Housing holes hamper Greater Trail economy: report

Greater Trail is lacking in the proper housing needed to move its economy forward, according to a new attainable housing strategic plan.

The Greater Trail region is sorely lacking in the proper housing needed to move its economy forward, according to a new attainable housing strategic plan.

The Lower Columbia Region Attainable Housing Strategic Plan is calling for regional acknowledgement that proper housing is indelibly linked to future community economic development and prosperity.

The year-long study—commissioned by the Lower Columbia Community Development Team through its attainable housing committee—of the local housing market revealed a housing stock in disarray.

Greater Trail’s housing market has minimal diversity, aging infrastructure and is in poor condition, placing the region far behind the provincial average and unable to meet the needs of its residents, as well as new people looking to relocate.

The report found the percentage of Greater Trail’s housing stock to be double the provincial average in age (over 40 years of age), and in poorer condition than the provincial average.

And, with a very high proportion of single-family dwellings there were not enough multi-family units, the kind important for younger people entering the housing market as well as for seniors, available.

Although there is a sense there is lots of housing out there and it is cheap, it doesn’t meet the market’s needs, said the attainable housing committee’s chair, Jan Morton.

“So what is happening is because there are neighbouring communities that have housing at a price and better meets market demand, people may be getting jobs in our region but they are living elsewhere,” she pointed out.

“Then they are paying taxes elsewhere and are sending their kids to school elsewhere.”

The report, released last September, covered the entire Greater Trail region, from Rossland to Warfield and Trail, and up the Beaver Valley to Montrose and Fruitvale, as well as the regional district’s area A and B.

But the strategic plan, published in April, is now being toured about the region to get buy-in from local governments. In early September it will make its final stop with Trail and Warfield’s councils.

The report highlighted an increased need for seniors’ housing—both market housing and subsidized housing—and modernizing homes currently owned by seniors. By 2021, 25.5 per cent of Greater Trail’s population will be seniors.

There was also an identified need to address affordable rental housing for people who were low income because of the significant number of people—40.1 per cent of rental households—in the region with that core housing need.

Morton said there was also a group of individuals that they refer to as homeless, or chronically hard to house, that needed direct housing support.

It’s not a simple fix, Morton explained, but will instead be a whole bunch of small fixes that will gradually move the stock in line with the market demand.

To get there, Greater Trail governments need to begin to implement policies now that shift the housing into a condition that reflects what the demand is, the strategic plan noted.

That starts with amending official community plans, building into it the kind of housing mixes necessary to cover the needs, and backing it up with bylaw, policy and decision making, said Morton.

Government policy also has to overcome the stigma of multi-family housing: People’s refusal to accept such developments in their neighbourhoods.

“There has to be courage of decision making,” said Morton. “If we are looking to the future and the long term prosperity of our region, we need to make some of those courageous decisions.”

Once the strategic plan is delivered in September, there may be a housing society set up to guide the continuation of the process in the Greater Trail region over the next 10 years.

The society would monitor trends, have housing information available for both community organizations and private sector interests as they consider various developments, and address housing for special population groups.

In addition, it could put together projects and proposals for creating funding for attainable housing.

“Those are the steps we are looking to move in, in incremental steps and in collaboration with local government,” Morton concluded.

The report and the strategic plan are available online at www.lcddt.com.


The housing foundation

A disturbing pattern in the local economy gave rise to the need for the report and the resultant strategic plan.

The Lower Columbia Community Development Team (LCCDT) had been hearing from Greater Trail employers in 2008 that, as they were offering jobs to people (filling in workforce gaps due to the loss of retiring baby boomers) many were turning them down because of housing.

Those that weren’t accepting the positions being offered were asked why, and the theme that “we are not finding the housing we are looking for” came up repeatedly, said Morton.

As well, the LCDDT heard informally that people were getting jobs in the Greater Trail region but living elsewhere. And there were major challenges for low income and growing issues of homelessness.

“All of that converged and really informed the LCCDT that what they needed was a committee to look at this and develop a plan of action,” said Morton.

The need gave rise to the attainable housing committee one year ago, and spawned a report and a strategic plan to put in front of the local municipal leaders for review.

This is now the critical stage, said Morton, since it will require the region to speak with a one voice on a common, critical issue.

“We really need to be looking at housing as a regional system because there are going to be times where a solution will be found in Fruitvale, and another solution in Rossland or another in Trail,” she said.

“But we need to look at the region as a whole as we address these housing demands.”