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Armstrong candidates share housing solutions ahead of election

10 people are running for 6 spots on council

There are plenty of choices for Armstrong residents to elect a new council with 10 candidates looking to better their community.

Incumbents Paul Britton, Steven Drapala and Shirley Fowler are back on the ballot, alongside former councillor Ryan Nitchie and newcomers Lydia Jovanovic, Sean Newton, Kim Sinclair, Neil Todd, Jessie Valstar and Mark Wehner.

The Armstrong Spallumcheen Chamber of Commerce gave the candidates a chance to share their views at an all-candidates forum Sept. 28. More than 160 residents packed the Centennial Theatre to hear from, and question, the prospects before deciding which six to vote for Oct. 15.

Affordable housing, or lack thereof, was a hot topic candidates shared their thoughts on.

“It is the No. 1 issue in all of North Okanagan,” said Britton, who has sat on Vernon’s affordable housing committee for 12 years. But since first being elected in 2000, he finds that senior government funding doesn’t seem to go past Merritt. “For this council it’s always been our No. 1 plan. We’ve always wanted to put affordable housing in there (property behind arena).”

Drapala regrets that on his last eight years on council more hasn’t been done to address this challenge, but he says all communities have to work on it, not just Vernon, and they need to work with developers to make it happen.

“There are a lot of people in this community that aren’t with houses and maybe there with trailers,” said Drapala, a Pleasant Valley Secondary 2001 grad who is now the school principal. “I’m hoping we can attack this harder on our next term.”

The city has tried though, as 17-year-council veteran Fowler points out.

“We have had challenges when we’ve made proposals where people don’t want affordable housing in their backyards. But it’s a legitimate need in town. But probably moreso affordable renting is what’s really needed in town.”

Jovanovic, a mother of two and president of Armstrong preschool, has a rental suite in her own home and says it has a constant waiting list.

“I hear constantly from people how there is not enough places to live,” said Jovanovic, who works at Telus and wants to bring the perspective of a young family to council.

Former Armstrong school trustee Sinclair said people need to be educated on the terms of housing, so they aren’t confused when proposals do come forward.

“People often mix up the terms,” he said, pointing out that supportive housing is for homeless people, such as what Vernon offers. He would also like to see Armstrong policies changed so that there can be more open rentals above commercial buildings. He said they are currently restricted to the owner’s family.

Valstar, who grew up in Armstrong and used to be the long-haired guy working at Askews, shared his own personal experience trying to afford a home.

“I rented a house with three other people just to make it possible for us to live, as much fun as that is I don’t think it’s the right answer,” he said of the need for affordable rentals. Valstar, who is now a landlord with a suite in his home also puts on MetalFest every year and says hotels and tourism housing is also needed.

Newton agrees that more tourism accommodations are needed in town.

“We have one small hotel, it’s been a problem forever,” said Newton, who also wants to see more suites and carriage houses. Armstrong does though have a number of bed and breakfasts but during COVID, Newton said, a lot of them turned into longer term rentals because nobody was travelling. People can’t visit if they have nowhere to stay, Newton said.

“We’ve actually gone backwards.”

Wehner recently learned very quickly that he could not afford to buy a house in his hometown of Armstrong.

“I looked up the average income and realized that the majority of Armstrong can’t can’t afford to buy a house in this market,” said Wehner, who suggests credit rating be attached to rentals, where people can build equity while renting to help them afford to purchase a home one day.

It would also work against those who do not pay rents, something candidates were asked in regards to tenant/landlord inequities which deter some people from renting out their suites.

Nitchie agrees that legislation needs to be more fair, as many landowners are scared to rent their spaces as they don’t want to get stuck with difficult tenants who don’t pay rent or cause issues.

“We need to make sure there’s incentive for people to create those secondary suites. Maybe there’s some incentives that the city can waive internally in terms of fees,” said Nitchie, who had this and other ideas to seriously addressing the housing shortage.

“I really think we need to employ principles of smart growth. We need to be growing up and not out as much,” he said, adding that working with developers and coming up with creative solutions is needed.

Todd, who owned the Brown Derby in town for more than 23 years, understands the difficulty in finding housing from a business perspective. He suggests creating additional housing downtown to make it more vibrant.

“We hired and trained your children and grandchildren, giving many of them their first jobs,” said Todd, adding that finding staff isn’t the issue, it’s housing them.

He suggests businesses might want to invest in housing as well.

READ MORE: Coldstream council candidates tackle local issues at forum

READ MORE: Hundreds cast votes at advance polls in Vernon


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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

20-year-Morning Star veteran
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