By Laura Keil, Publisher/Editor
It’s a tall order to fix the housing situation in the area, but Valemount’s recently-approved Official Community Plan (OCP) makes good headway and other local governments should take note.
While we’ll have to wait for the Zoning Bylaw before the OCP policies become law, it spells good news on the housing affordability front.
Across the Valley, there are more would-be renters than rentals. In both Valemount and McBride (and surrounding areas) a shortage of rentals is going to limit the number of new residents, both short and long-term. It really is imperative to fix.
The OCP gave two main goals which arose from community engagement sessions: 1) enhance the village for residents and 2) attract the next wave of residents.
Four of the nine bullet points under the enhancing-the-village-for-residents goal involve housing. People want better housing affordability, more diverse housing options for all ages, fewer rules for residential properties, and strategies for vacation rentals.
The OCP delivers on many fronts and boils down to this overriding statement: If Valemount wants to improve its overall affordability and use land more efficiently to cover the costs of providing infrastructure to residents, it should encourage more compact, mixed use, and mixed density development.
In many zones, the OCP has liberalized what you can build in your backyard. In many residential neighbourhoods, you’ll soon be able to add a secondary suite, laneway house or garage suite (max. 1 per lot). You can rent it out long-term as long as you’re the primary occupant of the house, though short-term rentals are not allowed in those extra living units (called “Accessory Dweling Units” or ADUs). This is a big change from before, when you were limited to a secondary suite inside your home only.
Of course there will be details to iron out with these changes, but it’s a great beacon of hope. Having more rentals will not just provide more housing, but should also drive prices down, since it increases supply relative to demand. From the homeowner’s perspective, it could provide excellent mortgage-helper income, without having to buy an entire new home to rent.
While adding a laneway house or garage suite will be cost-prohibitive to many, especially right now when lumber prices are so high, the broad strokes of the OCP give Council permission to prioritize new denser housing options. Duplexes for instance, are also allowed anywhere, compared to previously when they had to be on certain lots only.
The OCP says the Village will support pilot projects that demonstrate innovative models of affordable housing, such as modular housing and co-housing.
Diversifying the housing stock allows people at all stages of life to find a suitable home.
The Village of Valemount Housing Needs and Demands Assessment Report (VHNDAR) (2016) said an overabundance of single-family dwellings has contributed to affordable housing challenges, particularly single parents and low-income earners. The report estimated that up to 20% of households in Valemount were likely to be in need of affordable housing. Housing speculation has led to an increase in seasonal/recreational home ownership which is estimated to be approximately 20 per cent of the housing stock.
The OCP advises keeping short-term vacation rentals between 5 and 10% of the available housing stock.
With all these changes and updates, we should be well on our way to preparing our small village for an influx should Valemount Glacier Destinations come through with funding. Either way, it will create many more options for those seeking a good place to live, and hopefully encourage them to stay and contribute their talents to the community.