Port Alberni city council has approved two new housing developments on the heels of a housing needs assessment which shows that many people in the community are struggling with housing costs.
More housing will be coming to the former Alberni District Secondary School site, as council approved a new development on Monday, Feb. 22 for the intersection of 16th Avenue and Burde Street. The proposal is for 10 fourplexes and six duplexes, for a total of 52 units.
Council also approved a proposal for two triplexes on Swallow Drive (near Greenwood Cemetery).
“I’m thrilled to see continued investment in our community, and more housing options going forward,” said councillor Helen Poon on Monday.
The proposed developments fill a gap in the community, as city staff went over the city’s new housing needs assessment on Monday. The report was developed with funding from the Union of BC Municipalities, identifying existing and projected gaps in the community’s housing supply.
Rebecca Taylor, the project consultant, explained on Monday that according to census data from 2016, more than 69 percent of housing stock in the city is made up of single-detached houses, rather than townhouses or apartment units. Taylor said this is “quite high” compared to the rest of the province.
Manager of planning Katelyn McDougall suggested that Port Alberni suffers from the “missing middle” phenomenon, where there isn’t much diversity in housing stock, despite the diversity in population.
“It really illuminates where the majority of our housing stock is right now, being single detached houses,” she said. “I think that creates a lot of opportunity for change and for strategic growth.”
The report also shows that more than 43.5 percent of the homes in Port Alberni were built before 1960, which is a “very high” percentage compared to the rest of the province, said Taylor. This can contribute to affordability issues, if people can’t afford major repairs to older homes.
The affordability gap in the City of Port Alberni is widening. Since 2015, housing prices have increased “quite dramatically” in Port Alberni. The average rent also increased by 37 percent between 2006 and 2016, although the median income for renters decreased during that same time.
A public survey released by the city in late 2020, which received more than 600 responses, shows that 58 percent of respondents are spending more than 30 percent of their household income on housing.
However, there has been a bit of a housing construction boom since 2016, said Taylor. New housing projects like the Portview Landing apartments on the former Burde Street high school site are making a difference in the community, as the rental vacancy rate reached three percent at the end of 2020—up from 0.7 percent in 2018.
The report projects that 194 new dwelling units will be needed by 2025, which Taylor said is very attainable based on current building trends. However, there is still a significant need for affordable housing in the city of Port Alberni, as well as seniors housing.
The full housing needs report is available to view on the city’s website at www.portalberni.ca.