Opinion: Affordable housing opposition smells like New West NIMBYs

Chris Campbell

When it comes to housing in Metro Vancouver, we’re in an affordability crisis.

Yeah, I know, that’s a really obvious thing to say, and yet I’m still forced to say something so ridiculously obvious because some folks just don’t get it.

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How else to explain opposition to affordable housing projects all over our region, and now close to home in New Westminster?

Some people can’t afford homes on their salaries due to sky-high prices, while others are literally homeless.

So the B.C. government has stepped up with hundreds of millions of dollars to fund projects. These projects just need cities to step up with locations to put them.

New Westminster has done that and, in return, too many residents have decided that it’s unfair to put these projects in their backyards.

In 2018, hundreds of angry Queensborough residents yelled a bunch of misinformation about a 44-unit modular housing project at 838 Ewen Ave., which will provide housing to women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. (That project was approved and is currently under construction.)

“It’s the wrong location,” they said, meaning anywhere near where they live.

That got my really riled up because it wouldn’t matter where this project was built, someone would say it was the wrong location.

43 Hastings St. affordable housing
A crowd - including residents, New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy, Qayqayt Chief Rhonda Larrabee, Mayor Jonathan Cote and B.C. Social Development and Poverty Reduction Minister Shane Simpson - gathered in downtown New West in October 2019 to help celebrate the grand opening of an affordable housing project at 43 Hastings Street. Having previously partnered with other organizations on two projects, the city is now considering projects on two other city-owned sites. - Contributed

Now we have opposition to a different kind of project in New Westminster.

Last October, council endorsed the use of the city-owned properties at 2035 London St. and 2038 Ninth Ave. in the Connaught Heights neighbourhood, and 350 to 362 Fenton St. in Queensborough for the development of small-sites affordable housing projects. Council also directed staff to proceed with the issuance of a call for proposals to see how housing providers propose to develop these sites for affordable housing projects. (Read more about it here.)

The Connaught Heights project, on land which has been vacant for at least 30 years according to one resident, is now the subject of a petition from residents who say they weren’t “consulted” about it.

I always wonder about the level of entitlement that comes with single-family homeowners demanding that cities somehow get their permission about housing projects.

It’s not a rendering plant. It’s not a gun range. It’s housing for human beings. These folks opposing the project live in homes and that doesn’t give them the right of approval over other homes being proposed in their residential neighbourhood. Sure, give your input on how it should take place, but you don’t get to say that certain people can’t live in your neighbourhood.

Oh, but it’s going to “increase traffic,” they say. Well, not really. First, the site is walking distance from the 22nd Street SkyTrain station and people who move near transit tend to not drive vehicles. Secondly, we’re not talking about a 30-storey tower – the number of units proposed are between eight and 24.

That’s it.

So stop with the hysteria about traffic.

Then there’s the whole attitude of people who bought single-family houses decades ago for peanuts compared to young people today. Try putting yourself in the shoes of young people today. Or imagine you are a single-parent struggling to find housing you can afford. They don’t have the advantages that you folks did 30 or 40 years ago so maybe help be a part of the solution. Be heroes. Open up your arms.

A key to affordability is increasing density and people in single-family neighbourhoods are just going to have to get used to that and say “yes in my backyard” once in a while.

These projects are a sign that New West is committed to affordable housing. I wish more cities were like it.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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