by KORIE MARSHALL
Valemount Council has agreed to move forward with developing an affordable housing strategy, following recommendations from a recent assessment of housing needs and demands in the area.
The assessment of the needs and demands for affordable housing was commissioned in 2015. The study was carried out by Matthew McNeil of Housing Strategies, and the full report was provided to Council on the Feb. 9th agenda, after an overview was presented in January. The report identified 60 households that are spending between 30 and 49 per cent of their income on housing, and 35 households spending 50 per cent or more, putting them at risk of homelessness.
It also identified as many as 118 homes in Valemount – 20 per cent of the housing stock – that may be owned by seasonal or recreational home owners and property investors. That is more than a 140 per cent increase since 2001. The provincial estimate for homes owned by seasonal and recreational owners is 9.3 per cent, an increase of only 39.3 per cent over the same period.
The report made several recommendations aimed at minimizing the loss of existing affordable housing, encouraging development of new affordable housing, and building capacity in the community to promote affordable housing.
Staff recommended an internal review be done to determine which recommendations have the greatest support and likelihood of success based on existing capacities and resources in the community. Then a community consultation plan would be developed, including engaging members of the focus group appointed to help with the original report, followed by an Affordable Housing implementation plan for the Village and other community stakeholders.
During discussion, Mayor Jeannette Townsend said she would like Council to get together to discuss the recommendations because she didn’t agree with them all, saying she didn’t think some would be appropriate for Valemount. She says one recommendation in particular she doesn’t agree with because of where she lives and her experience with her non-resident neighbours. She says they are good citizens, they hire locals to look after their properties, they have spent a great deal to improve the appearance of their property, and they pay high taxes (they don’t get a homeowner’s grant since it is their second property).
“Those are desirable citizens. They are not just second home citizens. And many of them are planning to retire here,” said Townsend, who is also a real estate broker.
She notes retirees bring a lot of money into a local economy. “With retirement in mind, I do not think we should restrict second home people.”
The report’s first recommendation, one of three aimed at minimizing the loss of existing affordable housing, is to identify areas best suited for potential new affordable housing. Centralized locations would allow residents to safely walk to local amenities even in the winter. It recommends discouraging development of other types of housing in these areas, such as seasonal and recreational home investors, in order to help the Village achieve its affordable housing and age-friendly community goals.
Councillor Peter Reimer said that in comparison to the rest of the province, our housing is already affordable.
“Our lots are a lot less expensive, our development costs are less expensive,” said Reimer. “I think where we are gives us an edge in affordability. I stand to be corrected and enlightened on what the term affordable means.”
During public comment, Rashmi Narayan, one of four members of the focus group who also attended the Council meeting, said she is pleased Council is going ahead with the recommendations.
“Yes, it seems like it is affordable here, but the study points out the median income in Valemount is much lower than the provincial average. That is a cause for concern. And availability – that also factors into affordability,” says Narayan. “With all this in mind, I think it is a great move for Council to act on these recommendations in a timely way.”
Council passed the staff recommendations to proceed with developing an affordable housing strategy, with Mayor Townsend agreeing she would take part in the community consultation group.