Why did the District of Squamish reject floatel housing for LNG workers?

The rejection of the Woodfibre LNG project by Squamish councillors highlights a disconnect on the housing supply. 


You have to shake your head at the municipal mugging of the Woodfibre LNG project.

Squamish councillors had long heard fears from strident opponents of the project that its workers would have negative impacts on the community, straining local facilities, affecting the environment, adding to traffic, competing for housing, abusing alcohol, and abusing women.

Woodfibre countered with some extraordinary plans, in a really holistic and considered way

First, its more than 600 workers would have been housed in a “floatel”, a converted cruise liner moored near the LNG site, on the opposite side of Howe Sound and some seven kilometres away from Squamish.

As Woodfibre LNG put it: “The floatel was specifically selected to be responsive to the concerns of the community and the Squamish Nation, and to promote a safe and culturally inclusive work environment, and to ensure no impacts on the Squamish housing market or community services and infrastructure.”

Second, those 620 workers from the floatel work camp wouldn't have been allowed to visit Squamish for recreation, entertainment, or other non-work-related activities.

Woodfibre LNG confirmed that: “Non-local workers have no access to the community of Squamish during their 14-day shift rotations. Non-local workers are transported to and from the floatel by boat to reduce traffic impacts and are returned to Vancouver so they can travel to their home communities for their seven days off-shift.”

Third, Woodfibre LNG established a Gender Safety Advisory Committee to prioritize gender safety and inclusion in the workplace, in worker accommodations, and in the Squamish community. 

But now, as clearing work continues on the project site, Squamish councillors decided to delay a temporary use-permit for the floatel. This at a public hearing where opponents of Woodfibre LNG outnumbered supporters (the latter group including Dale Harry, a hereditary chief with the Squamish Nation who spoke in ‘firm support’ of the floatel.)

The floatel was rejected on Tuesday by the Squamish city council by a 4-3 vote. 

At the same time, councillors have proposed to look for millions in tax revenue from Woodfibre LNG, setting its tax rate at over four times the average for major industry.

The local housing issue at Squamish caught our attention as we were taking a deeper look at housing across Canada.

Housing prices are at an all-time high, and Canadians are paying more than ever for rent and mortgages. 

Indeed, on average, Canadian households owe about $1.85 in debt for every $1 of disposable income — the highest level of debt in any G7 country. Back in 1980, Canadians owed only 66 cents for every dollar of income.
And Vancouverites are in the worst position of all for consumer debt: People living in Vancouver have, on average, $360,683 in consumer debt – six times the national average.

Some of that is national debt is consumer debt — such as money owed on credit cards, but a lot of it is mortgage debt. 

So families are left with vanishingly small amounts of available money, just a few hundred bucks a month on average, and even less in some cases. The result is that households are barely getting by. 

It's not hard to understand what's going on. First, we have astronomically high home prices, fundamentally due to a supply-and-demand mismatch. For decades, we have not built enough in major cities across the country to support a growing population, especially one that's growing due to immigration. 

Interest rates are high, in part due to blunt-tool fiscal policy to combat inflation, but high debt and high interest rates, mean a terrible result for anyone who has outstanding debt. Many borrowers are effectively on the cliff's edge here, and high interest rates, can set them to be pushed off that cliff.

The interest-rate problems affect rental prices as well, as landlords pass on their own borrowing costs to renters. And when new leases are signed, the rents can actually spike right up. 

Recent data shows that in Vancouver, the average renter is paying over 60 percent of their income for rent. That’s for a single-income household but it’s an astounding figure. Combine that with those who are paying mortgages and working massive debt-servicing costs, and we really have an economic disaster in the making.

We need more housing available. And some of the tools that the provincial NDP government is using are designed to achieve that; for example, pushing municipalities to build more and more housing and removing units from the short-term rental market such as Airbnb units.

My worry is that it's not going to be enough. But it's important to stay the course.

And I really hope that we're on track for an alignment on housing supply between the private sector and the public sector. 

Margareta Dovgal is Managing Director of Resource Works. Based in Vancouver, she holds a Master of Public Administration in Energy, Technology and Climate Policy from University College London. Beyond her regular advocacy on natural resources, environment, and economic policy, Margareta also leads our annual Indigenous Partnerships Success Showcase. She can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn.




Do you like this?