by Andru McCracken

The Ramakada has been purchased by the Valemount Affordable Rental Society and will be reworked as student accommodation for the Valemount College. /ANDRU MCCRACKEN

The Valemount Affordable Rentals Society will proceed with their housing project even without the benefit of a Columbia Basin Trust Community Initiatives grant of $60,000, but the society is deeply unhappy with the decision and made their objections known to council.

President of the Valemount Affordable Rentals Society, Riette Kenkel and director Bruce Wilkinson said the local committee that makes grant recommendations to Council misunderstood the project and perhaps even who was applying for the project.

The society was created last year to help develop more affordable rentals in the area and recently acquired the Ramakada Motel property in order to develop student housing for Valemount College, though its mandate goes beyond student housing.

The rentals society’s grant application to the Community Initiatives program had three parts: the first was funding an office and staff person to manage the rentals society, something currently done by volunteers. Another piece was to oversee the renovations to the Ramakada Motel to help prepare it for student housing, and lastly to hire a consultant to determine the feasibility of building more housing on an adjacent lot.

The committee cited the following reasons for denying funding: low public support, low committee support, too broad a mandate and “lack of a demonstrated ability to show progress.”

Kenkel and Wilkinson said the adjudication committee didn’t understand the application and should have asked for clarification.

Wilkinson said the committee appeared to believe that Valemount College was the applicant, which is not the case. He said the project received more public support than other proposals that were approved, that the mandate was very focused, and that they had demonstrated much progress.

Kenkel said their mandate needed to meet their partner BC Housing’s requirements.

“As for lack of demonstrated progress, we are a brand new society and have been able to secure $220,000 from the Columbia Basin Trust in a forgivable loan and we have BC Housing on board and we only incorporated six months ago,” said Kenkel.

“I’d like to see another society that has shown better progress than that.”

Kenkel said Valemount College, a separate non-profit that involves many of the same board members, has also shown a lot of progress.

“The college is up and running and we have two staff people,” said Kenkel. “If they would have asked we could have provided that information.”

Kenkel said a previous program called Northern Outdoor Recreation Education, or NORE used the hidden rental market to house students – in other words, suites in homes that were not advertised. But that capacity is gone today.

“The whole point is the students won’t come unless there is housing available,” said Kenkel.

Kenkel said the society is dedicated to make the project happen but it will take longer.

“We will need to take money out of the renovation funds to pay for someone to oversee those renovations.”

Wilkinson said that he is disappointed Council wasn’t able to act as a failsafe to the committee’s recommendations and to look at new information provided to them.

“All I ask was that they gave it a look,” he said, of a letter pointing out some false assumptions of the committee.

Wilkinson rents out two homes in Valemount and said he is often asked if he has a place to rent. He said that the number of people turning down jobs in Valemount because of a lack of housing is alarming.

“It’s already here, we already have a housing shortage. It creates social problems, those social problems degrade our community life,” said Wilkinson.