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.