On May 21, the B.C. government announced it had opened up funding applications for a $1.9-billion fund for community housing projects in B.C. The Community Housing Fund is accepting applications for housing projects from “non-profit and Indigenous housing societies, First Nations, housing co-operatives, and municipalities,” with a final deadline of January 2021.
In a town where housing is arguably the most pressing political issue — right up there with affordability, of which housing is a big constituent for most Revelstoke residents, including our growing number of working-poor residents — it was an obvious starting point for a story. In Revelstoke, 41.5 per cent of individuals make less than $29,999 per year, according to a city housing needs study, pointing out the need for affordable living options.
The provincial and federal governments refocused on housing issues a few years back and starting shoveling money at the problem, an opportunity for Revelstoke to capitalize on a top municipal political issue. The first round of funding in 2018 totaled $492 million to build 4,900 units. The amount of money on the table is significant; in the last round, our neighbours in Nelson got $4.5 million in funding for 45-unit facility, Sicamous got funding for 36 new affordable housing units, Salmon Arm is moving ahead with a 71-unit project, and Vernon for a 36-unit project.
It’s important to note that Revelstoke didn’t receive any funding in the first round of funding, because no entity in Revelstoke applied, drawing some public disappointment when we published this story noting the community balked at the first opportunity.
I got in touch with a regional BC Housing representative, the Revelstoke Community Housing Society, and the City of Revelstoke for an update.
My first interview was with Danna Locke, BC Housing’s Director of Regional Development for the Interior Region. Our conversation was focused on Revelstoke’s opportunity to get funding for a significant housing project through the second round of the Community Housing Fund.
Locke said that non-profit housing providers, cooperatives, and many other entities are eligible to apply. Locke said local governments, such as the City of Revelstoke, could also apply. “We’ve had that happen a few times,” she said.
She also noted other entities are eligible, such as regional organizations like the Columbia Basin Trust, the Canadian Mental Health Association, or the Halcyon Assisted Living Society, a Nakusp-based organization that currently operates the Moberley Park Manor care facility, are options. In addition, businesses or community groups not currently providing housing could form a non-profit to pitch a specific project.
“This is sometimes where we see new entities created, such as from a service society who hasn’t done housing to date,” Locke said. “When you talk about the workforce, it could be how to those agencies … or the businesses sometimes will sponsor or create non profits.”
She gave examples such as a women’s issues-focused group, an Indigenous organization, or philanthropic groups like a Rotary club, and said the BC Non Profit Housing Association is a good resource for those interested.
Locke said the Community Housing Fund was more flexible than other housing arrangements because it is a fully subsidized program and is targeted at low income residents.
She also mentioned BC Housing’s work on the old Mount Begbie School site. BC Housing is hosting a June 10 webinar about their development plans there.
She added that the biggest challenge is finding land upon which to build new housing.
City of Revelstoke
A spokesperson for the City of Revelstoke said the municipality does not intend to apply for the Community Housing Fund. “The city does not directly apply for the Community Housing Fund but is open to collaborating with local non-profits on housing initiatives,” spokesperson Curtis Slingerland said, adding the city has provided land through leases, and has granted development cost charge reductions and property tax exemptions to projects.
He also pointed to the city’s recent lease agreement with the Revelstoke Community Housing Society for their ongoing project near the BC Ambulance Station, the issuance of a development permit for ongoing renovation project at River’s Edge apartment buildings on May 26, and referred to some other unspecified lease agreement in the works.
In addition, Slingerland said, “city staff is working on a housing action plan and will be reporting out on this in the near future.”
Revelstoke Community Housing Society
It’s important to note the Revelstoke Community Housing Society (RCHS) is a volunteer-run non-profit society, which means limited capacity. They are currently developing a 24-unit apartment near the BC Ambulance Station on Humbert Street. RCHS board chairperson Glen O’Reilly said the project was, “crawling its way through city hall and their planning department.”
The RCHS had planned to break ground on the project in April of 2019, but was a year behind schedule before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, setting the project back.
In the past month, the City of Revelstoke completed the legal work that will allow the project to go forward.
Currently, the RCHS is trying to decide whether to break ground this fall and deal with the challenges of building through the winter months, or put it off until next year.
O’Reilly said the RCHS is focusing on the Mt. Begbie School property to work with BC Housing on what the best use of that would be.
He was unclear if the RCHS could partner on another project on the Mt. Begbie School site, which would depend on BC Housing’s plans.
BC Housing looking to partner with non-profits
However, Danna Locke did say that BC Housing is looking to partner with a non-profit entity to manage the Columbia Gardens, River’s Edge and new Begbie View Elementary site, once the renovations and construction projects are complete.
The clock is ticking on this round of funding and BC Housing is accepting applications now. Although the city may be working on a housing plan, and things may be happening behind the scenes, it remains unclear what the character of the final plan will be. In the interim, it calls to question ongoing coordination issues with housing in Revelstoke. Although another non-profit entity could apply, BC Housing describes the process as “competitive,” and multiple applications could compete with each other. In addition, without a housing plan in place, coordination on the type of housing needed will not be ideal. The city has completed a “needs and demands” study, but without a centralized plan, it will be difficult for individual entities to coordinate.
BC Housing is signalling that it wants to hand over three projects to a non-profit entity. The Revelstoke Community Housing Society may be the first organization to jump to mind, but again, it’s important to note RCHS is a volunteer-run organization primarily focused on building housing, and lacks the staff resources of other government entities.
The city may be working on a housing plan, but will it come in time to take advantage of this opportunity in a coordinated fashion? BC Housing’s plan to hand over three projects to a non-profit is an opportunity to start building economy of scale for a housing authority, such as the Whistler Housing Authority, which is considered the gold standard resort housing model organization. Or Revelstoke could take another approach; it remains to be seen.
It’s unfolding now, under deadline pressure, and will be one to watch in the coming months.
See our past revelstokemountaineer.com housing update story from November 2019 here.