After a recent Editorial and letter to the Editor in the Rocky Mountain Goat newspaper related to housing in Valemount, I wanted to add to the conversation.
Housing is an issue in Valemount because of limited availability of housing for rent and sale; lack of diversity in housing options and unaffordable housing.
Multiple strategies can help bring incremental solutions to this issue. For example, zoning bylaws that allow smaller dwelling sizes, smaller lot sizes, secondary suites and secondary dwellings would help add to the housing pool and provide more options. Charges to encourage development of vacant lots could bring more land into the market. However, both these strategies rely on the market to solve the problem and do not address the currently high prices of housing.
We need an organization to bring non-market housing for rent and ownership. Such an organization, mandated to create housing, would make the biggest impact in terms of number of housing units and affordability, especially for our workforce.
A municipal housing authority or a non-profit housing organization is in the position to bring in non-market housing.
What is the right entity to create off-market housing?
In the 1990s, the municipality of Whistler created the Whistler Housing Authority to apply development levies and create a Housing Fund for resident-restricted housing and so it didn’t have to rely on the market to resolve the issue of shortage or price.
Currently, there are different funds specifically designated for affordable housing through the federal and provincial governments as well as Columbia Basin Trust.
A non-profit organization, at arm’s length from the municipality, can do a lot. Unless an organization has a lot of cash or land to leverage funds, it needs the municipality to acknowledge housing as an issue and make a contribution in terms of land to demonstrate its commitment.
A Municipal Housing Authority will already have the blessing from council to act on this issue. It would not need much cash equity or need to tax existing taxpayers to create housing. All it would need is a municipal commitment of land to leverage other funds.
In addition, a Municipal Housing Authority would have the ability to levy new developments to create a housing fund to create respectable dwelling units for newcomers coming to take up new jobs. If we reply on the market to address the issue, we will end up with a situation like Jasper’s, where workers live in overcrowded poor living arrangements.
Even the recently established Valemount College Society is faced with the challenge of limited or close-to-none student housing for its new venture. Being a non-profit they are working on solutions to address that issue. But for-profit developers don’t always operate with that moral obligation.
While any non-market organization to create housing can help address the issue of availability and price, a municipal authority can also demonstrate a commitment from council to create an atmosphere that ensures that economic development projects, big or small, are supported in one of the basic needs of their workforce.