Peninsula Homeless to Housing hosted an all-candidates forum on affordability and homelessness Tuesday. (Aaron Hinks photo)

White Rock candidates target affordable housing

Nearly every mayoral and council candidate participated in the forum Tuesday

White Rock’s candidates for the Oct. 20 civic election were asked to respond to just one question at Tuesday’s homelessness-and-affordable-housing forum.

Hosted by the Peninsula Homeless to Housing (PH2H) task force, each candidate was given three minutes to describe a strategy the city could implement to address housing affordability and homelessness.

While mayoral candidates arrived later – having attended a private all-candidates meeting hosted by the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce and the White Rock BIA – the PH2H meeting was attended by nearly every councillor candidate and about 150 voters at White Rock’s Church of the Holy Trinity.

Independent Michael Armstrong was the first candidate to provide an answer, suggesting a way of increasing rental supply was to force all new highrise buildings to make 10 per cent of their units rental.

Independent Jeffery Simpson offered a similar option, saying he wants 15 per cent of buildings five storeys or taller to offer affordable housing.

Independent incumbent David Chesney told the crowd that he’s a renter, and that while walking he sees evidence of the homeless population. He said he’d target provincial and federal grants to increase affordable-housing options.

White Rock Coalition’s Balbir Thind also said she would seek grants from the provincial and federal governments.

As did Democracy Direct’s Christopher Trevelyan, who noted he would work towards preserving the existing rentals in White Rock, and work with developers to bring more.

Independent Heather Hildred talked about her experience with the RCMP, BC Housing and government, noting there are about five to eight homeless people in the city any given night, and that she stands for sustainable development, public input and government transparency.

Independent incumbent Helen Fathers told the gathering that she’s the vice-chair of the city’s rental housing task force. One plan she offered is to remove the tennis courts near Centennial Arena and build a six-storey affordable-housing building and put tennis courts on the roof –“It’s important to play tennis, but it’s more important for people to live.”

Democracy Direct candidate Erika Johanson said she wants a study on Airbnbs, and how they impact the cost of rental suites. She said she would also like to use the city’s community amenity contributions (CACs) for affordable housing.

Independent Moti Bali said he was once homeless before he moved to Canada. He said the current official community plan (OCP) has been “used and abused” by the current council, and that he wants to make sure more citizens are engaged. Bali added that it’s not just low-income families that struggle.

Independent Mia Pedersen said she’s “also an immigrant” and that she grew up in a home with no water or toilet until she moved to Canada. She took issue with how the city’s CACs are being spent on “concrete” and “things I don’t understand.”

Independent Fiona MacDermid said the community is at a crossroads, and “we need a change of direction.” She noted the city’s North Bluff Road study “frightens me a lot,” and that it looks at removing rental homes.

MacDermid was among candidates to say CACs should be used to build affordable housing, particularly co-op housing.

Independent Christian Lane said he wants to bring accountability to city hall. Although “not an expert on housing,” he said it’s important for the future council to heed experts.

Democracy Direct candidate Scott Kristjanson said the current council had announced that there’s going to be a “population relocation”: “What the heck does that mean? That means people are being pushed out of their homes so foreign speculators and money launderers can make profits here.”

Democracy Direct’s Anthony Manning said housing has become a commodity, “bought, sold, speculated on like gold,” and that renters should be worried, in light of the North Bluff Road study. He took issue with Airbnb removing rental stock, and said the city should be more involved in “demovictions.”

White Rock Coalition incumbent Lynne Sinclair noted she’s the chair of the city’s rental housing task force. She said the OCP states that every rental needs to be replaced one-to-one and that in the case of evictions due to redevelopment, tenants are given three alternate locations, two of which have to be in the city, and up to six months rent paid by the developer.

Independent Ken Wuschke tweeted Peace Arch News the next day, saying Sinclair’s statement “is not the whole truth.” He noted the OCP says the two alternate locations must be located in White Rock or within five kilometres.

Wuschke told the crowd he’s a renter, but did not set out to be a renter for the rest of his life. He said that whenever his family has enough money saved to purchase a house, costs increase by thousands of dollars.

White Rock Coalition candidate Nerissa Yan said she would strive to bring all stakeholders to the table to have a meaningful, fact-based conversation to tackle homelessness.

Moderator Joan McMurtry put a call out for any other councillor candidates present and asked White Rock Coalition candidate Ernie Klassen if he would like to speak. Klassen told the crowd he would prefer to talk to voters one-on-one.

After a break, mayoral candidates addressed the issue.

Independent Garry Wolgemuth said affordable housing is one of his key platforms, noting the one-for-one rental replacement clause in the current OCP. He said there’s nothing in the OCP that stipulates that the replacement rentals need to be affordable.

Wolgemuth said the new council needs to focus on affordability, and that the current council is focused too much on building highrises.

Democracy Direct’s Darryl Walker said he wants the city to use bylaws to protect rental properties, and wants to secure federal and provincial money to create affordable housing. He said the current council has had four years to address the issue, without success. Noting the “amazingly huge houses” in the community, he said he wants to see more secondary suites.

Independent Judy Higginbotham said she wants developers to build affordable co-op housing, and that the federal government has a lot of money “and it’s there for the picking.” She said she wants to start an affordable-housing fund, paid for by developers.

Independent Mike Pearce said major centres, such as Surrey and Vancouver, have a much bigger issue when it comes to homelessness. He said White Rock can learn from other cities, and it’s important that White Rock does not “work in a vacuum.” He also stated interest in securing federal/provincial money to tackle the issue.

White Rock Coalition mayoral candidate Grant Meyer said two of his brothers moved from White Rock because of the housing prices. He suggested working with the federal and provincial government to “keep moving forward.” An incumbent councillor, Meyer made note of the current council record, such as approving rental buildings and the one-to-one rental replacement stipulation in the OCP.

Candidates not heard at the meeting included White Rock Coalition councillor incumbents Megan Knight and Bill Lawrence, independents Andy Gibney and Zachary Johnson and mayoral independent Tom Bryant.

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