(Black Press file photo)

COLUMN: Developers and planners must remove their blinders

ML Burke writes that developers and city planners need to do more to protect vulnerable citizens

It’s raining hard again this morning, as it has for the past month. I keep thinking of all those people huddled in the cars and vans which are now their homes. Or maybe they’re at the local recreation centre, washing up before going to work or school.

Baby-steps aren’t enough when it comes to housing. In my last column, I wrote about an attitude change needed around NIMBY-ism. This time I’m looking at developers and Delta’s planning department.

Did you know that 43.9 per cent of Delta’s population is over 50, and 20 per cent of those are renters, according to the 2016 census and B.C.’s seniors advocate. That’s 8,792 renters over 50 with an annual income under $30,000. Add to that a 0.9 per cent vacancy rate with no new rental units built here in the past two years. We have a serious housing crisis affecting our most vulnerable, mostly single senior women.

Not to mention our young families (aged 25 to 40). Sorry folks, they’re leaving in droves (again, according to the 2016 census). They can’t afford to buy or rent in Delta, especially South Delta. Yes, construction is going on everywhere, but it is way out of reach for the population that needs it most: the low- and middle-income renters. These are our service and retail workers, our caregivers and restaurant staff. I see notices everywhere saying “Hiring Now.” The result: businesses closing.

Developers are working with realtors on land assemblies, then building mostly townhomes in South Delta and towers in North Delta. The townhomes are not suitable for seniors (too many stairs) plus they are for sale, not rent. A one-year-old three-bedroom, three-storey townhome in Tsawwassen is listed at $946,000, which the realtor suggests is a bargain. Hmm…not my idea of a bargain.

I keep saying we need one-, two- and three-bedroom rentals. If we must keep building townhomes to sell, then let’s stack them with a one-bedroom unit on the ground and a second two- to three-bedroom unit above with separate entrances. Older folks on the bottom, younger on the top. Or, at least stack the closets so an elevator could be installed later.

Another problem is our planning department’s obsession with parking spaces. Have they not heard that personal cars are on their way out? No need for more two- and three-car garages taking up all that precious real estate. Uber, car-sharing services like Evo, self-driving cars on the horizon and the fact many seniors don’t drive, should all be a signal to lighten up on our residential parking restrictions.

Many suites can’t be rented because they don’t have enough space for additional parking. I ask you, what’s wrong with the street? On busier streets Delta could do permitted parking like Vancouver, and free up those affordable rentals. Let’s access the existing stock and remove these outdated parking barriers.

There’s one more attitude shift we need to make. (Are you ready?) We need to lose the stigma around renters and rental buildings. When a purpose-built rental or co-op is proposed in your community, I’m hoping you will say, “Yes, it’s needed and I support this project.”

ML Burke retired from the health sector to work on issues such as affordable housing. She sits on the Delta Seniors Planning Team and the BC Seniors Advocate’s Council of Advisors.

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