There’s a big need for affordable housing in Squamish, Bill Rempel says.
As a director for the Squamish Seniors Citizens Home Society, he’s familiar with the waitlist for the seniors’ residential home The Manor. Currently it sits at 60 people. Although the organization has land to build another complex, it doesn’t have the money, he said.
Rempel stands among approximately 25 residents who turn up for the District of Squamish’s meeting on the municipality’s latest document to tackle affordable housing issues — The Affordable Housing Framework for Squamish.
The subject’s not new, he jokes, and slowly but surely, he hopes to see change.
“The need is there,” he reiterates.
Affordable housing has been on the municipality’s plate since 2005, when the district adopted the Affordable Housing Strategy. While it passed, a Mixed-Income Housing Program (MIHP) that envisioned a combination of development cash contributions to an Affordable Housing Reserve Fund, and restricted units for eligible owners/tenants, was put on hold by council until after the 2008 election, district planner Sabina Foofat told The Chief.
“Since the 2008 election, council has expressed a preference for cash contributions and does not want to pursue restricted units,” she says, noting staff still refer to the MIHP to determine suitable cash contributions for development proposals during rezoning.
The new framework focuses on achievable goals, social planning consultant Margaret Forbes said, who was contracted in 2012 to draw up the policy. At its hub is the need for a multi-sector committee, supported by district staff, she said, noting it would capitalize on community expertise and develop made-in-Squamish solutions.
“That is really the thing that is missing within the community,” Forbes said.
Squamish is full of non-profit groups, district initiatives and private sector expertise, but historically those entities haven’t pooled resources, she said. As a result, it affects the community’s goals and ability to secure grants. The committee would ensure that Squamish takes a co-ordinated approach to initiatives, she said.
“Second-stage housing for women is a real need in the community,” she added, referring to housing for women who have fled abusive situations but can no longer stay in short-term transition facilities.
Based on Squamish’s 2006 median family income, the definition of affordable housing within the community should target income earners below $57,167 per year. Since 2001, residents’ incomes have increased by approximately 14 per cent, while housing prices have jumped 143 per cent, the report noted. The average three-bedroom family unit in Squamish rents for $985, with a bachelor unit coming in at approximately $591.
“Even though the [Squamish] prices are good compared to Vancouver, it is relative to the income you have,” Forbes said.
Squamish lacks easy-to-obtain housing for individuals who are homeless or on fixed incomes, Forbes noted. But there’s movement afoot to change that, she said. Helping Hands Society is working to create a transitional housing and shelter on Wilson Crescent. At the same time, the Sea to Sky Community Services Society’s upcoming Centrepoint project on Fourth Avenue will provide units for people with developmental disabilities.
“Affordable housing is going on in Squamish and has gone on for years,” Forbes said, noting some efforts, such as provincial subsidies, aren’t used to their fullest potential.