Housing forum spurs discussion

Last week's community housing forum offered an opportunity to talk about the future of Terrace, B.C.

Last week’s community forum on housing underscored the need for regular opportunities for Terrace and area residents to discuss the implications of future development with stakeholders and officials.

That’s because although there were a number of pointed questions asked about land-use and the current housing squeeze – the forum’s designated issue – audience members veered off topic to touch on subjects like social services, hospitals, and the myriad impacts future industrial work camps might have on the town throughout the two-hour event.

“This is the first of many, many future discussions,” said Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin, who moderated the March 19 forum, which was attended by more than 30 people.

The event was largely organized by city councillor Stacey Tyers, acting in her capacity as a poverty law and housing advocate, and a similar forum had been held the previous night in Kitimat.

Realtor Rick McDaniel, landlord Dani Lavoie, and the city of Terrace’s director of development services David Block rounded off the panel.

“I’m hearing people tell me this town is going to double in size in the next seven to 10 years, and that’s after the construction camps go away,” said McDaniel, noting despite planned housing developments there won’t be enough houses in Terrace for many years. He, along with other panel members, advocated for controlled, planned, careful development – and high-density units like apartment buildings – to make sure that housing is not over-built during the period of time the projects are under construction.

“The market will dictate pricing, because it always does,” he added, speaking to housing costs. “But we do have to have a conscience towards people who are being displaced and work towards finding solutions for them.”

A significant number of people are already being displaced, said Tyers, who noted it’s happening to more people than just those on fixed-incomes.

“We’re actually moving into the working market now being displaced,” she said. “Local businesses are losing their support staff, Tim Hortons, etc. are having trouble finding people because they can’t house them here and they can’t afford to live here even on the minimum wage of $10 an hour.”

If this trend continues, we risk pushing out core members of the community – the people who will be here when the construction camps go away, she said.

“We are moving out the long-term community members from our communities – and that’s where we see the overbuild problem,” said Tyers. “It’s not that we’re necessarily overbuilding, it’s that by the time things are built, the people have already left and they’re not going to move back because they’ve started a life somewhere else.”

Several audience members brought up concerns around the strain on infrastructure and social services with an influx of workers and potential work camps near the Terrace area.

“As we’re doing this building and we see the plans that are going forward, this is also the opportunity in which to address the social impact and the social responsibility as the companies and as this growth is taking place,” said audience member Jeannette Anderson, a social services worker.

“What about the social structure in terms of the safety net? Many of these individuals come in, these large camps come in with three and four and five thousand people, but what’s in place with the problems that that brings in?”