Normally a politician will keep an answer vague when they are clearly saying no.
On a couple of occasions during the Junior Chamber International Kelowna luncheon on Tuesday, Mayor Colin Basran didn’t dance around the issue. He simply said you’re out of luck.
The event gave Kelowna’s young adults a chance to grill the mayor on the issues with which they are most concerned, and one such query revolved around transit. UBCO student union president Romil Jain told the mayor that students who choose affordable housing—instead of the more costly rental properties next to the university—are handcuffed by the fact that transit doesn’t serve some of those areas. Jain wanted to know how the city was going to close that gap.
“It’s tricky, but what I would say is we likely won’t be able to close that gap,” Basran said. “We’re going to have neighbourhoods (where) there is not the population density for us to be able to justify spending the money to run a partially full or even empty bus for a few students or a few people who are going to use it.
“In the next 20 years, we anticipate 40,000 to 50,000 new residents. Where we want to try and direct as much of that growth as possible is in our urban centres, where we can then justify—because we have the population density—of investing in the transit and connectivity of those urban centres with areas like UBCO and our airport and others.”
Transit is clearly one of the main issues on the minds of Kelowna’s young professionals, as are housing, the arts and quality of life. Those were the main themes among the approximately 15 questions or concerns Basran heard from the crowd at Coast Capri Hotel.
Some of the highlights from Tuesday’s lunch included:
• Basran was asked what the city could do to address the “sunshine tax” and drive down the cost of living. He said the city can only continue to grow its economy and create more high-paying jobs.
• The crowd generally felt there could be more spaces for the arts and more public gathering locations that don’t involve alcohol.
“What council will be grappling with over the coming years is who should be responsible for that space, who pays for it and who operates it,” said Basran, who added there are no spaces for the arts that are “imminent.”
• A JCI Kelowna member said all the new rental spaces in the city are great but don’t do anyone any good because they’re too expensive.
“Right now rent control is not something council is considering,” Basran said. “… From the things that I’ve seen, rent control has actually been far more detrimental long term than beneficial. Speaking for myself, I’m not a fan of rent control.
“We would rather try to increase the supply, and by doing such hopefully create more availability and, as a result, see the softening of rents that way.”
• A member of the audience said he thought DropBike’s presence in the city last summer was “cool.”
“So did we,” Basran said, noting it was the business’ decision to pull up stakes and leave the community earlier this year.
• The city’s new short-term rental restrictions were a concern of some in the crowd who said the Residential Tenancy Act makes long-term renting too risky of a proposal.
“Right now is it the top priority when it comes to housing in our community? No,” Basran said, noting supportive housing is the No. 1 issue in that department. “But it is on our list and we are aware of it, absolutely, because I know there are people in our community who are choosing not to rent their property out long-term because they feel like they have no recourse if they do come across a bad tenant.”
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