Price inflation, in-migration, conversions to short-term rentals and an aging population have all contributed to a slowly growing housing crisis in the RDCK. File photo

Price inflation, in-migration, conversions to short-term rentals and an aging population have all contributed to a slowly growing housing crisis in the RDCK. File photo

RDCK moves to take action on affordable housing crisis

Consultant to begin developing concrete actions to create more housing

by John Boivin,

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,

The Valley Voice

The regional government has hired a consultant to begin work on developing concrete actions it can take to help ease the housing crisis in the area.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay hired M’akola Development Services in July to spend the next 8-10 months talking to stakeholders, assessing actions the regional government can take, and developing an action plan for encouraging more and varied home construction in the West Kootenay.

“We’re really looking at quite practical solutions that we can undertake immediately,” says Nelson Wight, the RDCK’s planning manager. “And having experts like M’akola provide guidance can ensure we are putting our efforts into really tangible solutions to address the housing needs in our area.”

Wight notes that the consultant will be able to hit the ground running, as they developed the initial housing needs assessment for the RDCK two years ago. That study found that “safe, affordable, and inclusive housing is increasingly difficult to find” in the regional district. Price inflation, in-migration, conversions to short-term rentals and an aging population have all contributed to a slowly growing crisis. The result has been a shortage that has affected the labour market, hurt community sustainability and resilience, and disrupted family and social ties.

“Housing for young working families has become almost out of reach due to the desirability of Area E as a recreation/ retirement destination and proximity to Nelson,” notes Area E Director Ramona Faust, who works on the housing portfolio. “If we want our schools full, businesses thriving and economy regenerating, we need a place for families in the housing market.”

Paths forward

While the consultant will be reaching out to stakeholders and community groups, and developing strategies for the regional government over the coming months, some ideas of what is possible have already been hinted at in a September 2020 report, again by M’akola Development Services.

It noted that regional government can offer incentives for developers to build affordable housing. It can alter rules on lot and building sizes to make projects more feasible. It can reduce or eliminate fees and development charges, or change zoning to encourage affordable housing projects. And it can support the development of community housing authorities and their affordable housing projects.

“Municipalities can partner with non-profit housing providers, social service organizations, and other affordable housing advocates by creating an Affordable Housing Working Group as an arm of council, sitting on coalition boards as a member, and utilizing relationships with these sectors to guide further decision-making,” the 2020 report notes.

The regional government also has land holdings that might be used by non-profits to reduce construction costs. It could even conceivably build units of housing and manage them itself.

“We see examples like the Capital Regional District – it was of such importance to them they are providing the service of a housing authority,” says Wight. “For the last decade or more, they have been operating a housing authority. So they have thousands of units that they, as a local government, administer.

“That’s a pretty direct response to direct need.”

The consultant will look for real-world examples in areas similar to the West Kootenay for ideas on improving housing.

As a rural area director, Faust is hoping the report offers ideas on reducing the cost of building outside of municipalities.

“The best outcome would be a housing funding stream developed for rural areas that recognizes the high cost of development,” adds Faust. “Additionally, housing modernization and adaptation is another opportunity for keeping seniors in their homes if desired, or enabling them to share their homes.

“The Action Plan can introduce flexibility. If it gathers resources, expertise and best practices and allows some rural areas to move ahead, I think it will be a success.”

The consultant’s plan will also assign responsibility to individuals or agencies, and will develop targets so progress can be measured. They’ll work with the RDCK board to explain their ideas and develop the plan further.

The project is being paid for with a $25,000 grant from the Union of BC Municipalities’ Poverty Reduction Planning and Action Program. The RDCK will also put up $10,000 for the consultant’s work.

The RDCK’s planning staff are now developing a community engagement strategy with the consultants, which will begin this fall. The project will be completed by April 2023.