Concerns about the lack of affordable rentals dominated a panel discussion on seniors housing and homelessness at the Langley Senior Resource Centre Tuesday. Panelists, from left, were Langley City mayor Ted Schaffer; Rich Coleman, minister responsible for housing; Langley Township mayor Jack Froese; Roz Bailey, president of Surrey Manufactured Home Owners Association and Brian Dodd, executive director of Seniors Services Society.

(With video) Affordable rental shortage hitting home with Langley seniors

Minister responsible for housing drops hint about a new provincial housing initiative during Tuesday forum

Concern about a lack of affordable rental accommodation dominated a panel discussion about seniors housing and homelessness at the Langley Senior Resources Centre on Tuesday.

About 100 people crowded into a meeting room at the centre to hear the panelists: the minister responsible for housing, Rich Coleman; Township mayor Jack Froese; Langley City mayor Ted Schaffer; the executive director of the Seniors Services Society, Brian Dodd, and Roz Bailey, president of the Surrey manufactured home owners association.

The problem, they agreed, is a shortage of rentals that seniors on limited incomes can afford.

Dodd said the Seniors Services Society currently has about 50 clients who can’t find housing they can afford on an average income of $1,192 a month.

“We have almost zero availability,” Dodd said.

“We’re working with seniors who are first-time homeless.”

Coleman blamed the federal decision to end incentives for multiple unit residential buildings.

“We have a supply problem,” Coleman said.

“And our supply problem comes from the fact that we don’t do purpose-built rental housing anymore.”

Coleman hinted the province may soon announce a new housing program that will “add some product to this community,” but he was unable to give details.

“We have made an “ask” in this year’s budget to finance, who will make their decision and announce what the budget looks like on the 21st of February,” Coleman said.

“I know what (the proposals are) but I can’t disclose them to you.”

Coleman noted the province already provides rental assistance to 101,000 households.

Subsidies are preferable, he said, because they are “quicker and more efficient than having to build it all.”

But the government is also open to construction proposals, especially from non-profit societies who want to operate the building, he added.

“If anyone in Langley has a piece of land or development opportunity, find me.”

Earlier this month, the province and Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church announced the construction of 82 units of affordable housing for seniors, to be built on church land along 200 Street.

In response to a question, Froese said there have been no new trailer parks approved by the Township because the rules have changed since the 14 currently operating were built.

“We don’t see them apply anymore.”

While developers are starting to build new multiple unit residential buildings in the Township, Froese is worried about the recent steep rise in land prices and what that will mean for future projects.

“Some of that land has doubled,” Froese said.

“I’m a bit worried and concerned about what the next round of condominiums and apartments are going to cost for these developers to build and that’s something that is out of municipal control.

“At $2 million an acre for land, it’s just getting very difficult to have affordable houses that have great big backyards any more.”

Schaffer said the City would like to see the existing stock of aging multi-family buildings replaced by newer, bigger structures that could house more people at reasonable rates.”

“By adding more supply, it should decrease the rent.”

Schaffer revealed the Gateway of Hope homeless shelter in Langley City is applying to operate more shelter beds.

Bailey said policymakers should consider manufactured homes as a potential solution to the shortage of low-cost housing, as an “age-in-place” option for seniors.