all age groups. Renters are less likely to be able to meet their housing needs than owners.
• The median annual income for owners is $68,896, and for renters $36,647, which Mackay says is similar throughout the region.
• 8.2 per cent of combined renters and owners combined spend more than 50 per cent of their income on housing.
• Rental housing is more expensive and harder to find.
• Owner-occupied housing is increasingly expensive. Prices have escalated most in denser, ground-oriented housing types (semi-detached and townhouses).
• There is increased “hidden homelessness” and use of food banks.
• People are renting further from services and commuting further.
Mackay said the report is for council’s information and does not include solutions.
“What we have given you is the what and the who,” he told council. “It is up to you to figure out the how.”
However, the report does make some suggestions, by highlighting the need for non-market housing that is affordable in perpetuity, increased funding from senior government, and non-profit operated housing.
“Nelson has the most advanced policy environment in the region,” he said, “so you are already doing a lot.”
City council received the report for information and did not decide anything at the meeting.
Permissive tax exemptions
Mayor John Dooley pointed out that two new subsidized housing projects in Nelson – SHARE housing under construction on Falls Street and the Nelson CARES building under construction on Nelson Avenue – have asked council for permissive tax exemptions this year.
“If those were [built by] the private sector,” Dooley said, “we would get substantial taxation annually and now we are being asked for tax exemptions, and now that will show up on [other Nelson residents’] tax requisition to pay the difference. So this is driving prices up and giving an additional subsidy [in addition to funding from the provincial government] to subsidized housing.
“It is not fair that this burden comes to the city year after year,” he said.
In addition to those two new projects, the city has previously given full or partial tax exemptions for housing built and run by non-profits, namely Nelson CARES residential housing on Vernon Street, Ward Street, and Nelson Avenue (since demolished), as well as two buildings run by the Kiwanis Society in Fairview.
City manager Kevin Cormack added that in some cases other residents of Nelson, either renters or owners, might have lower incomes and higher taxes than the residents of the new buildings, resulting in an equity issue.
Dooley: Other communities need to step up
Dooley said the report is nothing new.
“It is tiring at this table,” he said. “I watched Judy Gayton [a Nelson city councillor in the 1990s], who was a leader in this community years ago in getting housing in here, and here we are in 2020 having the same conversation, being asked the same questions, and I look around our region and people are writing letters and complaining about a shortage of housing but nobody else is delivering the product.”
He said Nelson is the only city in the region with a number of subsidized housing projects for low-income people.
More West Kootenay cities need to step up, he said.
“We need more housing built in places like Kaslo, Nakusp, New Denver, Castlegar, Trail. We need a regional approach to housing and the key to this is my opinion will be shared responsibility for housing. … The RDCK was not asked for a tax exemption for example like we were tonight.”
He said that even though Nelson is “delivering the product” it is not making a difference.
“We have changed building regulations, started laneway housing, relaxation of [fees on secondary] suites, and on and on and on. Senior levels of government that want to subsidize these units should subsidize the whole thing.”
Councillor Jesse Woodward said that an average house price in Nelson of $1 million is about five years away.
“That is daunting,” he said. “I don’t think we have all the answers here at the table, but it is the future of our town we are talking about here in terms of the kind of community that we are going to have, and million dollar homes is a certain kind of community.”