The Revelstoke housing situation has reached a crisis point. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer file photo

Prices are up, rentals and properties are getting scarce. Welcome to Revelstoke’s 2016 winter housing crunch.

“The word is out, Revelstoke is on the map now,” a Revelstoke landlord tells me.

Aussies, Kiwis, Europeans, French and, due to the low Canadian dollar, Americans are flooding into our up-and-coming ski resort town this year. Each year, the word of this unique town spreads further.

“I met a bunch of people who had been road-tripping through the states, who had heard about Revelstoke in California,” the landlord said.

With the rental rat race starting earlier than ever, and houses being snatched up barely before they have cooled on the for sale list, what can we expect to see this season?

Some will leave, but this landlord believes people will start cramming more in, typical of Banff and Whistler share houses, as spaces shrink and rents rise.

“There’s definitely more people asking for rooms, every year,” the landlord said. “Like right now (mid September) it’s ridiculous, I put an ad up on Facebook and had 40 replies.”

Many are offering to take places, sight unseen, so they can secure their winter haven. They’re also offering to pay for a space months before they get here.

“They’re not nice houses, these are ski houses. We put six to seven skiers in there,” the landlord said.

Revelstoke sold!

We often hear in Revelstoke, we don’t want to become the next Banff, or Whistler or further afield, Aspen. It’s easy to see why people want to live here. We have easy access to national parks, an advanced ski resort, backcountry, plenty of sweet pow, a quaint heritage town and tight community spirit.

We’re growing. Royal LePage realtor Emily Beaumont said the market right now is fast-paced.

“Revelstoke is cool, and people want to live here,” she said. “So people are seeing investment potential, they’re seeing that it’s a good time to buy in a very unique market. We’re not Vancouver, we’re not Calgary, and we’re not Salmon Arm.”

As the housing rotation goes, those who come here, rent and decide to stay, move out of rentals and buy their own. Beaumont said this is what we saw at the start of 2015 when prices were low.

“That huge influx of buyers were also from people that know Revelstoke is their home. And they were afforded a chance to get into the market.”

Now housing inventory is getting low, and many who are approved for a mortgage around $250,000–$350,000 can’t find anything in their range. In mid-September this year we had a mere 45 single-family homes on sale — and that’s not counting the one that had offers on them. Beaumont said a healthy number would be about 150.

This year, to mid-September, 77 homes have been sold. At Revelstoke’s peak in 2007, 104 homes were sold. This number was surpassed last year with 120 homes sold.

Now, with less to choose from, lots are being bought. 11 lots were sold last year compared to 42 this year by mid-September. But with a bumper year for builders in Revelstoke and the interior, getting them built has been difficult.

“There is not enough builders to build all the houses we want to build,” manager of development services Dean Strachan said. “It’s been fairly uniformly busy in the Interior.”

This means families in the higher end of the rental market who have bought a lot are stuck there until their home is built.

What Whistler did

Housing is a common issue in desirable resort communities, but allowing it to get out of hand means creating a place that only the rich can afford to reside.

“We really are in a situation where housing is probably the greatest social issue we have in our community,” Revelstoke City’s social development coordinator Jill Zacharias said.

Many point the finger at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, asking about requirements for the resort to build employee housing. But the resort has no obligation to provide that housing until it reaches phase two of their development, and that could be many years away.

“We need staff accommodation not just for the resort but for many of the different businesses in the community that are having a real hard time of finding employees,” Zacharias said.

Whistler has often dealt with resort growing pains that Revelstoke is now facing decades ahead of us. We spoke to general manager Marla Zucht from the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA), an independent municipally owned corporation founded in 1997. We wanted to understand how they have handled their housing issues.

“We’ve been providing housing for the local workforce for 20 years, through restricted housing both affordable home ownership and rental units,” Zucht said. “We’ve amassed 6,200 beds of affordable housing under our program. For a town with a population of 10,000 that’s quite impressive.”

General manager of Whistler Housing Authority Marla Zucht stands outside an affordable rental building.
General manager of Whistler Housing Authority Marla Zucht stands outside an affordable rental building.

Running a resort town depends on available and affordable accommodation to attract and retain staff.

“We found in Whistler that the market just can’t take care of all the housing for the workforce,” Zucht said. “So intervention through creative solutions such as providing units that are restricted in price and are exclusively for employees working in town has worked well.”

“We’ve also been very fortunate in Whistler to have strong support from the local government to ensure we proactively address our housing challenges through bold and innovative strategies.”

The Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort provides about 1,200 beds of staff accommodation and many of the big brand hotels also have staff accommodation. Whistler also has a bylaw that requires new developments to provide staff accommodation or payment in-lieu of housing, which goes into a municipal housing fund for the creation of new employee units.

“This bylaw has been very instrumental in creating a housing program for the local workforce,” Zucht said.

Revelstoke City Council has similar type of tools it can utilize to manage the situation and once official housing statistics for Revelstoke comes through, future policies will likely be set through the updated Official Community Plan which is slated to be finalized next year.

Like Revelstoke, this year and last has been extremely busy over both the winter and summer.

“We’ve been so busy in town that housing is no longer a challenge for us in the winter, but throughout the entire year,” Zucht said.

WHA is in the process of building a new affordable rental apartment building on land the city gave them. When complete, it will provide 100 new rental beds for the workforce. A potential second building is also in the works.

Like Whistler, Revelstoke is looking at a multi-pronged approach that involves the business sector, the city and local residents.

“Our economy is doing really well, with all the developments on the table, we’re an amazing community to raise a family, people want to move here, and they’re finding it very challenging because of a lack of housing,” Zacharias said. “It’s impacting on our ability to grow as a community [and the solution] has got to be housing that people can afford.”

Density-adding options

A design concept of the upcoming Mackenzie Village housing development on Nichol Rd. Photo: Selkirk Planning & Design
A design concept of the upcoming Mackenzie Village housing development on Nichol Rd. Photo: Selkirk Planning & Design

These options are typically affordable and help mortgage-payers. The city looks at applications on a case-by-case basis, determining if the addition will not negatively affect the character of the neighbourhood.

Secondary suite: a self-contained residence in a single-family house. A building permit (depends on value – $75 for the first $1000, then $8 per $1000) and a business licence ($50 a year) is required to make the suite legal.

Carriage home – an unattached residence located on a subdivided lot with street access and parking stall. Revelstoke’s residential zoning does not allow two storey accessory buildings or unattached suites but property owners can apply for a bylaw variance.

Possible solutions:

  • Future strategy and affordable housing policies: Crucial data on Revelstoke’s housing and population and its projections will be used toward the city’s new Official Community Plan, summer 2017. The new OCP will help guide future policymaking for the city.
    Revelstoke's Bridge Creek affordable housing project was finished this year and added 12 units to the market. Photo: Aaron Orlando
    Revelstoke’s Bridge Creek affordable housing project was finished this year and added 12 units to the market. Photo: Aaron Orlando, Revelstoke Mountaineer file photo
  • Denser housing: Encourage more housing developments. If Mackenzie Village on Nichol Road goes ahead next year, it will begin to add a range of single to multi-family housing, with potential for over 1,100 units by full build-out.
  • Fewer vacation rentals: The arrival of online services like Airbnb has led to a proliferation of long-term rental homes being converted into more lucrative short-term rentals. Will the shift to active enforcement of the short-term rental bylaw starting in October make a difference?
  • More affordable housing for all residents: this year the Revelstoke Affordable Housing Society finished 12 units for fixed income earners and in 2012, 24 extra units were made available for seniors.
  • Political will: The City of Revelstoke has completed affordable, social housing projects, but it has fallen short when it comes to embracing innovative market-based or mixed social/market solutions, such as tweaking the rules to allow for solutions like carriage suites, more economical legal suites, tools to require developers to contribute to affordable housing, or a dedicated housing authority to work on the issue.

Are you affected by the Revelstoke housing crisis? Please share your story below. Did we miss anything? Please tell us what. And always feel free to contact us at info@revelstokemountaineer.com.

This article originally appeared in the October/November issue of the Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.

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