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B.C. mayors plead for collaboration on housing solutions

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Six B.C. mayors share the stage at UBCM panel.

Infrastructure, transit and a lack of provincial engagement with municipalities were top of mind for local mayors Tuesday in Vancouver at the Union of BC Municipalities 2024 Housing Summit.

“The infrastructure challenges in small and rural communities are important to contemplate. We’re working with septic systems, in some cases unregulated water supplies, and issues around fire,” said Nelson Mayor Janice Morrison, who emphasized that this infrastructure is often older in rural communities than in larger communities.

All six mayors speaking on the UBCM panel raised concerns over creating infrastructure needed to support population growth.

The province’s population grew three per cent from July 2022 to July 2023, marking the highest annual increase since 1974, according to the B.C. government. Meantime, the population is expected to reach 7.9 million by 2046, up 44 per cent compared to 5.5 million in 2023.

Another unique challenge for small or rural communities is difficulties in accessing planning officials as well as labour to build new housing, said Morrison.

“Were told there’s a million new people coming to [B.C.] over the next eight years. Hopefully, 50 per cent or more of those are people who work in the construction industry because we’re going to need all of those people to meet the challenges that are ahead of us,” said Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley.

The need to build up transit across communities was also brought up by all the speakers.

“There needs to be a massive investment in transit and different types of transit around Metro Vancouver, and indeed across the province,” Hurley said. “While we talk about transit-oriented development, if we don’t get serious about transit and funding transit, all these housing strategies go out the window.”

Both Morrison and Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto said their communities will change vastly in the long-term future as new housing creates denser communities.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he wants to concentrate growth and keep it closer to areas such as transit nodes. 

“I’m not a fan of what the province has done,” said Brodie, who was critical of the provincial government throughout the panel. “Everybody in this room and everybody online would probably agree with that we need to provide more housing. But as far as I’m concerned, the answer is not to throw it open and have four to six [units] everywhere.”

The mayors all expressed disappointment in the provincial government’s engagement with municipalities when it comes to creating and implementing new housing legislation.

Langley Mayor Nathan Pachal said that provincial engagement came in the form of press releases.

City of Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said that government engagement could have been better. But he said he is sympathetic of what the province is trying to achieve, equating new initiatives to building a canoe while already on the river.

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