Archive for November, 2017

The stories numbers tell #census #housing #salmonarm
November 6, 2017

This column first appeared in the November 2017 All Month edition of the Friday Am

I love the story of the three little pigs. Three little pigs trying their best to overcome their housing challenges given the big bad wolf. For me, it’s the ultimate story of collaboration. We all try to overcome challenges in our way but in the end, it’s our ability to work together that really defeats any wolf.

Good things also happen in threes – at least that’s been my experience – maybe it’s the universe’s way of reminding us that we need one chance to try, two chances to learn and three chances to win. I love it because it speaks to the importance of trying new things, learning from mistakes and finally achieving success.

So why the focus on numbers you ask? My modest support of the current federal government is largely tied to its decision to make its first order of business the reinstatement of the mandatory long form census. The final numbers will be released at the end of November but we have to date, a nearly complete picture of what our community looked like in May 2015. I can’t begin to tell you how important census data is from a public planning point of view. It’s critical to how decisions are made at the local level to ensure that scarce public resources are allocated as appropriately as possible given the story that our numbers tell.

It’s my observation that all communities are to some extent, afraid of the wolf and as such are prone to jumping to conclusions and making assumptions that the statistics defy. This can lead to significant misallocation of resources. Do we need more daycares or senior homes? Do we need playgrounds or pickle ball courts? Do we need more police officers or more kindergarten teachers? You get the idea. The census gives us a picture in time to help us make sure we spend the money where it needs to be spent.

This census for Salmon Arm might surprise you. It surprised me. The population of Salmon Arm grew by 1.2%. I thought it would be higher because we’re undergoing the largest building boom since 2008 and the schools are nearly full but we live in an integrated regional economy and our city boundaries do not necessarily reflect who is coming to town or attending our schools. Also, most families who move from one community to another do so in the summer, not in May when the census is held.  

What also surprised me is our median age. It increased from 48 to 50 which is significant because, ceteris paribus (my favourite latin saying that means all things being equal), it  could have gone up by five years. So, things did not stay equal. And that’s a good thing. It’s an indication of change. There is no question that Canada is getting older. It’s merely a question of how much older we are getting here, for the purposes of this discussion. 

We have seen a mild bump in the number of 30 to 40 years olds, aka, the millennials. And their presence makes a difference. The 55 to 64 demographic increased as well, aka, the baby boomers. It’s all good. The millennials are at the beginning of their earning stream and the baby boomers are at the end of theirs. It’s balance. And, to bring up another latin term in economics, what we seek is a manageable equilibrium. 

And I suppose that is my point. We like to believe we are singularly responsible for what happens in this town. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are part and parcel of an economic eco-system where young people are seeking more affordable places to live and raise their families while baby boomers are cashing in on their successful careers and property value to fund healthy retirements. So we’re on the upside of two trends and I’m happy about that. 

Having said so, we also have some monumental challenges ahead. When I moved to Canoe nearly twenty years ago, I purchased a home for three times my annual wage. There’s that lucky number again. It’s unlikely I could do the same now. Land is the most scarce of resources and, in my view, it will continue to rise in value. British Columbia has grown by five percent. There is a greater population base seeking out fewer properties. That’s just the math talking. So, how do we continue to grow at a rate that is manageable and affordable? 

I believe that we must take an all encompassing approach to housing. It’s too easy to talk about affordable housing as a younger generation’s problem. It more difficult to look at the whole picture from supportive housing to rental housing, to entry-level home ownership to land trusts and traditional mortgages. What we need is an exploration of the housing ladder where supportive housing clients can move to rental, and rental can move to modest ownership and modest ownership can move to traditional mortgages. It’s a complex question in need of an integrated solution. Housing is a ladder and if one or more of the rungs is broken – either at the top or at the bottom – it cannot fulfill its role and purpose. 

While housing is a need we all share as members of the public, it’s developed, built and purchased with private money. The private sector is infinitely better at allocation private resources with a view to profit and sustainability than the public sector. And profit is a requirement for the sector to sustain itself – not a luxury – a requirement. So it’s not a conversation we can have in public without having the private sector at the table. 

I remember the day I moved to my tiny house in Canoe. It’s worth three times what it was when I bought it (see, that rule of 3 is important). I never thought I’d own a home having moved here from Vancouver and it’s now my most prized possession. So, let me know your thoughts. You see, our contribution to building a sustainable community comes down to statistics and to commitment. We can’t change the stats. We can change the conversation on commitment. Let’s face it, huffing and puffing nearly worked for the wolf, but he didn’t win then and he won’t win this time. That I don’t need stats for. I know my community and I know we’re up for this challenge. Nothing will blow us down so long as we work together.