So you want to learn about our housing market?

Over the last six years I have calculated the Living Wage for Prince George in addition to other communities in Northern BC and I’ve learned a great deal about various aspects of the calculation, housing being one of those things. When the city launched their housing needs assessment survey this week I couldn’t be more thrilled. Here’s why…

The data is only as good as the info collected

Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) is a crown corporation governed by Parliament. They are Canada’s national housing agency and a lot of our national housing data comes from their research. There are a couple things I find concerning with their methodology, the biggest one being accuracy.

Taking one look at our market housing data it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that there is no way a 3 bedroom rental in Prince George costs $950 a month. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a one bedroom for that amount. (Note: $950 represents the median rent for a 3+ bedroom in Prince George; the median is used instead of average in the living wage calculation so that luxury rentals don’t skew the data).

According to CMHC, “the survey is conducted on a sample basis in all urban areas with populations of 10,000 or more, and targets only privately initiated structures with at least three rental units, which have been on the market for at least three months.” Here are the issues I have with the methodology:

  1. “Sample” data never gives you a full picture because it only represents a subset of the thing you’re looking at. Yes, it does allow you to make inferences but this with the other issues below muddies the waters too much for my liking.
  2. The sample data, as far as I can see, doesn’t seem to be defined (at least it’s not listed in the CMHC methodology glossary so not having this readily available makes me question the transparency of the data). Is it a 25%, 50%, or 75% sample set of the market rental housing data?
  3. Only 31 of the 107 communities in British Columbia have populations over 10,000 which means that this data is only representative of 28% of communities in BC so there’s a lot of housing data being excluded.
  4. “Privately initiated structures with at least three rental units” means that the survey is missing out on a lot of rental units, especially in communities that allow secondary suites. It also means that smaller communities who are less likely to have more multifamily housing don’t actually get an accurate read on their housing market.

Independent Research: A Housing Needs Assessment

We know the CMHC Market Rental Housing data isn’t really representative of communities, so how do we fix this? The answer is the Housing Needs Assessment. Communities are now mandated to do a housing needs assessment every five years and this year, the City of Prince George is undertaking this assessment.

So how you can help? Do the survey by September 30th. By collecting data from residents, we can get a more comprehensive snapshot of what our housing market looks like without relying solely on CMHC data samples. Of course, the less people who do the survey, the smaller our own survey sample will be so encourage your neighbours, friends, and family who live in Prince George to do the survey because we want our sample to be as comprehensive as possible.

What can we do with the data once we have it?

According to the Cities Economic Development Manager Melissa Barcellos, “Housing needs reports provide a snapshot of the current community demographics, the housing supply, and anticipated future housing needs. They are a tool for local governments to plan for future housing development.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. I also think there are a couple other benefits.

Once we have a comprehensive overview of our market housing data, we can advocate better for the type of housing we need in our community. We know there’s a shortage of supportive, affordable, senior, student, and diversified housing stock, but knowing it because we live here and being able to prove it are two different things. Survey’s confirm or disprove hypotheses and I’m certain this survey will prove what we know and help us with our housing advocacy moving forward.

How the data relates to the living wage

When data is collected for the Living Wage, calculators like myself are highly aware that the final living wage figure really is the lowest amount a person can earn without going into debt to just live in their community. It is a bare bones calculation and relying on CMHC for housing data greatly impacts that final living wage figure. Data collected from the housing needs assessment can be used in the Living Wage calculation as an alternative data source (communities that have already completed their assessments are already using this data in living wage calculations) and since the city is required to do a housing needs assessment every five years, we can add the CPI inflationary increases to the housing needs assessment data until the new survey is complete for a more accurate representations of our housing costs.

The why behind the ask

I’m a firm believer of informed decision making and our data – a lot of what we base our decisions off of – is only as good as the information we have. I wrote this blog to help give a more comprehensive overview of the why behind this ask in hopes that more residents will understand the importance of the housing needs assessment and take action by filling out the survey. If you’re not from Prince George, be sure to reach out to your own community and ask them about your housing needs assessment.

If I’ve missed something you think should be included or if you ever want to have a conversation about housing, market research, or even nerd out over census data, please reach out to me. My contact details can be found on the Contact section of my website.

All my best,


In opposition of nuisance bylaws

I like to think of myself as a strategic problem solver and a critical thinker. I read my council agenda packages front to back and do independent research trying to absorb as much as possible in preparation for every meeting to be sure I am making informed decisions on whatever matter comes before me. The City of Prince George Safe Streets Bylaw came before council several times and I’ve been opposed because I’ve read about these bylaws in other communities and they are proven to not work.

So let’s start with what exactly is a Safe Streets Bylaw? It is in effect a nuisance bylaw that prohibits people from sitting, lying, soliciting or physically approaching in a manner that causes an obstruction on a street or roadway. It prohibits soliciting within ten meters of a bank, ATM, bus stop, daycare centre, liquor store, cannabis retailer, restaurant, coffee shop, or convenience store. The bylaw goes on to include solicitation prohibitions for parked vehicles, vehicles at traffic control signals, gas stations, and vehicles on the road.

The solicitation that is allowed under this bylaw is restricted and not allowed after sunset on any given day. The bylaw further disallows open drug use, disposal of drug paraphernalia in a public place, open air burning in a public place, and graffiti where it is visible from a public place. This bylaw attempts to change what Bylaw Services deems to be unacceptable behaviour and fines individuals for non-compliance.

The City of Prince George is not the first community to pass a nuisance bylaw, in fact many other communities have passed some form of nuisance bylaw. Some outright call it a nuisance bylaw, some call it a panhandling bylaw, some even call it a good neighbour bylaw. Here are some examples: Salmon Arm, Campbell River, Maple Ridge, Kamloops, Kelowna, Duncan, New Westminster, Calgary, Mission, Oshwa, Red Deer, Victoria, Enderby, Saskatoon, Swift Current.

This bylaw seems to be saying ‘homeless people should be unseen and unheard.’ Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away – this is Life 101 – so why is this situation any different? The bylaw is not fair or equitable. It relies on judgement from Bylaw officers and they’re not going to ticket your granny for sitting in front of a coffee shop, so how is it fair that someone who looks different should get a ticket?

This bylaw is intended to change undesirable behaviour. Think about the last time you got a ticket, a fine, a late fee – was your immediate response, hmmm better shape up? I’ve gotten speeding tickets, parking tickets, late fees and every single time my first response was anger and frustration – even if I was in the wrong. I am convinced that this bylaw is going to have the opposite intended affect: we are going to see more destructive behaviour; it’s going to increase crime, vandalism, and the lawlessness that’s occurring. It’s also going to break any trust we have built up making it harder in the long run to make progress on this issue. It’s a band-aid and band-aids don’t actually solve the problem.

We know what we need to make change happen in our community. We need a treatement center for women and youth. We need a sobering center. We need low and no barrier housing and more variety/stock. We need partners like Northern Health, the Province, the Federal Government, RCMP, to come to the table. We need consultation with people with lived experience, Indigenous, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ groups and others to understand the root of the issue better. We need a place for people to go during the day. The pandemic has reduced the number of people being served indoors by our social service agencies; if agencies occupancy numbers don’t increase, the only place for homeless individuals to hang out during the day is on the street.

If we had all the things we needed, perhaps I would consider this type of bylaw. But I believe there are other avenues that we need to exhaust first before implementing a nuisance bylaw.

I tried really hard to stop this bylaw from going through. I moved postponement on the bylaw when we looked at it in June, knowing that should the encampments get dissolved without housing options in place, people would move back to sleeping in doorways, on sidewalks, in parks, and these individuals would be disproportionately affected by the bylaw. I called for a change to the definition of the word Emergency in the Emergency Programs Act. This would give us funds to provide accommodation and food to our homeless population similar to how we can when taking in evacuees from wildfires and other natural disasters. I moved that we ask BC Housing to include ‘No Barrier Housing’ options in their housing strategy. Interesting fact: the word no barrier does not exist on the BC Housing site – not even in their glossary. We need to meet people where they’re at and stop requiring them to meet our list of demands or ticky box barriers in order to receive help.

My commitment to you is that I will continue to work hard for a safe, clean, and inclusive community but the city can’t do this alone. As a city, our mandate really comes down to land use and governance – health care and housing don’t really fall under our jurisdiction but we can advocate for these things. In order to do this though, we need your help. Here’s how you can make a difference:

  1. Write letters to your MLA, your MP, the Minister of Housing, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction, and the Premier.
  2. Support rezonings for supportive housing and treatment centers and try to dispel any ‘not in my backyard’ sentiments – it has to go somewhere and if everyone continuously say no to this important social infrastructure being in their neighbourhood, we will never make progress this issue.
  3. Get out and vote for the change you want to see.
  4. Anytime any level of government asks for feedback, be sure to provide comment and encourage others to do the same.
  5. And finally, if you’re invited to some sort of consultation, look around the room and ask yourself this: is everyone who should be here present? If not, big red flag.

I believe that we can solve this complex and challenging issue but we need to do it together. If you have more ideas on how to make a difference in our community, be sure to check out my Contact page and get in touch. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for your continued support,