It’s not often a letter to the editor in our community triggers this kind of response, but Stephanie Clark seems to have tapped into a growing sense of concern in New Westminster. With countless new expensive condo towers under construction [with even more expected to get unanimous 7-0 approvals from the mayor and council], Clark openly discussed how she may have to move out of a city she loves dearly.
The lack of affordable housing is not a new issue in our region, but for the longest time New Westminster seemed to have been less impacted – with core cities like Vancouver and Burnaby bearing most of the brunt. The approval of yet another pricey high rise condo tower may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for Clark who wrote an eloquent letter to the New Westminster Record.
Incredibly, in only a week she had over 740 Facebook likes which by all accounts catapults it to near viral status in our city.
As a result, I thought I’d share with you her letter in its entirety as it speaks for itself. Please feel free to leave a comment if you want to add to the discussion.
My name is Stephanie Clark, I am 35 years old, have lived in New Westminster my entire life, and now I think I have to move.
Let me be clear: I don’t want to move; I love this city, I love being surrounded by family and friends that also call New West their homes, and it offers a convenient location for me and my partner’s jobs. Now we have a one year old daughter and had hoped to raise her here. Sadly, I see my beloved city turning into a place that feels like it is turning its back on young families and many of us being priced out of both owning and renting a home here.
Both my partner and I have good jobs – I am in a senior role at another municipality and he is a dev/ops engineer for a tech firm downtown – and yet the cost of living here is getting to be too high for us to stay.
Because of how attached I am to this city, I accepted that my family will never own a house here. My daughter will never have a yard to play in, we won’t have space for a family dog, and we will not be able to have the same living conditions that we did growing up, despite higher levels of education and income. I have to draw the line, though, at not even being able to afford a small condo that I can expect won’t be in a sardine-packed area with no green space, no parking, schools with portables instead of play spaces and year-round noise and air pollution of constant construction. While I recognise that some of this is the reality of living in an urban area, I also expect city council to ensure this is well-balanced with the preservation of our community.
When this article came out about council’s decision to approve the development at Sixth and Carnarvon, it felt like a last straw of hope that we could stay.
Project aside – which in itself makes me want to leave to avoid the imminent construction, parking issues, traffic congestion issues, additional pressure on our school catchment area and eye sore for those of that want to see river, not building – the quotes in the article are infuriating. To suggest that people don’t want houses and prefer condo living for the convenience is simply false. Those of us living in condos with children are primarily doing it out of necessity: we want the house, but we can’t afford it, townhomes are hard to come by, too expensive and often anti-family with age restrictions of 40+, so we buy or rent apartments. And that’s if we’re lucky.
The condo we currently live in increased in value by 48 per cent this year after increasing by 32 per cent the year previous. What that means is that, if we were looking today, we would not be able to afford our home. And while the increase in equity seems nice, in reality it translates to nothing more than higher property taxes and equity that we could only use to make a lateral move.
The other suggestion by the development team member in the article is that young people will be able to stay in New Westminster because of this and similar developments. I take issue with this as well because the chances of young people being able to afford units in the brand new building are extremely thin. If my 1995-built, two-bedroom condo is valued at just shy of half a million dollars, how much will a brand new one go for? If we look at the rental prices of the recently completed Novare building located across the street, I’d say most of us are priced out before the developers even break ground. The new mortgage regulations make it difficult to afford older, less expensive homes and impossible for this type of new build real estate for middle income families. So to say that, as council members noted in their decision, the townhouses and two- and three- bedroom units are needed by families becomes moot when young families can’t afford those units nor would they even qualify under the new mortgage regulations.
I recognise this reasoning is just two peoples’ opinions, but it makes me question if there is similar sentiments among members of city council, which leads them to approve this type of proposal. This area, like most in New West, doesn’t have the space or infrastructure to support the density without significantly decreasing the quality of life for residents. This is only one development, but speaks to a trend in our city (like the proposed development by the Glenbrook ravine that seeks to buy out existing owners to redevelop the area).
I would also ask that council look at family expenses as a whole. The publication of the article above came out the same day I was advised the day care center that our daughter attends two days a week was raising fees by $100 a month, an increase of over 17 per cent. With the cost of full-time childcare often being more than rent, but without the regulations in increases that apply to rent, such an increase is not manageable for families with limited extra cash.
When you consider this, the rising property taxes, utility rates, and strata fees, the unattainable prices of detached houses, frequent “reno-victions”, new buildings far too expensive and often too small for families, allowances for age restricted town houses, and new mortgage regulations, living here becomes untenable for those of us who have seen no comparable increase in income.
My roots are deep in this city: my grandparents raised their family in Sapperton, my parents raised me in Queens Park, and I want to raise my daughter here. I really hope that becomes a possibility.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. This is the first time anything has meant enough to me to write in like this so I appreciate any time and consideration.
NOTE: To learn more about who contributed to the election campaigns of our current elected council, click on this link.