Recently I came across an article that referenced research that painted a grim picture of housing affordability in BC and in the Sea to Sky Region.
From my own experience dealing with seniors on fixed incomes, many are spending 50 per cent or more on their housing costs. This does not leave much left over at the end of the month for extras and in some cases may even mean visiting the food bank to make ends meet. In the past 10 years, I have seen the waitlist for affordable housing at the Manor and Cedars downtown increase dramatically from about 40 on the waitlist in 2008 to currently 160.
And as we all know, it’s not just seniors who are feeling the pinch. Many of our local families have had to pack up and leave due to the lack of affordable rental housing suitable for families here in Squamish.
The situation does seem dire. However there is hope. All levels of government are responding to the housing crisis in Canada. Most recently, the Federal Government released the National Housing Strategy in January 2018. Part of this Strategy is the National Co-investment Fund which plans to create up to 60 000 new units of housing and repair 240 000 units of existing housing. The BC Government released “Homes for BC” in February 2018.
This report (Part of the BC Budget) lays out a 30-point plan which includes enhancements to the Rental Assistance Program and Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters. Significant investment in new housing for core needs groups is also on the way. This will provide more homes for women fleeing abuse, the homeless population, and people with disabilities.
This all sounds great, but how does this make things better here in Squamish? Our local non-profits have been quite busy lately. Centrepoint (Sea to Sky Community Services) opened last summer providing 32 Units of affordable housing.
Some may claim that the rental amounts at Centrepoint were not that affordable, but when you take into account the portable rent subsidies available to working families and Seniors, it brings down the rent considerably.
Under One Roof (Squamish Helping Hands Society) will soon be breaking ground on their new headquarters that will also include 44 Units of housing for our most vulnerable citizens.
Squamish Senior Citizens Home Society has plans to build 232 units of affordable housing for Seniors (55 and older) which if all goes well is slated for an opening in 2020. All of these new affordable units will take some pressure off the rental market and open up more units for the community as a whole.
Its not just the non-profits who have been busy. The District of Squamish has also been hard at work looking for solutions. The Housing Task Force convened in 2015 and came up with several recommendations in their final report which are now being implemented.
There are now incentives for homeowners to build secondary suites and carriage homes. There is work underway to develop some form of a housing authority for Squamish. This housing authority would ultimately manage the new affordable rental units that are built in new developments.
Most recently, the District has announced that they are in the planning stages of an 80 Unit Affordable Housing complex off Buckley Avenue (Carson Place). This project is geared toward families and individuals with moderate income levels and would provide long term predictable housing for the Squamish workforce. I know many businesses and agencies in town who are having staffing difficulties because there simply isn’t enough rental housing even for those who in the higher income brackets.
Another common theme as well is that many renters are frequently being told they have to leave their suites due to the owners selling or renovating. The Buckley Development may be a solution for those who are searching for long term rental stability.
So, have faith Squamish. There are people working really hard behind the scenes trying to make the rental housing market more affordable for everyone. The Non-Profits in town have joined forces and are working together with the District of Squamish and other local agencies to ensure that the needs of all residents requiring affordable housing are being met. I wish it could happen faster, but building does take time. And for those struggling now, see if you may be eligible for one of the portable rent subsidies available from the Province.
Laura Modray is the executive director of the Squamish Senior Citizen Home Society.