I learned a new term recently: affordable market housing. I’ve talked about affordable housing before, and have been sometimes confused when people thought I was talking about subsidized or social housing. Apparently this wasn’t happening just to me, which is why the new term has developed, because the issue is not specifically about subsidized housing, but about the cost of rent or a mortgage when you are paying it yourself. Market housing is privately owned and the price is set by the market – a strange balance between what is available and what people will or can pay for.
According to the provincial government, 95 per cent of British Columbians live in market housing, either as homeowners or as tenants in a rental property. Market housing is generally considered affordable if the cost does not exceed 30 per cent of household income; that’s generally the level that government looks at for social and subsidized housing, and the level lenders use when considering if you can afford to buy a home. So if you make $10.25/hour, and work 40 hours a week, you can “afford” rent of about $500. That is if you don’t factor in bills like heating. Not much wonder young people stay at home with their parents longer these days.
I am sure there are a lot of variables, which is why I have signed up for the first in a series of webinars coming up on affordable market housing. It is also why I was very interested in the outcome of one of the Development Variance Permit applications to Valemount Council last week, involving a house that is less than six meters wide.
Council discussed the issue a lot, and they had a difficult decision in front of them.
On one side was a young family from the community that has already invested money, effort, hopes and dreams on living here in a manner they can afford. On the other side was someone who once tried to do the same thing but was denied, and the bylaws in place that gave council that option.
It is important to me, and at least a few other people in our communities, that we have affordable market housing. We are not dying communities. We are struggling, yes, but there is potential for growth. People that have invested in property and housing currently sitting empty are banking on that, whether they acknowledge it or not. But I am noticing a number of people who are interested in moving into this area – permanently, not just as the stereotypical transient tourism industry worker. Everyone thinks first about jobs, and that is certainly an issue in itself, unless you are set enough to think of starting your own business here. But just as important as a job is a place to live, one that you can afford on the wages you earn from the job you find.
Everyone is going to deal with these issues in different ways; we all have different skills, different resources, and different requirements. But there are ways that governments can help, and one of them occurred last week in Valemount. Council made a difficult decision, and allowed a young family to put a narrower house on their property than zoning normally allows in that area. I can imagine how relieved that family is. I can also imagine how upset that neighbour is, because he had been denied the same thing in the past, and I am sure it cost him.
I don’t envy Council for having to make that decision, but I applaud them for the decision they made. If we are going to continue to survive, we have to look forward. Looking back helps us understand the choices made along the way, and that is necessary, but we shouldn’t let ourselves be tied to those decisions if they no longer fit our situation.