by Rashmi Narayan

Village of McBride /RMG file photo

After McBride Chamber of Commerce’s Healthy Aging Steering Committee completed its 2016 seniors needs survey, work on housing stayed dormant after some committee members moved away. Efforts were revived last week by the Robson Health Association, which organized a public meeting on April 8 at the E-Free Church to discuss housing concerns from lack of affordable, accessible housing to supportive housing for seniors.

Around 30 people including the four McBride councillors and regional district representative showed up along with predominantly seniors from the village and surrounding areas.


Current Issues and Possible Solutions

Jackie Edwards, who is part of the health association, hosted the meeting. She split the crowd into groups of 5-6 people to brainstorm on current housing issues, housing priorities and solutions.

Lack of quality, rental, strata, seniors and accessible housing were identified as key issues. Three of five groups felt there needs to be education around costs for housing and care. There were many suggestions to fix the issue: seek donations of land, add on to hospital, public and private partnerships, make a business case / marketing package for a private developer, develop an innovative pilot project on a village or regional district property that comes up for a tax sale and look at rezoning for higher density.

Linda Fry brought up an old-fashioned idea of a boarding house that includes shared space and meals and also met social needs. There was more than one person who did not want to see the community pursue government funding as it would impact taxes. Participants pointed out that finding a solution required a comprehensive Needs Assessment for the village and surrounding area to serve as a roadmap to seek funding.


Next Steps

Edwards put a call out to those interested in participating in a committee that could become a housing organization. Many signed up, including former and current councillors and the regional district representative.

A Housing Needs and Demand study was determined as necessary for the Project Vision. Then comes the Project Development phase with site identification, drawings, budget and financing followed by actual construction.

CAO McCutcheon said that Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT) had just made an announcement for three types of funding in the housing stream.

Staff’s recommendation to council to make an application to NDIT to develop a Needs Assessment was approved by council on April 9.


Background and Past Work

Village of McBride Chief Administrative Officer Sheila McCutcheon said the village met with BC Housing in the fall of 2018. Council chose not to move forward to apply for a grant but rather supported a non-profit taking the lead and helped Robson Valley Community Services make an Expression of Interest for Supportive Housing. Getting approved would qualify them to be on the roster to move ahead to create housing. However, that Expression of Interest was not approved as it did not meet BC Housing’s full criteria due to lack of adequate data on needs. It was also important to identify suitable land.

Robson Valley Community Services Executive Director Lina Thompson said they had been approved for transitional housing. Since that is short-term, she wanted to make a case for affordable housing by putting the question to BC Housing, “What happens after a year?”


Changing demographics

Edwards highlighted some population changes from 2001 to 2016 and these were just for the Village of McBride. There was a major drop in the 0-19 age group from 210 (2001) to 55 in 2016. Subsequently the 65+ demographic had almost doubled from 80 to 150. The 2006 census also revealed that over 80% of the housing stock was older than 1986.

A 2016 Seniors Needs survey got 147 responses: 59% needed supported care – either meals and/or personal care; 49% preferred rental accommodation. 43 individuals’ income was under $25,000 meaning that affordable housing costs for them capped at $625 a month.

Among the 10 homes presently for sale in the village, none are wheelchair accessible. They range from $83,000 to $329,000.


Pocket Community Concept

In 2017, the Village spent time studying pocket communities. Pocket Communities consist of a minimum of four dwellings to a maximum of 12 within a cluster around a shared open space. After the study, a few felt that pocket communities could attract seniors with disposable income and create jobs for services. The Village of McBride felt that it had done the leg work for someone from the private sector to come in and develop.