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North Shore public dialogue sessions focus on housing challenge

North Shore public dialogue sessions focus on housing challenge

Three community events later this month will include speeches by housing experts.

Housing is a hot topic on the North Shore, prompting some occasionally heated discussions ­– whether that’s voicing the gulf across the experience of different generations, or debates centred on more affordable housing and those opposed to greater density.

To tackle those subjects, North Shore Community Resources is hosting three community conversations on housing, to be held at the end of this month in each of the North Shore’s three municipalities.

The goal is “to encourage meaningful and productive conversations among North Shore neighbours and community members as we collectively face the challenging housing crisis,” according to Murray Mollard, executive director of the community resources group.

“We don’t expect everyone to agree on housing issues or solutions, but it is important to continue to hold space for people to come together and share perspectives civilly and respectfully.”

Funded by the Real Estate Council of B.C., each event will feature a keynote speaker, followed by small group dialogues.

“We are hoping for a diverse and inter-generational audience representative of our North Shore community,” Mollard said.

The first session takes place June 22 at 5:30 p.m. at Capilano University’s Lonsdale campus in the City of North Vancouver, and will feature speaker Penny Gurstein, a former professor and director of the School of Community and Regional Planning and the Centre for Human Settlements at UBC and researcher of affordable housing.

The second session, in the District of North Vancouver, happens June 28 at 5:30 p.m. at the Lynn Valley Community Recreation Centre and will feature speaker Andy Yan, the director of SFU’s City Program and a frequent commentator on housing issues in Metro Vancouver.

The final session will take place June 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the West Vancouver Community Centre’s music room in West Vancouver, where Jake Fry, founder of SmallWorks, which builds and advocates for laneway housing, will be a guest speaker.

Participation in the events is free. Register online at or by calling 604-982-7138.

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Funding announced to help retrofit affordable housing in B.C. during extreme heat events

Funding announced to help retrofit affordable housing in B.C. during extreme heat events

Vancity is targeting B.C.’s most vulnerable populations with a series of grants to help future-proof homes in the event of extreme heat.

Vancity, a community credit union, is providing millions of dollars to non-profit housing providers to help some of B.C.’s most vulnerable populations cope with extreme heat.

Following B.C.’s 2021 heat wave, the BC Coroners Service released a report with recommendations for the province to protect residents against extreme heat events.

One of these recommendations is to change existing building codes so any retrofits or new buildings are safer for residents in times of extreme heat. By the summer of 2024, passive and active cooling should be included in building codes, the report states.

Working two steps ahead, Vancity has launched its Non-Profit Housing Retrofit Program to tackle this issue, effective immediately.

Part of this program is a pilot project in which Vancity will work with the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA) and Affine Climate Solutions, as strategic partners. 

Andrea Harris, vice-president of impact strategy at Vancity, said the grants to these strategic partners will range from $100,000 to $200,000 per year, depending on their needs.

The investment is substantial for AHMA, chief executive officer Margaret Pfoh said.

Most of the units that AHMA manages were built in the 1970s and 1980s, in a time when air conditioners were not commonly installed, she said.

“When I say air conditioning… we’re not talking about comfort as in luxury comfort. We’re talking about the ability to survive extremes,” Pfoh said.

Immediate change made possible 

On Jan. 26, AHMA released its BC Urban, Rural and Northern Housing Strategy, in which it asked the federal government for $500 million to help retrofit its 4,400 units.

Part of Canada’s 2022 budget includes a $300-million investment over the next five years to launch an Indigenous housing strategy.

Vancity’s support, meanwhile, has left Pfoh very grateful.

“[The federal government] has been glacial in actually implementing tangible investments and activities that can reduce the vulnerability that we’re seeing,” Pfoh said. “The federal government needs to do better and we’ve laid a path for them in that strategy.”

From Dawson Creek to downtown Vancouver, she said AHMA should be able to begin making an immediate change in its wide variety of units over the next six to eight months, thanks to Vancity’s funding. 

However, long-term, Pfoh thinks it will be another five to 10 years until every building is properly retrofitted and adaptable to the changing climate.

“That’s scary to think about without the federal government or without other investors,” Pfoh said.

B.C. buildings particularly hard to retrofit

Pfoh isn’t alone with her far-off estimate of retrofit completion.

Ian Cullis, director of asset management for BCNPHA, also gave an estimate of several years before the approximately 3,200 buildings that BCNPHA manages are climate change-equipped.

Cullis said this lengthy timeline comes down to the non-uniformity of B.C.’s building landscape, pointing out factors such as differences in materials, building systems and elevation changes that slow down the process.

“Each building almost has its own personality,” Cullis said. “It’s hard to come up with one solution that fits them all.”

Comparing B.C. to a place like the Netherlands, where Cullis says there’s a more uniform building stock, this funding is crucial to determine how each building can be retrofitted to suit its personality, he said.

But first, the maintenance backlog

However, before these buildings can be fitted for future-proofing, Cullis said they first need to be fixed up to meet present-day standards. 

In 2019, the provincial government committed to investing $1.1 billion into social housing upgrades over the next 10 years through the Capital Renewal Fund. The problem with this, Cullis said, is that there’s about $4 billion worth of deferred maintenance that needs to be caught up on before any of this money can go towards retrofitting for the future.

“So we’ve got the biggest investment ever, but we’ve also got a tidal wave of building repairs that are needed,” he said. 

In order to catch up on repairs, Cullis said BCNPHA needs the money from Vancity in addition to support from governments and municipalities to help solve these backlog problems.

How does one begin to “retrofit”?

Even with looming repairs, both Pfoh and Cullis have already kicked off their plans to start using the money from Vancity for retrofits.

Pfoh said she’s focused on hiring a new portfolio planner within AHMA’s asset strategies department and Cullis said his asset management team is continuing to do energy audits on all their buildings to learn more about each one’s retrofit potential.

From there, Cullis said the most urgent task on BCNPHA’s to-do list is to create at least one safe space in each of its buildings for residents to seek comfort in during extreme heat events.

“The goal is to get the common area air-conditioned, so at least you’ve got one space in a building where people can take refuge,” he said.

This will ideally be implemented in addition to building staff delivering water and completing health checks with tenants, Cullis said.

Grants to help close a gap

In addition to this pilot project with BCNPHA and AHMA, Vancity is also offering $80,000 grants to non-profit housing providers and organizations that support these non-profits, providing they’re a Vancity member.

Applications for these smaller grants opened on June 9. According to Harris, Vancity has already received interest and has begun working with its first applicant in the realm of affordable seniors housing. 

With a total of $5 million committed to this program over the next three years, Harris is hopeful that Vancity’s funding will help close a gap in B.C.’s funding of non-profit housing. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s already a bit of a backlog of organizations who are looking for these grants, because they really meet a funding gap,” she said.

Next week, Harris said Vancity will launch a similar program for its members who are homeowners.

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Current Events: Update on Missoula road changes, housing projects

Current Events: Update on Missoula road changes, housing projects

MISSOULA – A much talked about change two a pair of downtown Missoula streets and progress on housing are the topics of this edition of Current Events.

We talked with Missoula Current founding editor Martin Kidston to find out what could be happening on Main and Front streets in the near future.

“Yeah, that project is actually creeping along. It has come back on the books the last couple weeks. A little bit of history on that. Back in 2015 the city did a feasibility study on the potential for conversion of Front and Main Street into two-way traffic and the feasibility study actually found that the possibility was actually feasible,” Kidston explained.

A few years ago, they put that project up to bid for engineering and design and that project is at 30% design right now and that is expected to come to 90% design this spring, which shows some progress there. With that, they begin to search for a funding source. It’s a good time to tackle a project like that with the Infrastructure Bill that passed.”

“Some of the things that the project will do is obviously turn Front and Main Streets back into two-way traffic. And that impacts a number of intersections in the downtown area, including the intersections of Front and Main with Van Buren Street, the one intersection there with Front and Main where they come together with Orange Street, and also where Front and Main cross Higgins Avenue. All those intersections need to be reconfigured since traffic will be moving in both directions,” Kidston continued.

“The businesses are behind it, it’s supposed to be good for commerce. Their working with neighborhoods downtown to alleviate their concerns. We’ll see what the 90% design comes up with this spring for that project.

Meanwhile, a new subdivision might be in the works for the River Road area in Missoula.

“Last week the Consolidated Planning Board heard and approved on an 8-1 vote a small subdivision of 19 units and that’s off River Road on the south side. It’s spaced on 2.3 acres of property. That project is represented by IMEG,” Kidston explained.

“There is concern among the neighbors about the impact that the residential housing units will have on traffic, congestion. The infrastructure on River Road is in horrendous shape to use a phrase put by one person. There is concern about the impact. The rezoning request for that project now goes before city council. They will ultimately decide whether this project gets rezoned and permitted to move forward.

There has also been some movement on a housing project on Missoula’s scott Ctreet.

“That project is moving forward as well, and they plan to start laying foundations this fall which is a pretty quick timeline. They’re still trying to work on some details around parking and right of way. The price points are becoming clearer on what the town homes and condos and what the affordable part of the project will sell for. That’s really starting to jell, we may actually be tarting to see something yet this fall,” Kidston concluded.