New Westminster’s business community wants more affordable housing

At the January 16, 2017 New Westminster Council Meeting, Mustel Group (a market research consulting company) presented the results of a survey that they had done of New West’s business community during September and October 2016. You can read the full survey results in the agenda package I linked to above, but I would like to highlight some important pieces of data.

First, in the quantitative section (this is where they just look at survey question responses and not free-form answers), the factor influencing a local business’s location that had the worst satisfaction rating was local affordable housing. In other words, current businesses are not satisfied with the availability of affordable housing here.

Second, affordable housing was the fourth-highest priority that local businesses wanted to see improved in New West, after being more business friendly, transportation, and taxes.

In the qualitative section, where an interviewer sat down with business owners and representatives to get more detailed and personal responses, the lack of affordable housing was seen as one of the challenges of doing business in the city. Related to this was the concern of the lack of mixed-use developments, which the business community feels contribute to a thriving city.

One of the suggestions that came out of the qualitative section was to “develop the business community — but keep green space and affordable housing in mind to make New Westminster a more livable city.”

And one of the questions that was asked was “what would you do if you could make one change?” One of the responses was “creating more affordable housing and student housing which will contribute to the overall growth and development of the city; and help to create a balanced city in which it would be comfortable to work and live.”

It’s pretty clear that the New Westminster business community wants more affordable housing in New Westminster. It only makes sense.

People shop more and use more services close to where they live. If people can’t afford to live in New West, they’re usually not going to make special trips to go grocery shopping in New West. They’ll come for specialty items like wedding dresses (which has a good knock-on affect for local businesses like restaurants) but most businesses rely on a relatively steady stream of local customers. They can’t all rely on tourists to our city.

If people can’t afford to live in New Westminster, then they’ll have to commute in to their jobs in New Westminster. This either increases the amount of traffic on the roads (which was the business community’s biggest challenge of doing business here) or if they rely on transit, they’ll miss shifts because of transit delays or be unable to make early morning shifts on weekends because of cutbacks to TransLink schedules. In either case commuters need to spend more money and time to get to their jobs, money and time that could be spent shopping locally.

And not only that, if a family is mortgaged up to their eyeballs, they don’t have any extra money to spend on a night out for dinner, or shop locally for gifts for loved ones, or buy a new bike from the local bike store, or meet up with friends at the local brewery. All of these businesses (and more!) take hits from housing being too expensive.

Not every job is going to pay a living wage, unfortunately. As a recap from a Kelowna Chamber of Commerce discussion on ending homelessness and supporting affordable housing put it:

The reality of the labour market is that some people make lower wages than others, yet are critical to our labour pool. These workers and community residents need affordable housing, and need it in order to work, to continue to contribute to the economy, and to avoid the risk of becoming homeless.

Without local affordable housing we run the risk of requiring people to pay more for transportation to get to their jobs, which means they have to cut from other parts of their budget. Without local affordable housing we run the risk of people holding too much debt, which doesn’t allow them to support local businesses. And without affordable housing we run the risk of losing these local businesses entirely.

The New Westminster business community sees this, and they rightly want more affordable housing in New Westminster.

3 thoughts on “New Westminster’s business community wants more affordable housing
  1. Hi Brad, I really enjoy your blog – you’re a great advocate for young families in New West. Could you please share your thoughts on the initiative to turn Queen’s Park into a heritage conservation area (HCA)? This seems be in direct opposition to the goal of creating more affordable housing in the city, as it would likely prevent any significant densification (or at least make it extremely difficult). The goal appears to be to protect nearly every house in the neighbourhood, not only the grand and architecturally-significant ones. I’ve heard that this would make it one of the largest HCA neighbourhoods in Canada. There seems to be little acknowledgement that we are in the midst of a housing crisis… Thanks!

    1. Hi Elizabeth! I’ll probably turn this comment into a larger post (watch this space!) but yes, I agree that the HCA does look like it’s in direct opposition with the goal to create more affordable housing. There are some tricky areas here in that the city is actually planning on allowing laneway houses and carriage houses in all RS-1 zones, which includes Queens Park. This will actually allow for slight densification in QP, and because a laneway or carriage house do not require a heritage house to be torn down.

      Not only that, under the current situation if one of the thirteen apartment buildings in QP burn down, those properties are zoned RS-1 so to rebuild an apartment building would require a rezoning process. With the HCA in place these buildings will be protected so that they’ll have to be rebuilt as apartments. This last bit is third-party hearsay so it might not be completely accurate but that’s the general idea that I’ve been told will be the case.

      I’ll try to dig up more information and flesh this out a bit, but that’s the general idea. Would I like to see more density in Queens Park? Yes I would! But I also realize that a lot of people place a lot of importance on heritage conservation, and pushing against that rock is difficult.

      1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Brad! I really appreciate it. After quietly sitting in on the QP HCA meeting last weekend, it seems like we have a bunch of Susan Dextras on our hands. Affordability or the plight of young families does not appear to be of any concern whatsoever with the pro-HCA crowd (mainly boomers who “got theirs” and don’t want any change within their little bubble). Just thought you might want to know, lest you were considering endorsing their plan. P.S. Obama follows you on Twitter? Wow!!!

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