Housing has always been a focus area of discussion and policy action in the Town of Smithers. Smithers Housing Need Assessment Project is the latest initiative taken by the Town in this direction. This project will update the 2014 Housing Need and Demand Study prepared by SPARC BC for the Smithers Housing Action Committee.
The Housing Need Report will reflect the community's current housing needs, establish the Town's role in supporting housing, and meet the Local Government Act's requirements concerning the development of housing needs reports within the April 2022 deadline. Besides, it will position the Town of Smithers, housing providers, social service groups, and additional stakeholders to understand and respond to the community's changing needs while leveraging funding for projects that aim to address the needs. SPARC BC, a Burnaby-based consulting firm, is working with the Town of Smithers on this project.
The initial phase of work will include developing a methodology and data collection plan for gathering information to provide a meaningful picture of current and future housing needs. This phase will also include outreach and engagement with key community partners and stakeholders to put together a comprehensive picture of the overall housing needs across the Town, including developing a complete Community Profile. The final report produced through this process will be published online.
The project's second component is a draft Housing Incentive Policy that includes identifying potential partnerships, policies, strategies, regulatory tools, and other incentives to meet current and anticipated future housing demands successfully. It is anticipated that the Housing Incentive Policy will facilitate implementation of the Town Council's Strategic Plan and updates to the Official Community Plan (OCP), including targets and strategies for infill development, secondary suites, carriage houses, and supports for residents who are experiencing homelessness.
Intending to ensure that the final report content effectively captures the housing realities in Smithers's context, the project adopted a meaningful public engagement process despite the unanticipated circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the 'new normal' in social/community engagements. To this end, the project relied on a range of community engagement tools, including a community survey, stakeholder surveys, one-on-one interviews, and focus group discussions with various groups of stakeholders identified. The above tools enabled the Town to learn more about the different types of housing needs in Smithers and to identify existing challenges, opportunities, and areas for action.
Housing Needs Report-Town of Smithers (2020)
The Housing Needs Report is a foundational document to support the Town in responding to its housing needs and in informing the development of policies and development-related decisions. As a key document that provides a holistic account of the community's housing scenario, this report will also function as an additional resource to guide the service providers, local businesses, and residents. This report's contents are also expected to expand the provincial understanding of the local housing supply and demand needs.
The report is divided into six sections. In compliance with the legislative requirements, the report analyzes fifty (50) social, demographic, economic, and housing-related indicators. As the detailed data inventory is not part of the UBCM's Housing Need Report requirements, the complete, 86-page long data analysis is included as an appendix to the report.
The community engagement findings have been integrated appropriately into various sections and sub-sections of the main document. A separate summary of the community engagement findings has been included as an appendix to the report. Drawing insights from the community engagement activities and sound planning practices relevant to Smithers' development context, the report provides a list of recommendations that are crucial to improving the housing scenario in Smithers over the next five years.
At its January 12th, 2021, Regular Meeting, the Town of Smithers Council adopted the Housing Needs Report from SPARC BC, the consulting firm working on the project.
Affordable Housing Incentive Policy
Although not a UBCM requirement, the consultant is currently working with staff, drafting an Affordable Housing Incentive Policy for the Town. Based on an incentive-based approach to tackling housing affordability issues in Smithers, the policy will set guidelines to streamline the creation of affordable dwelling units in the future.