Affordable housing has been on the discussion table in Revelstoke for nearly two decades, yet not enough has been done to actualize the growing number of rental and ownership housing units required to solve this surmounting problem.
While there has been momentum in addressing the need for all types of housing in the community in more recent years, the reality of just how little Revelstoke has accomplished compared to other similar communities in terms of addressing the need for affordable units was highlighted during a housing symposium hosted by the City of Revelstoke at the Community Centre on Thursday, March 9.
During a question-and-answer period following a series of presentations at the symposium, Sheena Wells, executive director of Community Connections and co-chair of the Revelstoke Community Housing Society was asked what resources the housing society needs to expand and develop capacity. Wells noted that since 2010 RCHS has managed to complete a mere 38 units, while Banff has built nearly 10 times that number with 375 units completed in an eight-year time frame.
“We also need a time machine and we need to be able to move a whole hell of a lot quicker. My belief is that this is not a resource shortage problem for Revelstoke, there is enough here. There is enough money certainly in the community if you look around at the buildings and the things that are being built,” said Wells, who also pointed to a lack of much needed policy, bylaw and planning infrastructure.
“We needed pathways for builders. Instead of saying ‘no, you can’t’, we needed to say ‘yes this way, and this is how. I think we’re at a point now with the current council and planning department and certainly the relationship with the housing society is that’s the answer we’re getting […] now we have the tools to be able to direct those pathways of development.”
Collaborative approaches are needed to address Revelstoke’s housing need
Formed in 2007, the Revelstoke Community Housing Society is a non-profit corporation run by a volunteer board. “Our mandate is housing for all,” said Wells. “The work we’re doing in Revelstoke is about housing, but it’s also about a collaborative approach to everybody’s wellbeing.”
Wells said the society’s most recent effort, a 24-unit apartment building in Southside, “took a really long time to get open and to have people move into.” The building has restrictions on what the rental agreements look like and how much money people can make. Wells said those parameters are set by funding agreements by the funders (funders for RCHS projects have included BC Housing and Columbia Basin Trust) and not by the housing society. Often to accept funding, RCHS must make projects align with whatever the funders priorities are.
“Often what we want and what we need, and the level of affordability is just so out of reach and we’re really stuck. I’m still hopeful,” said Wells.
There is currently a two-year waitlist to access housing through the RCHS. There is no supportive housing in the community. “Sometimes what we run into is Community Connections operates Monashee Court, which is a subsidized housing building owned by BC Housing. In those units often folks are there and it’s not the right kind of housing for them, but it’s what we have, and it’s the only thing we’ve had for a really long time.”
Another piece of the housing puzzle missing in Revelstoke is second stage housing for women fleeing violence once they are ready to leave the women’s shelter.
“It’s not lost on me or anyone in this room that this is a really complex issue and it isn’t one approach or project that’s going to solve it.”
Looking ahead, Wells said there is a lot that needs to be done to address the need for housing. At present an additional 500 to 1,200 additional units are needed to accommodate population growth.
“There’s going to need to be some heavy lifting, some respect, some relationship, some trust and the city, and I do really appreciate, honestly, the people at the table and the people in the room who have been super supportive of the housing society, where we’re at and the work we’re doing going forward.
How other communities are addressing affordable housing
Thursday’s symposium featured presentations on how Whistler, Tofino, Sun Peaks, Banff, Canmore and Sicamous are addressing housing affordability in their respective communities. Here’s a quick overview from each of those presentations:
Whistler – Marla Zucht, general manager Whistler Housing Authority
When development of Canada’s first ski resort in the 1970s and ’80s led to housing prices quickly becoming out of reach and misaligned with locals incomes, Whistler looked to see what resort communities in the US, including Vail and Aspen were doing. This led to the creation of a municipal employee works and services bylaw in the ’90s. According to Marla Zucht, general manager of the Whistler Housing Authority, the by law was a significant component in Whistler being able to develop its employee program.
“The premise is based on every new development that comes into town, be it commercial or industrial, they’re going to be contributing to part of the problem with the demand for more employee housing. So we’ve turned them around and made them be part of the solution in that they have to contribute,” said Zucht. That contribution can happen in three ways: provide onsite staff housing, provide offsite staff housing, or contribute a cash in lieu into a municipal housing fund.
The Whistler Housing Authority was created in 1997 and in the nearly 30 years since has created a 50/50 split between affordable rentals and affordable home ownership units that are restricted exclusively for employees. “We’re up to about 7,000 beds now,” said Zucht
Tofino – Ian Scott, executive director Tofino Housing Corporation and Mayor Dan Law
The Tofino Housing Corporation has set a goal of providing 30 units of price-restricted, resident restricted ownership housing and 150 rental units by 2030, according to the corporation’s executive director Ian Scott.
A small town with a population of 2,500, Tofino Mayor Dan Law said there are between 1,000 and 1,500 transient workers in the community along with an incredibly high 300-to-one visitor to resident ratio. One benefit of the high visitor ratio is the community does get a good amount of MRDT (Municipal Regional District Tax).
Like Whistler, Tofino’s housing corporation is a non-profit municipal housing corporation, which is District owned and controlled. Half of the THC’s board is made up of District Staff and Council while the other half is local representatives.
Scott said while it’s difficult to understand exactly what the future demand will be “we think the number of units we’re going to need to facilitate development over the next number of years is 400 plus, and getting to 10, 20 per cent of locally occupied housing sooner than later.”
Sun Peaks – Al Raine
Located an hour from Kamloops, the municipality of Sun Peaks had only 300 year-round residents when it formed 12 years ago. Today that number has increased to 1,200. Raine said Sun Peaks struggles with an employee housing shortage.
“Initially everybody thought the employees [for the resort] were going to come from the Kamloops region and surrounding areas,” said Raine. “The municipality must somewhat embarrassingly say we were slow off the market, although the lift company had got into employee housing. Today I think they’re providing about 380 seasonal employee beds. Our other employees are around 300 beds that they are providing. It’s probably somewhere between 40 to 50 per cent of the employee beds that we need.”
Raine said the municipality does have the potential to charge development cost charges, “but we really supported the concept that the businesses that create employee demand should be contributing. Although we haven’t yet put an employee housing bylaw into place.
Banff – Sharon Oakley, Town of Banff manager of housing sustainability
Banff is unique in that there are eligibility requirements to live in the community, which is located inside a national park.
“We have a very large challenge with housing because the entire boundary sits on four square kilometers. We have limitations on how high we can go up and we certainly have limitations on how far we can build out. Land is king and we have vey little of it.”
Oakley said most of the residents make very low wages while living in a very high rent district. Sixty-one per cent of the population rents in comparison to the Alberta provincial average of 26 per cent. It is currently projected the town has a housing shortage ranging between 700 and 1,000 units. The town also provides services to more than four million visitors each year.
Like Whistler, the town of Banff has been involved in housing for decades. The Banff Housing Corporation was established in 1983 and was “created to address the exodus of families that were leaving the community due to affordable housing.” The corporation became a developer, building affordable for sale housing.” There is currently a portfolio of 193 purchasable homes.
The Banff Housing Corporation has recently added 133 rental units to its portfolio. The corporation works closely with Parks Canada and community partners. In 2014 adopted its community housing strategy, which has become the framework for how the town addresses housing affordability. All of its projects currently operate on a cost recovery model.
Canmore – Theresa Bolton, interim operations director, Canmore Community Housing
Bolton said Canmore shares many of the same problems as Banff, including lack of staff housing.
Canmore Community Housing is registered under the companies act and operates independently from the town of Canmore.
CCH currently has 278 units within its program. Of those we have 118 rental units and 160 ownership opportunity units. The company owns and operates two rental properties. One development with 60 units and another with 48 units. Then we have another development that makes up the other 10 units in our rental program. The rental program has a mandate that all units have to be a minimum average of 10 per cent below the market rate.
“We currently sit well below that.”
Sicamous – Brenda Dalzell, District of Sicamous Housing Committee
The District of Sicamous Housing Committee has been tasked in the last year with creating a new housing strategy for the community, which is in need of.
“We are in need of many types of housing. We are on draft two of our strategy. It’s not yet been adopted by council, but it’s very close. Our vision for Sicamous and neighbouring communities is to ensure residents have access to attainable housing that supports wellness, comes in a variety of housing types and tenure options and is appropriate for people of all ages, abilities and incomes.”
Dalzell said strategies the committee has come up with are creating conditions to support housing development, removing barriers to enable diverse housing, increase density, encourage rental and attainable housing, seek partnerships and facilitate collaboration.
“That includes utilizing district owned lands, scaling up the developer builder sector and collaborating with everyone.”