Letter: Clearing the air about housing project

Dear Mayor Townsend and Council,

We would like to try to address some of the questions we heard about our project at the Public Hearing on June 12, 2018.

Valemount Affordable Rentals Society (VARS) has entered into a long-term agreement with our funders – Columbia Basin Trust and BC Housing – to operate former motel units as housing for students, working singles and couples in the community, and to operate the former owner’s residence as a rental housing unit. This is not a significant change to the previous use of the existing buildings. It is, however, a significant investment in our community, by both the funders and by the Societies involved.

Both CBT and BC Housing recognized this opportunity to turn an under-utilized motel business into much-needed housing units, to help create more housing in the Columbia Basin. We are reaching a crisis point in Valemount, with a sheer lack of available housing (either to buy or rent), and these properties have great potential to provide more housing for our community.

We all want this project to be successful, and to be something of which the community can be proud, and the long-term planning for maintenance and upgrades of the existing buildings is a very important part of our plan. Any new construction in the future will follow BC Housing standards, which include energy efficiencies, addressing mobility issues, and ensuring the long-term value and viability of all facilities, while also fitting in aesthetically with the surrounding neighbourhood.

We heard concerns about low income housing. Housing providers – both government and non-profit – currently understand that low income housing tends to create several negative side effects, not least of which is the lack of income for the operator to repair and maintain the units. VARS will not be providing low income housing specifically, but rather a mix of rent levels and housing types, some aimed at those who can afford market-level rents, and some aimed at moderate to lower incomes.

It is important to note that “affordable housing” is a relative term. Most organizations, including the BC Government, BC Housing, and many lending companies consider housing to be affordable if 30% or less of your household’s income (before tax) covers your housing costs. The target income level for the bachelor and one-bedroom units in our current project is the median income for BC households without children – which is currently set by BC Housing as $71,200 per year. For two or more-bedroom units, such as the former owner’s residence, BC Housing’s target income level is $104,440 (considered the average income for BC households with children). Our projects will be aimed at what has recently been called “the missing middle” in BC – young working families, students and seniors in BC, for whom the cost of home-ownership is currently out of reach.

The former motel units and the existing house will be run as a business model. We are planning to hire a professional property management company to help with the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the units, including placement and oversight of all students and tenants. The management company will take direction from the VARS board of directors, guided by our agreement with BC Housing.

If our zoning application is approved, we can begin the planned renovations for the former motel units and begin offering them for rent so we can start working on future housing projects. We have requested high density, R5 zoning for the former motel lot, because there is potential to build something like a 12-unit building (similar to Mountain View Apartments or the CN apartments on Ash Street) on the vacant area next to the former motel. We are looking to apply to BC Housing’s recently announced Community Housing program for funding towards that next phase. It is very early stages, so no decisions have been made, but if we are successful, that project will also be governed by an operating agreement with BC Housing, and will also be managed by a professional property management company taking direction from the VARS board of directors.

We also heard questions about the college. We would like to point out that these properties are not owned by the Valemount College Society, and while some of our first units will be made available for students, the success of our project is in no way linked to the success of the College. The two lots owned by VARS will be aimed primarily at providing housing for the Valemount community.

We do hope the College will be successful, and when it is, it will need a space that is more permanent and long-term than a one-year rental space from the Village, and it will need to be accessible – the College’s current space has no lift or ramp to the second floor where its offices and classrooms are situated. The space will not necessarily need to be big – the College’s tag line is “Big Mountains. Small Classes.” The Valemount Learning Society, a major funder of Valemount College and owner of the 4th vacant lot, has applied for their lot to be zoned P4 in anticipation of the College’s success, or for some other education-related endeavour that fits the Valemount Learning Society’s mandate. We feel that the mixed nature of developments in the Main Street area would be a good home for such future development, and we understand it is in keeping with the Official Community Plan.

We thank you, Mayor Townsend and Council, for allowing us this opportunity to try to answer some of these questions. The VARS board is happy to try to answer any other questions about our project, as are the Boards of Directors for the Valemount Learning Society and the Valemount College Society.

Respectfully,

Riette Kenkel,

President of VARS

Valemount Learning Society Manager

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