Village to address affordable housing

by EVAN MATTHEWS

The Village of Valemount is acknowledging affordable housing as a local issue, and it’s working to fix the problem.

An Affordable Housing Committee is being formed by the Village, as it calls for qualified and interested citizens to step forward and contribute to the committee.

“We hope the committee will forward to council recommendations for realistic and attainable results,” says Townsend.

“We’re looking into solutions, but one thing we cannot do is use taxpayer money to subsidize housing,” she says.

In 2015, the Village did an Affordable Housing Assessment, which intended to educate council on matters affecting Valemount residents, to position Valemount with an established housing supply, and identify various housing delivery options to pursue.

A member of the Village’s original Affordable Housing Focus Group, Rashmi Narayan says she would happily join the committee to help address the issue.

Even before the ski hill announcement, Narayan says there were minimal rentals or housing options available for single people and young families.

“It’s easy to jump the gun and envision what an affordable housing project should look like and get developers involved from the beginning,” says Narayan.

“But we need to look at the needs study and survey our local population to see what type of housing options they might want to live in,” she says.

The number of vacant properties in Valemount has been rising over the past number of years along with property value, so to find a vacant and affordable home has become increasingly difficult for some residents.

The announcement of a ski hill hasn’t made the situation any better, Narayan says.

“Since the announcement, real-estate that is priced lower, both vacant lots and homes, have been picked up by mostly out of town buyers.

“It means that as we need employees for the ski hill or new industry we don’t have housing for them. The same goes for people who want to work and live here now,” she says.

Though the Village is acknowledging housing as an issue in Valemount and taking steps to solve the problem, the mayor says she isn’t sold on how the problem is being defined.

“I know real-estate prices have gone up, but previously real-estate was selling lower,” says Townsend. “The issue was actually lower income.”

The bankers and teachers in town, according to Townsend, don’t have as much trouble purchasing real-estate as those with lower incomes.

The 2015 assessment found this to be true, as “low and modest income households in Valemount are likely to have fewer housing options available to them than higher-income households.”

Statistics Canada data show a hierarchy of housing needs exists in Valemount, and the 2015 assessment provided residents of Valemount with some of the data.

Up to 95 households in Valemount – or 20 per cent – may be having difficulty affording the cost of housing, which is one in five households.

The assessment shows up to 60 households – or 12.7 per cent – are likely in the “core housing need,” which means paying 30 to 49 per cent of their combined before-tax income on housing, and up to 35 households – or 7.3 per cent – are likely in “severe housing need,” which means paying 50 per cent or more of their combined before-tax income on housing, and as a result places the household at risk of homelessness.

The assessment shows 10.5 per cent of Valemount houses may be in need of major repairs, however there are fewer than five households living in overcrowded conditions and less than five individuals experiencing homelessness at any given time.

If the committee finds the issue is indeed related to income as opposed to affordable housing, Townsend says the committee would have the authority to explore solutions and make recommendations to Council.

Ultimately, she says, the committee, while labeled as one specific to affordable housing, has one job: make sure the people of Valemount have homes.

People expect local municipalities help to provide affordable housing, according to Townsend, but there isn’t extra money available in the budget for such help.

Also, tax exemptions do not apply to housing, she says.
Many of those struggling to find affordable housing or to find sufficient income, according to Townsend, are single parents.
Back in September, the Province implemented a program to help single parents, too, Townsend notes.

The Single Parent Employment Initiative aims to remove barriers to employment for single parents on income and disability assistance by providing them with extra support.
Under the program, the Province says more than 16,000 single parents on income and disability assistance will have access to a range of supports through WorkBC Employment Services Centres that will help break down the barriers they often face when trying to find a full-time job.

In addition to the changes to income assistance, the Province says families on income assistance and disability are eligible for increased earning exemptions from $200 to $400 per month, or $300 to $500 per month for individuals with a child with disabilities, as well as supplemental health coverage after leaving income assistance.

However, it’s important not to get caught up in the stigma of what affordable housing represents, according to Narayan.

“There is a perception that affordable housing is social housing, but it’s not,” says Narayan.

“A mixed dwelling sometimes incorporates different needs and users and could include subsidized housing. A mixed dwelling sometimes incorporates different needs and users and could include subsidized housing,” she says.

People have started to explore tiny homes as a possibility, too, according to the Village’s administration. Depending on how the valley embraces the idea, the Village says tiny homes could be another solution.

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