The problem is bad and it seems to be getting worse.

In a discussion that ranged from rental rates to political costs, Port Coquitlam council discussed the state of affordable housing in the city during a meeting Tuesday.

While it may have been a “tad easier” in previous years, Coun. Dean Washington questioned the severity of the situation.

“At what point was there affordable home ownership?” Washington asked. “I’m 57 years old, and it hasn’t been in my lifetime.”

Metro Vancouver’s housing market has always had a tendency to squeeze each dime until the sailboat capsized. However, the situation has gotten markedly worse in recent years, according to Marina Jozipovic a consultant with housing advisory group Urban Matters.

Paycheques overmatched by prices

In 2013, approximately 46 percent of housing sales in Metro Vancouver were considered affordable, Jozipovic said. In five years, that figured dropped to 18 percent. The situation is particularly challenging for renters, who have watched increases to housing costs outstrip increases to their paycheque by a ratio of nearly 4-to-1.

Over a 10-year period, housing costs rose 50 percent while the median income among renters increased 13 percent, according to the housing needs report produced by Urban Matters.

To meet the needs of the population, the report projects that Port Coquitlam needs approximately 550 new dwellings per year for the next 10 years. The city is currently adding about 300 units per year.

graph supplied Urban Matters

In order to reach that number, the city may have to do something unpopular, Washington suggested.

“We don’t have a lot of land left,” Washington said. “I think the discussion has to lead a little bit toward – I hate to say it in an election year but – towers. . . . It’s really the most efficient way to get density.”

Coun. Laura Dupont said she was “shocked” by median rents, which jumped from $825 in 2011 to $1,400 in 2020.

Port Coquitlam’s primary rental market is dominated by one- and two-bedroom units, which comprised 96 percent of the city’s rentals in 2020, according to the housing needs report.

‘An important place to start’

There are approximately 1,790 Port Coquitlam renter households in core housing need – defined as a household either staying in unsuitable housing or spending more than 30 percent of before-tax income on rent.

Approximately 49 percent of recent immigrant households and 47 percent of Indigenous households are in core housing need, according to the report.

The report also noted that 40 percent of households with at least one person with a disability are in core housing need.

“I think that’s a good place, an important place to start,” Dupont said.

Affordability is the biggest housing issue in Port Coquitlam, according to the report, which found that 21 percent of owners and 40 percent of renters are spending more than 30 percent of their household incomes on shelter costs as of 2016.

In 2020, the city’s rental vacancy rate was 0.7 percent. A healthy vacancy rate is generally considered to range between three and five percent.

As of 2021, 292 Port Coquitlam individuals and families were on the BC Housing waitlist for non-market housing units, the report stated.

Given the limited influence a municipality can exert on rental rates, a societal shift may be necessary, according to Coun. Steve Darling.

“It strikes me that, as a society, we are going to have to pay people more because things are not getting cheaper,” he said.

Discussing the report’s assessment that Port Coquitlam should add 5,500 units over 10 years, Darling said there’s “no chance” the city can hit that target.

“We’re not going to get there, as much as we would love to,” he said.

graph supplied Urban Matters

What the city can do

Given that the city’s stock of purpose-built rental is both small and old, Jozipovic recommended implementing a policy to keep that housing from being converted to strata units.

The report also recommended incentives for development of new rental building, a review of zoning policies, more opportunities for rowhouse development, as well as consideration of more townhouses duplexes, triplexes and secondary suites.

Mandating secondary suites could result in unintended consequences, cautioned Coun. Nancy McCurrach.

“As we live on a floodplain, that seems problematic,” she said.

The city will likely need to pursue a range of actions to address the shortfall between housing prices and income, according to Coun. Glenn Pollock.

“We need to use every tool in the toolbox,” Pollock said, suggesting the city strike a task force to find their way forward.

Going forward, council needs to be mindful of who’s footing the bill, according to Coun. Darrell Penner.

“How can we have non-market housing that is not subsidized by the average taxpayer?” Penner asked. “Because that becomes a complete quagmire.”

The report was paid for through $50,000 in funding from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

Mayor Brad West did not attend the meeting.