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Housing unaffordable for much of population

Sylvie Paillard [email protected] The District of Squamish needs to act now if there is to be any affordable housing in Squamish's future, states a District-commissioned report entitled Squamish Affordable Housing Strategy.

Sylvie Paillard

[email protected]

The District of Squamish needs to act now if there is to be any affordable housing in Squamish's future, states a District-commissioned report entitled Squamish Affordable Housing Strategy.

Since April 2005, City Spaces consultants have been collecting data and holding group discussions with residents, developers and real estate agents in order to help the district with direction. They came up with answers that reflect a large segment of the population's struggles.

There is one goal, states the report: "To maintain affordable housing for all who choose to live in Squamish.""Rather than wait for major problems to arise and for opportunities to pass by, council has chosen to proactively address the topic of affordable housing," states the report.

The key housing issues City Spaces lists in its introduction revolves around challenges to seniors', young families, lower income and disabled residents, as well as the low number of non-market, or subsidized family housing at only 77 units."In the absence of senior government programs, no more are planned," states the report.

Currently there is no Squamish affordable housing strategy, although there are general statements on the subject in the official community plan (OCP). Approximately 6,800 housing units are under development review and "if these units were approved without an affordable housing component, a significant opportunity would be missed," states the report.

Much attention has been paid to the increasing real estate market prices since the Olympic announcement, but rents have also increased dramatically.

By June 2005, rentals had increased by 20 per cent, and they continue to rise. The cost of an average studio apartment had become $475, a one-bedroom unit was $629, a two-bedroom unit was $821 and a three-bedroom unit was $1,086.

Consultants' assessed that in 2001, 11 per cent of Squamish, or 535 households, were in "core housing need" and again, those percentages are increasing. Households are thought to be in core housing need if they are paying more than 30 per cent of pre-tax income for shelter, if they live in crowded conditions or if they live in a home in need of major repair.

It was found that 17 per cent of seniors' households fit the description while the need was even more pronounced among renters at 23 per cent. Of the core needs households, 55 per cent of those who own and 47 per cent of those who rent spent more than half their income on housing.

The ability to purchase or rent housing is directly related to income, so consultants compiled data regarding individual income in Squamish, and the information shed some light on local challenges.

In 2003, almost half of all individual income earners made less that $25,000 per year, according to the Federal Taxfiler database.

"There is concern that some people may be homeless, not out of choice but out of circumstances," states the report. "While there is no information to help quantify the actual numbers, there is an awareness that the number of homeless people (and at risk of becoming homeless) may increase rather than decrease."

But there is hope in the form of strategies put forward by City Space.

Consultants break the district's task down to three objectives: addressing the loss of current affordable housing; setting expectations on the private market to build affordably; and engaging developers and non-market housing providers to maintain affordable housing.

City Spaces recommends an immediate "no net loss" strategy that would incorporate preventing the loss of affordable stock or else require compensation for any loss that may occur.

They also recommended that the district reconsider development cost charges of $3,000 on secondary suites - the same rate as a new apartment - so as to not deter construction of this important component of affordable housing. According to the City Spaces timetable, by spring 2006, the district should have looked into housing reserve fund financed by - among other sources - payments from developers in lieu of affordable housing units. By spring, the district should also have launched a municipal housing corporation, a public non-profit entity created to build a portfolio of housing for specific groups considered in need of assistance for the public interest.

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