By Abigail Popple, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, RMG

The Valemount Affordable Rentals Society released a survey last week to identify the village’s most common housing needs. The results will inform a three-year strategic plan to help Society members prioritize which issues to focus on.

Formed in 2017, the Society works to address gaps in Valemount’s housing market – particularly its lack of units for young couples and single people, said administrator Korie Marshall. 

“A few of [the founders] had been involved with the Village’s housing committee, and we recognized there’s kind of a need for a group to spearhead housing – there’s housing for seniors and housing that [Robson Valley Community Services] was working on, but nothing for sort of the general population,” Marshall said.

Today, the Society maintains 21 rental units, plus one house big enough for a family. The majority of these units are studio apartments, with some one-bedrooms. Marshall said the Society hopes to build six to 12 more units on the lot with the house, and has gotten interest 

from developers who’d like to build affordable single-person units in the area.

“We keep seeing a need for units for a single person, or a couple that doesn’t qualify for senior housing,” she said. “There’s a lot of people coming for work, and they’re looking for a place and there’s a dearth of one-bedroom units.”

However, the Society has limited capacity, Marshall added. While funding for affordable housing is available from both the federal and provincial governments – such as the Canada Rental Protection Fund and BC Housing’s Community Housing Fund – volunteers only have so much time in the day to apply for funding.

“We really have such low capacity to do all of the work the [government funding agencies] will require of us. There’s plans, there’s potential,” Marshall said of the various projects the Society is considering. “We figured if we have a strategic plan, then we’ll figure out what to target.”

Due to its limited capacity, the Society used funding from Columbia Basin Trust’s nonprofit advisor program to hire consultant Christopher Cameron. Having previously worked with the Trust to develop strategic plans for the Golden & District Community Foundation and the Fernie Library, Cameron says strategic plans go a long way in making an organization’s work more effective.

“Organizations like VARS that are taking the time to build strategic plans are really important,” Cameron told the Goat. “It helps to provide a really strong road map for the work that gets done, and that’s how agencies like this can really help their community the most.”

After reviewing previous research on Valemount housing, like the 2023 Housing Needs Report, Cameron talked to Marshall to determine what information the Society’s board would find most useful. He then used the information he gathered to develop the 14-question survey.

The survey asks respondents for their opinions on the Society, its strengths and weaknesses, and how the Society should use its funding – for example, to hire more staff or develop more studio units.

The Society hasn’t decided when it will close the survey, Marshall said, but the board will review survey responses before its next planning meeting at the end of May. 

Cameron said the survey responses will allow community input on the board’s strategic plan.

“Whatever information we collect in that period, I’ll analyze and share with the board,” said Cameron. “They’ll understand the perspective of people in the community […] it’ll help guide the board’s thinking in what direction they go [with the strategic plan].”

Since being released on the 23rd, Marshall and Cameron have sent the survey via email to Society members, posted it on Facebook, and shared it with other housing providers in Valemount.

The Society is always looking for volunteer board members, Marshall adds.

“It’s really the board members who help us make decisions and figure out what we want to focus on,” she said. “More board members is one thing we always need.”

The survey can be accessed at: https://tinyurl.com/3sd3p6bv