As the city’s first brand new affordable rental units in East Trail near completion, the search is on for more suitable land to fill the local need.
The Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society (Society) has been challenged to find the right fit for low income rentals given the typically older housing stock and lack of fitting undeveloped properties in Trail and Greater Area.
The original strategy was to purchase existing units of rental housing, renovate and make quality homes available at an affordable rate for low income households.
“That was the plan,” Society president Jan Morton told the Trail Times.
She referred to a study by the Lower Columbia Community Development Team that outlined local need for affordable rental units and at the same time, justified respective funding requests. The report also laid out the reality that housing stock within the group’s price point was aged and generally in poor condition.
“The problem was that renovations were so expensive,” Morton said. “We encountered more challenges improving properties than we had envisioned.”
Recognizing the challenge of finding suitable structures, the Society began looking at other options. At just the right time and place, the empty East Trail lot was on the market and only metres from the new walking bridge.
(Construction of the Columbia River Skywalk was underway).
Once the four unit McQuarrie Street complex becomes tenant-ready at year end or in early 2018 , the society will reach its goal of owning and operating nine units of housing for low income households.
Besides the new East Trail build which includes two single-bedroom and two two-bedroom apartments, the Society purchased, renovated and now rents a two-unit home in West Trail and a three-unit complex in Rossland.
“In terms of the future, our strategy, I think, will be to look for available land and to work with communities around available land,” said Morton. “Because we have a template … frankly that’s the route I would prefer, which would be new units.”
However, finding appropriate land to build new housing also presents challenges.
“For lower income households, it’s really important for land to be in walking distance of services,” Morton explained. “So land that’s way out beyond services, we just would not even look at,” she added.
“But we could move more quickly this time based on the experience we’ve had.”
The Society was established three years ago when the Affordable Rental Housing Initiative program funded by Columbia Basin Trust, the Government of Canada and the Province of B.C. approved $925,000 in capital funding to develop affordable rental housing for low income and moderate income households in the region. A further $25,000 was contributed by Kootenay Savings Credit Union and $10,000 by Teck Metals Ltd.
With the need for more affordable housing growing locally and across B.C., the province gave a nod to the issue this week by announcing an updated budget that includes $208 million for 1,700 new units of affordable rental housing; and $291 million to support 2,000 modular housing units for people who are homeless.
As always, the question becomes, “Will any of that funding make it to the Lower Columbia?”
“It’s always hopeful whenever you see additional resources,” says Morton. “But when you look at the level of need that exists around the province, that’s not a lot of new units … I don’t want to diss them by any means, but the competition for those dollars is going to be pretty steep.”
She emphasized how critical Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) was in getting the local affordable housing initiative off the ground.
“It was very fortunate CBT encouraged BC Housing to invest locally by putting their own dollars in,” she shared. “It would be fabulous if something similar were done (again).”
Homelessness needs are significant in larger urban areas. But on a smaller scale, the issue is also prevalent in the Lower Columbia Region, which encompasses Rossland through to Trail, the Beaver Valley and Areas A and B of the regional district.
“I really hope they consider sending some dollars in the direction of smaller communities,” said Morton. “Because I think Trail’s Getting to Home program is really working with the resources of local communities and I really hope that gets acknowledged.”
She says when the affordable housing initiative began, the local rental stock wasn’t as tight as it is now.
“Our need for more units, preferably new units, is really important,” Morton emphasized.
“The other thing is that local governments need to look at their own policies and what incentives they have in place for re-developing land and (existing buildings),” she concluded.
“And how their bylaws support or don’t support this initiative … That is going to be pretty critical when you are in a mountain valley community where flat land is at a premium.”
The Society is currently taking rental applications for the East Trail site, however there is certain criteria that must be met.
For example, the maximum household income for a single person cannot exceed $31,700 or for two people, $39,400. All units are non-smoking, have a limited pet policy and the tenant must be a resident of the Lower Columbia Region and be able to live independently.
Those interested in finding out more about the new units are encouraged to contact the Society’s Tenant Services Coordinator Violet Beauregard at 250.368.7803 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.