The challenges posed by the housing crunch in the Okanagan are everywhere: people living in RVs, families making their homes in motels, and businesses struggling to find staff.
On Thursday, B.C.’s new housing minister, Ravi Kahlon, was in Vernon getting a sense of the situation as he starts work to tackle one of the province’s biggest problems.
His North Okanagan stop is part of a larger tour of the Interior.
Kahlon said the province is working to have more affordable units built both for rent and to buy.
The ministry said he would be talking to city councils and mayors in the Interior about how to get that type of housing online.
“We need to do it faster. Waiting two, three, four years for these things to be built is too long,” Kahlon said.
Beyond building on existing programs, the new minister was short on specifics.
“We are right now refreshing our housing strategy so you will have very soon a road map of what we are going to be doing, from the province’s perspective, to ensure that housing that people need, no matter where they are in their lives,… is there for them,” Kahlon said.
“That may mean supportive housing … but it also may mean affordable rental units or smaller units people can actually afford to buy.”
Asked about the province’s plan to create housing targets for some municipalities, Kahlon said it was too soon to say if any Okanagan communities will be included.
“We are right now in the process of picking eight to 10 communities that will have targets put on them. It gives us the tools to be able to step in if we don’t see action at the level that we want to see it, but so far every mayor I have talked to is ready to go,” Kahlon said.
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Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming came to Thursday’s meeting with the minister with three specific requests: more supportive housing units, a complex care facility for people unable to even stay in a shelter, and “a mechanism to bring on rental accommodations for those people who work here.”
Cumming says he wishes Vernon was more successful at addressing affordability.
“I think we’ve had some facilities go in that are really positive. Where are we in terms of our need? Clearly, at less than one per cent vacancy rate we are well off of what we need. We need to be able to accelerate this process,” Cumming said.
Cumming said the city had record building permit numbers last year, “but it isn’t enough.”
Expectations will be high, as Kahlon heads back to Victoria to try to deliver on his vision of housing for all.