City Council gave unanimous approval to the first readings of the 2017 budget bylaws this past Monday. The Tri-City News' coverage (most of which is not yet online) focused on our policies and usage of reserve funds. My focus, however, was on a more pressing issue. Here is the text of the speech I delivered.
|Graphic: City of Coquitlam|
And I want to declare now that I agree with him that the budget before us tonight is well worth supporting. I am especially pleased that, for the eighth consecutive year, the rate of increase has declined; this year it’s 2.17 per cent, the lowest in 25 years.
While there are parts of it with which I don’t agree, on the whole it strikes a commendable balance between, on one hand, provision of needed services and amenities, and, on the other, the sort of fiscal responsibility that our residents expect of council.
I am proud to be part of a council that takes its duty in this latter area seriously. Ours is a council that, unlike so many other political bodies, works hard to avoid political gamesmanship, posturing and pandering; instead, it really does focus on doing the best for the whole community – making decisions based on principle and strong policy, rather than on prejudice and political pressure. And that’s a very good thing.
I must point out, however, that, while having sound budget policies and practices is absolutely central to the work that we do here – and, moreover, that it is, in fact, the foundation upon which is built the entire edifice of services that the city provides – it actually isn’t the single, most pressing issue that concerns me…. and confronts us all.
The issue isn’t the tax rate; it isn’t the level of government services; it isn’t the numbers of workers on city payroll; it isn’t parks, arenas, tennis courts, artificial-turf fields or a museum; it isn’t laying more pipe and filling more potholes; it isn’t water quality, air pollution, or safe streets, either.
Those are all areas of importance. But, surely, the most pressing issue is one that affects us, literally, where we live. It’s housing affordability.
The measures that council has taken over the past few years --- and will, one hopes, continue to take in the years to come – will be a critical part of this council’s legacy.
This council has long stated that the primary responsibility for providing “deep affordability” rests with the two senior levels of government. Nevertheless, through adroit use of the city’s re-energized Housing Affordability Fund, the city is set to do its part in this crucial area. Especially noteworthy is our support of the Talitha Koum housing project.
To be clear, though, housing affordability has always been an issue for lower-income individuals and families. On the other hand, the now fully-emerged crisis that is upon us now is a more contemporary phenomenon – the large gap between what middle-income earners can afford and what the market demands they pay.
Consumers have had to adjust their expectations. Many looking for a single-family home have had to set their sights on a townhouses or condo. Those who might, in a more affordable market, be looking to buy a condo now might, instead, look to rent. And so it goes.
The single most important thing the city can do to assist those in the market is to facilitate the construction of new housing, whether it’s for sale or for rent.
That has certainly been a main focus of mine over the five years I have spent on council, and I am pleased to say that, in most cases, it is a focus that is shared by the majority of council. Whether it’s approving townhouse developments on Burke Mountain, Condo Towers in the city Centre, rental projects in Burquitlam, or subdivision of lands in Maillardville, this is a good thing.
Yes, amelioration of adverse community impacts must always remain a concern, but I believe our paramount responsibility in the face of an unprecedented crisis is – and must continue to be -- to keep a clear focus on making good land-use decisions that lead to the creation of more places that people, young or old, poor or rich, single or married, can call home.