New West mayor “calling BS” on province’s housing priority list

Mayor calls 'BS' on list

Mayor Patrick Johnstone is calling “BS” on the province’s new housing targets for New Westminster.

Johnstone is questioning the province’s new housing priorities, after New West was named as one of 20 priority communities to receive new housing targets for the next five years.

“I'm here today because I'm disappointed in the Minister of Housing's announcement today. I'm calling BS on this priority list,” Johnstone said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “This government has to stop pointing fingers. It has to start doing its job to get housing built.”

Johnstone said it “makes no sense” to prioritize New Westminster for new housing targets, when the city has spent more than a decade leading the region in meeting its housing needs.

“New Westminster has consistently been one of the fastest-growing cities in the region, and it's now the second densest city in all of Canada,” he said. “We lead the region in approving new purpose-built rental. We're doing more than any other city to address the critical rental vacancy crisis that's in our region. And we are one of the few cities that is meeting and exceeding its regional growth strategy targets. We are doing our job as a city in getting housing built.”

Johnstone said the city’s housing needs assessment showed New Westminster is “well ahead” of the targets in all of the sectors its responsible for, including approving new market ownership, transit oriented density and new rental homes.

“The only place that we're falling short, the only place we're falling short of community need, is in subsidized and supportive housing,” he said. “And it's not because we're not approving it – we are approving that type of housing; it's because the province refuses to fund affordable housing at a scale that meets the crisis that we're facing.”

Tuesday’s press conference was held next to a vacant downtown site that’s currently home to a temporary off-leash dog park. City council rezoned 60 to 68 Sixth St. in 2021, in response to BC Housing’s application to build 52 units of supportive housing on the site.

Johnstone said New Westminster is doing what it can to support affordable housing – including pre-zoning land for affordable housing and providing capital funds to support projects.

“We have begged the province for more,” he said. “I don't know what more we can do as a city to get affordable housing built. So, the announcement today should have been a story about a community that's trying to do the right thing.”

Johnstone said city council has been doing its job to address the housing crisis and city staff have been doing an incredible job moving projects forward while addressing the “onslaught” of new housing legislation the province has introduced for local governments.

To create more housing, the province has introduced a number of legislative changes, including small-scale multi-unit housing, designated transit-oriented areas, updated official community plans and streamlined local development approval processes.

Naughty list?

As part of the province’s commitment to building more homes, it introduced the Housing Supply Act in 2023. At that time, it established housing targets for the first 10 priority municipalities, based on areas of greatest need and highest projected growth.

Now, the province has identified 20 additional priority municipalities, including New Westminster, and will work with these communities to ensure they meet their housing targets. In a news release, the province said the municipalities’ targets would be released this summer.

In addition to New Westminster, the next 20 priority municipalities receiving housing targets are: Central Saanich; Chilliwack; Colwood; Esquimalt; Kelowna; City of Langley; Maple Ridge; Mission; Nanaimo; North Cowichan; North Saanich; City of North Vancouver; Port Coquitlam; Prince George; Sidney; Surrey; View Royal; West Kelowna; and White Rock.

“I was stunned when I heard the news,” Johnstone said. “I simply don't understand how we can be prioritized for new targets when there are cities across this region … that have spent decades falling short of targets.”

According to the province’s news release, these 20 communities are in high-growth, high-need regions of B.C



“We are addressing the housing crisis with our municipal partners so thousands more affordable homes can be built for people who need them,” Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon said in the news release. “Our goal for the next 20 communities is to build on the work they are already doing, while they continue to implement the recent provincial legislative changes. This group includes communities that are doing well on housing and some that need to do more.”

According to the province, communities like New Westminster, the City of North Vancouver, Kelowna and the City of Langley are demonstrating how local governments should respond to their growing needs and are taking even further actions to achieve their goals.

Johnstone said he regularly hears from community members who want the province to support critical community needs crated by new housing and population growth, including schools, childcare and public transit.

“We have added 5,132 residential units in the last 10 years in this city. That's 500 units a year,” he said. “We currently have 3,000 units with approved building permits that are under construction in the city, plus another 6,000 that are currently being processed.”

Despite all that work, Johnstone said people are still sleeping in a temporary shelter or on the streets. Instead of delivering supportive housing, he said the province is delivering housing targets to municipalities.

“The minister hasn't told us what the new targets are. The point is that the city doesn't just meet the targets it has – it has met and exceeded the targets we already have,” Johnstone said. “The only targets we're not meeting are the ones that are outside of our control. They're in the affordable housing sector. They're the targets that he is responsible for funding and helping us meet.”

Coun. Daniel Fontaine said he was shocked and disappointed that the province added the City of New Westminster to its “naughty list” of cities who allegedly aren’t doing enough to build new housing.

So far, Fontaine said cities have only seen directives from Victoria to construct more housing – but insufficient funding to help build complete communities.

“We currently have a massive infrastructure deficit in our city that needs to be addressed alongside the construction of new housing,” he said in a statement to the Record. “The province needs to be putting a lot more money on the table for us to build new community centre, turf fields, libraries and daycares if we’re going to effectively management all that growth mandated by the NDP government.”

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