RE:CONNECT – Connecting the Dots for Fort St. John’s Housing Future
RE:CONNECT features honest conversations about local housing
Housing matters deeply in all communities but it’s a hot button issue in Fort St. John lately. This is a community in flux. The population is growing quickly (up over 8% between 2011 and 2016) and a slowdown in resource-related industries has led to rising unemployment. Almost 40% of residents rent their homes and many are spending much more than the recommended amount of their income on rent and utilities. There’s a gap between what people are earning and what is available on the market, and vulnerable low-income populations are affected most. So what can we do to close the affordability gap? Enter RE:CONNECT – a half day community dialogue, designed to face this issue head on (see more Fort St. John housing stats here).
THE “RE” IN RE:CONNECT
The “RE” portion of the gathering’s name symbolized a “RE” look at some familiar housing issues. The day was also about reenergizing, reconnecting, recalibrating and reinvigorating. Key players across the housing spectrum packed the room for a lively dialogue about housing affordability and sustainability, potential innovations, partnership opportunities and more.
“The day was like a mini think tank, a venue to help get ourselves organized,” says facilitator Henri Cullinan, a Strategic Planner and Affordable Housing Consultant with Urban Systems.
First up was Moira Green, Director of Strategic Services with the City of Fort St. John. Moira provided an overview of the current housing context in Fort St. John. She says that since 2011, 1658 doors have been added to the community and that it is key to consider housing mix along with supply and demand when trying to address the issues Fort St. John is facing. Moira says she felt RE:CONNECT was a great opportunity to share ideas and clarify expectations.
Moira was followed by Lance Jakubec, Innovation Fund Consultant with CMHC, who also sponsored the event. Lance works with CMHC’s Affordable Rental Innovation Fund and has expertise with innovative design and finance models that enhance affordability. Lance says that these kinds of events are critical to create positive change and unlock new possibilities.
Lance says that at the event, seeds were planted that may lead to future projects.
Next up to speak was Armin Amrolia – Executive Director of the Development and Asset Strategies Branch of BC Housing. Armin discussed BC Housings philosophy towards investments in housing affordability and the role of the organization itself.
Armin explains that BC Housing is focused on creating affordable rental housing across the continuum. She highlights that they are very supportive of partnerships, even unlikely ones.
The final panelist was Angela De Smit, Chief Operating Officer for the Northeast Health Service Delivery Area of Northern Health. Angela presented a seniors housing case study. She says that in Fort St. John, there are underlying drivers that make housing availability, particularly for vulnerable populations, a real challenge. But she says that she sensed optimism in the room and a lot of willingness to talk, listen and share stories.
Angela says she looks forward to continuing this conversation in future meetings that have been scheduled with some of the participants of the event. “A big thing now is what are the next steps? How do we move this forward so it’s not just another workshop or presentation?”
All participants agreed that moving projects forward is the name of the game in the housing business and that the conversation can’t stop here. This event was the foundation for us to build on and the start of a journey we can make together as a community. No one organization has all the answers, but we can certainly start to try to work together and connect and convene around these issues.
The roundable discussion at RE:CONNECT provided us with some outcomes and possible solutions. We’ve compiled that information in an easy-to-digest infographic.
Future meetings are planned to discuss solutions unearthed at the event and tangible next steps. Stay tuned to learn more about future events and keep your eye on www.housingreconnect.ca.