How does a community flourish, nay survive, when there are more people dying than being born and moving into town?
That’s a question Deltans could soon be facing. According to a BC Stats projection, Delta’s population will rise marginally each year until 2027, peak at 105,122 people, then begin a slow and steady descent.
That’s the long-term forecast.
Data from the 2011 census won’t be available until early next year, but in the short-term, BC Stats is projecting a small population increase of less than one per cent, or 510 people, since 2006.
A one per cent growth rate is far lower than the projected Metro Vancouver regional average of eight per cent.
Housing drives population
According to demographer Andrew Ramlo of Vancouver research and consulting firm Urban Futures, Delta’s sluggish growth rate boils down to housing—or lack thereof.
“In a community, unless you add new housing or you have a whole lot of turnover in the housing stock, like if you have a whole bunch of empty-nesters leaving and then being replaced by people with families, the community really isn’t going to grow that much,” he said.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) data shows that, from 2006 to end of 2010, Delta added 1,300 dwelling units.
“So not all that many,” Ramlo said.
But it’s more than the 1,000 units built in Delta between 2001 and 2006. That explains why the municipality’s population decreased 0.2 per cent over the same period. Ladner, Tsawwassen and North Delta all experienced losses.
In the “boom” years of the early ’90s, Delta was adding close to 1,000 housing units every year.
Ramlo suspects the 2011 census results will likely show a marginal population increase in Delta—thanks to recent housing additions.
“That’s my speculation, that you’re going to see growth, but it’s not going to be bursting at the seams by any stretch.”
New homes on the horizon
Despite the relatively small amount of new housing added in recent years, there are a number of projects on the horizon that could dramatically change the face of Delta.
Century Group, the majority owner of the Southlands, has until July 1 to submit a new development plan to Delta. Century president Sean Hodgins had originally proposed up to 1,900 residential units on a third of the land and two thirds of the property set aside for agriculture, wildlife and community uses.
But, if approved, would the Southlands residential development draw new, young people into the community? Hodgins isn’t so sure.
“The people who will want the cottage and townhome style of housing on Southlands already live here in Tsawwassen,” he said. “They are the parents of my friends who I grew up with here and who still live in their four-bedroom homes and the bedrooms are now empty.”
Then there’s Tsawwassen Springs, the $400 million, 490-home development based at the Tsawwassen Golf Course. Three more condo buildings are scheduled to be constructed and 192 single family homes will be built adjacent to the condos.
Meanwhile, the Tsawwassen First Nation has released a draft neighbourhood plan that involves developing up to 932 single family homes on parcels 3,300-square-feet and up, 652 townhomes, and 280 units in up to five-storey apartment buildings, which would bring in an estimated population of 4,381.
Because few young families are settling here, Ramlo expects Delta’s age profile will become increasingly “top heavy.” All the residents who lived here during the 2006 census are now five years older.
“Because it’s an older age profile to start, you may also have a lot of people who have aged out of that high family-rearing stage of the life cycle so you’re not adding a whole bunch of people at the bottom through births either.”
BC Stats projects that 29 per cent of Delta’s population will be over age 65 in 2036.
“It’s going to grow significantly older very rapidly and then you have a whole bunch of other issues and challenges,” Ramlo said.
A large proportion of retirees will mean fewer working professionals to support them—the dentists, doctors and physiotherapists.
“From the transportation side of things you have a lot of in-and-out commuting within your municipality,” Ramlo added.
He said that, while the community is expected to grow slowly in the short-term, it will change dramatically.
What about the kids?
Dale Saip has served on the Delta Board of Education since 1987 and has never seen student enrolment so low.
“It’s declined dramatically,” said the school board chair. “When I was a trustee, at one point we had almost 20,000 kids and we’re down to under 16 (thousand) now.”
The school board uses population projections to forecast how many students will enroll at each school in the district. In recent years, enrolment has dropped steadily. Saip anticipates another decline of about 200 kids next September. He said Tsawwassen’s student numbers are dwindling more rapidly than Ladner or North Delta’s.
Fewer kids means less provincial education funding and tough decisions for the school board. It might mean redistributing catchment boundaries, placing kids in split classes or, in the most extreme case, school closures.
Two South Delta elementary schools, Delta Manor in Ladner and Boundary Beach in Tsawwassen, shut down in 2009 due to lack of enrolment and budgetary reasons.
The school board tries to offset waning enrolment by attracting students from neighbouring communities.
“There’s probably over 1,000 kids in our district that are out-of-district kids that come to our schools as a result of us trying to be creative and find ways to keep our schools vibrant,” Saip said, noting specialty programs, academies and traditional schools as some of those strategies.
When Jarvis Elementary in North Delta transformed into a traditional school in September 2009, it immediately drew about 60 to 80 new students, Saip said.
Keeping business alive
There are a number of opinions about how business growth can be enhanced, said Ladner Business Association president Diane Askin. The LBA hosts organized events such as the Ladner Quilt Walk & Car Show, Breakfast with Santa, and supports the Tour de Delta and Ladner Village Market.
“These events draw people into the community and encourage locals to shop close to home. We also encourage members to promote their business to other members which results in many of us using local suppliers for services and products we need to run our businesses,” she said.
The LBA recently entered into a venture with the Tsawwassen Business Improvement Association to generate a publication to be handed out to all the ferry traffic at Swartz Bay to promote business in Ladner and Tsawwassen.
The census: still mandatory
The 2011 short census was mailed out to Canadians at the beginning of May and the first results will come out in February, 2012, showing population changes at the provincial, municipal and neighbourhood levels.
Peter Liang, 2011 census communications manager, stressed the importance of completing the mandatory questionnaire.
“It’s really important for communities like Delta because census data is used to plan important services like schools, public transit,” he said.
The data also determines the number of seats B.C. has in the House of Commons.
“For these reasons, it’s really critical that every single person is counted.”
About 4.5 million households will receive the National Household Survey, which replaces the previous long-form census. This questionnaire asks for more detailed information about ethnicity, religion, education, work and income. It is no longer mandatory, but Liang encourages residents to complete it.
“We are really asking Canadians to recognize the importance of the information. It’s one chance in the next five years to gather critical information that’s important for Delta,” he said.
StatsCan hopes to release the first NHS data in early 2013.