By Laura Keil
A new report to Valemount Council says half of the community’s permanent residents cannot afford to buy a single family home in town, and it makes a swath of recommendations on how to improve housing affordability, availability, and diversity.
The report, written by Rashmi Narayan and former village planner Megan Vicente, lays out the current state of housing in the village and makes recommendations to Council. The report was based on extensive research including local surveys and can be downloaded by visiting: valemount.ca/village-office/documents/
Areas of need
The report says workforce housing, affordable homeownership, seniors housing, and supportive housing are the four main areas of need.
Narayan and Vicente say the first step is for Council to make affordable housing a Village priority so that staff can take action to address it.
“Municipalities certainly have a role to play,” Vincente told the Goat. “It boils down to priorities. If Council makes it a priority, then staff figures out how to fit that into their job description.”
She notes this wasn’t always the case, but in 2019 the Province made it mandatory for municipalities to do local housing needs reports every five years.
While Valemount has three housing non-profits with projects either built or underway, Narayan notes the Village has a lot more tools than non-profits when it comes to supercharging efforts, for instance they already own land. They’re also in a position to look at housing from a broad community perspective, not solely seniors housing or workforce housing, for instance. Much like how the Village supported the creation of a community forest when the local mill shut down, the Village could support an organization with a housing focus, she says.
“The Village may have a similar opportunity to spawn an organization (supported by the regional district and the Province) to overcome hurdles required to increase housing supply and diversity that is outside the scope of the three housing providers.”
The report’s recommendations are broken down into six key areas and include: reducing barriers, updating bylaws, building capacity, innovating, and creating new tools.
Narayan further broke these down into individual action items and rated them based on effort and impact. Under Creating new tools, the report says establishing a housing reserve fund would take a moderate amount of effort, but have a high impact on housing. The reserve fund money could be collected through building permits, development cost charges or via fees for secondary suites, the report says.
Under building capacity are two high-impact-lower-effort items, including supporting non-profit organizations and advocating to senior levels of government to access more funding for housing.
Other recommendations include monitoring short-term vacation rentals, updating zoning, and creating cookie cutter building plans for carriage homes and laneway houses that can be easily implemented with reduced red tape and cost for homeowners.
Finally the report also makes mention of the opportunity to leverage the additional 1 per cent municipal and regional district tax that could be applied to tourist stays in the Valemount area and managed by Tourism Valemount. One per cent of that money can be used for local workforce housing projects.
Nine of the 15 business owners who took the survey said they’d be interested in cooperating on a staff housing project. And 25 residents who took the survey said they were interested in a shared home-ownership project, which could be a strata development for instance (with shared land ownership, but individual unit ownership).
Impacts on community
The report notes the population at Valemount Elementary School dropped from 146 students in 2021 to 128 students in 2022, even accounting for 10 new students from pipeline families. Several survey respondents noted that families have had to leave town after losing their rental homes when they were sold. Also, many businesses, including the local grocery store, have had to shorten hours or close for periods of time due to limited staffing.
One of the most shocking parts of the report is a graph depicting how much a person needs to buy a home in Valemount (based on 2018 property prices and 2016 median incomes in Valemount).
“How can young families establish roots when the median listed price in April 2022 was $517,450 and the median income in Valemount just over $51,000?” the report asks.
The graph shows that half of two-income families cannot afford a single family home or even a duplex at 2016 incomes (income data is not yet available for the 2021 Census). It also shows that half of one-parent families make too little to buy a single family home, duplex, fourplex or family-size manufactured home. The only options for homeownership would be apartment or single manufactured home.
Even rentals are unaffordable, the report notes, with prices skyrocketing due to the pipeline. The report says, in Canada, housing is considered “affordable” if shelter-related expenses are less than 30 per cent of a household’s income. Already in 2016, pre-pipeline, nearly 20 per cent of local families were in core or extreme core housing need.
Who’s on the hook
Narayan says while the report was commissioned by and for the village, it’s not just the village’s job to create solutions.
“It isn’t reasonable for the Village to take on the responsibility of becoming a developer when it has its hands full with managing services and assets,” the report states.
“It’s not thinking that just one person has to lift the load,” Narayan says.