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Opinion: Where there is a will, there is a way on Squamish housing?

Within the last three years, median housing prices in Squamish have risen from just over $600,000 to over $950,000. Rental vacancies are at or below 1%.
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What is your solution to the ongoing housing crunch in Squamish? Send us a letter to the editor: editor@squamishchief.com. Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

Within the last three years, median housing prices in Squamish have risen from just over $600,000 to over $950,000. Rental vacancies are at or below 1%. Non-profit housing agencies have long waitlists; would-be homeowners and renters have seen their chances of securing affordable housing fade away.

The pressing question now is what measures are District of Squamish officials taking to address this unsettling situation?

As the saying goes, where there’s a will there’s a way.

But for well over a decade, as much as the will was there to secure affordable accommodations in this neck of the woods, what we got was an undue delay.

During that interval, a dizzying assortment of studies, reports and communique were issued by the District. In September 2005, the Squamish Affordable Housing Strategy was launched.

Six years later, funds were allocated to float a Housing Action Plan, which morphed into the Affordable Housing Framework for Squamish.

Under that banner, an assembly of community organizations called the Squamish Housing Options Group was designated to share information and co-ordinate housing initiatives. In 2016, the Housing Task Force Final Report was released, and two years later, the Affordable Housing Program Final Report appeared. Close on its heels, the Community Housing Needs Assessment was launched.

Those initiatives culminated in the roll-out of the Affordable Housing Strategy and Action Plan in 2019.

Its goal was to increase the supply of accommodations that required no more than 30% of gross income to secure. A year later, council approved the Perpetually Affordable Housing Policy.

It stipulated that affordable rental housing provided by developers must be between 80% and 90% of median market rents, determined from local rental rate reviews. Last December council voted 5-1 to launch the long-awaited Squamish Community Housing Society. Mayor Karen Elliott highlighted the pressing need for that initiative: “It is time for someone to be focused on housing every waking minute they are at work, and that hasn’t been possible under our current model with all the priorities that are sitting here at the District,” she said in council.

Coun. Armand Hurford calls the creation of the Housing Society a landmark decision. “I have high expectations for this entity and hope the community starts to feel the positive effects of it’s work in the coming years,” he said, in an email. Coun. John French said he fully endorses the plan and backs the potential inclusion of tiny homes on residential lots to increase the availability of diverse and affordable housing options.

And the Spirit Creek Apartments on Buckley Avenue, a partnership between BC Housing, the District of Squamish, and Sea to Sky Community Services, will add 76 units geared to low to moderate-income earners. Another prominent fixture on the accessible housing landscape is the Under One Roof initiative, which offers shelter and other support services for those with core housing needs. It was made possible through the co-ordinated efforts of the District of Squamish, the Squamish Helping Hands Society, the Squamish Food Bank, and BC Housing.

As well, the 232-unit Westwinds independent living apartments, with a $51,000 gross family income eligibility cut-off, are slated to open later this year.

Another addition to the affordability roster is Centrepoint, a collection of apartments situated in downtown Squamish close to bus routes, shopping and the library.

Several sites have also been secured via Community Amenity Contributions, including 25 price-accessible residential units in the proposed five-building Hunter Place complex. Whether this groundswell of activity on the housing front will rescue us from our affordability doldrums has yet to be determined.

In the meantime, it looks like the powers-that-be are heading in the right direction, from administrative manoeuvring to decisive action on the ground.

Political columnist Helmut Manzl is back writing about muni hall for The Squamish Chief twice per month.