British Columbia

Homelessness, affordable housing key issues as UBCM kicks off

Some municipal leaders say the current face of homelessness in B.C. is younger and more addicted, and it will take more than just new housing to address the issue.

Everything from Airbnb to renovictions on agenda as B.C. municipal leaders gather in Victoria

Municipal leaders from around the province are discussing housing issues that range from homelessness and tent cities to the impact of short-term rentals on their communities. (Shutterstock)

Some municipal leaders say the current face of homelessness in B.C. is younger and more addicted, and it will take more than just new housing to address the issue.

Homelessness and affordable housing were top issues during the opening day of the week-long Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria, which brings together about 2,000 elected politicians and civic staff.

Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar said the homeless population in his community is becoming younger and more transient.

Mental health and addiction services need to be part of housing aimed at getting people off the street, he said.

"You also have to make sure you have the right support systems in place too, or you are just setting people up to fail," he told host Gregor Craigie on CBC Radio's On The Island.

"There's a lot of people with addictions issues and mental health issues and things like that, so they need that more supportive-type housing, as well as a rent they can afford."

Municipal leaders say the current face of homelessness in B.C. is younger and more addicted and it will take more than just more housing to address the issue.

Roughly 250 people are living on the streets of Kamloops, but the city needs to build or renovate about 2,200 units to meet the demand for affordable housing, Milobar said.

The discussion on homelessness at the UBCM gathering comes after a tent city in Victoria's downtown drew national attention to the housing crisis in B.C.

Moving people from the tents into housing or shelters was only possible through collaboration with the provincial government, said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

The B.C. Government has opened nearly 200 new housing units in Victoria in recent months and has also added more shelter space.

"Every mayor in British Columbia, every mayor in Canada, knows that homelessness is a problem," Helps said.

"I think the value of having us all together [at UBCM] is to hear those stories and then to keep pushing this as an issue that we need more funding for." 

The province has been taking steps to deal with the issue. Last week, it announced it will spend $500 million to provide affordable rental housing. The housing will be paid for by record revenues from the real estate sector.

The investment is expected to provide nearly 3,000 rental units and will be funded in part by proceeds from the 15 per cent foreign-buyers tax, which was imposed last month on non-residents who purchase residential property in the Vancouver area.

Other housing issues that will be up for debate at the UBCM convention this week include the rise in short-term rentals such as Airbnb and concerns about renovictions driven by high real estate values.

"We are in an election year and that is always an opportunity for municipalities to get their message across," said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins on CBC Radio's special edition of B.C. Almanac from the UBCM convention.

With files from On The Island, B.C. Almanac