By David F. Rooney
Revelstoke needs a clearer vision of its housing needs before it embarks on another project, the Community Housing Society decided after its Annual General Meeting on Monday, June 6.
Most Revelstokians would agree that housing is a major issue, but what kind of housing is needed and for which portion of the population? Do we need social housing for the poor? Affordable — or, if you prefer, attainable — housing for young families? Better housing for seniors?
Back in 2005 it seemed clear to most Revelstokians that there was a major rental-housing crisis. Rents had soared — in some cases almost doubled — as workers came to town to work on Revelstoke Mountain Resort and BC Hydro’s Unit 5 at the dam. Public meetings were held and letters of protest sent to the City Council of the day. Ultimately, an Affordable Housing Committee was established and City Council approached BC Hydro and asked it to financially support a rental housing project while RMR was expected to provide housing for its staff. Hydro kicked in $250,000 towards an affordable rental housing project that ultimately resulted in the duplex on Oscar Street. While that was a major learning experience for the men and women on the committee, it was not a solution to the ongoing affordable housing issue. Money — no surprise there — was a major stumbling block. A decade ago the province was not financing housing projects in the Interior and small municipal governments could not address the developing housing issues on their own.
The committee evolved into the Community Housing Society and discovered that the Columbia Basin Trust and BC Housing were willing to finance well-planned housing projects. That ultimately resulted in the 12-unit rental project completed on Oscar Street this spring.
Those units were swiftly snapped up but there is still no credible data on housing requirements in Revelstoke. And now, with BC Housing issuing a new call for project proposals, it’s time to come up with that information.
“One of the things you have to have identified… is good baseline data,” Community Economic Development Director Alan Mason said at the meeting. “We’ve all heard anecdotally that we need more housing but that’s not good enough for BC Housing. We need to be able to say who’s looking for housing. How much housing and what kind of housing.”
Mason, who is also a Housing Society director, said that, for instance, no one anticipated the overwhelming demand for one-bedroom rental units. Take the recently completed project on Oscar Street. Eight of the 12 units are two-bedroom units intended for small families. But as the society discovered, the real demand is for one-bedroom units.
“We didn’t understand what the demand was,” he said.
Columbia Basin Trust may have money that could be used to finance the study. The study may be folded into a broad demographic survey the Planning Department needs to update the Official Community Plan. Planner Dean Strachan said he plans to meet with various stakeholders over this summer to determine what information needs to be gathered. Those stakeholders will include School District 19, Community Connections and other agencies.
Director Connie Brothers said she hopes that the society will look at projects that involve the private sector. The society has long been interested in having private sector involvement but that is easier said than done.
“There are other things we could be doing,” Chairman Mark McKee said. “It’s wrapping our heads around higher densities, bonus densities, secondary suites and carriage homes. These are the kinds of things we need to be encouraging.
“You get the private sector involved through bonus density and having the infrastructure already in place. You don’t get them involved by building a 12-unit affordable housing project and charging $550 a month in rent. They’re not going to do that.”