Tackling the problem of affordable housing in Trail has been a long and windy road for local advocates.
After four years in the making, the city’s first affordable housing unit is now ready for tenants. So last week it was Trail council who was put to task by the property owner of two newly renovated suites, the Lower Columbia Affordable Housing Society.
The group asked city officials to demonstrate ongoing commitment to the project by approving a $1,384 cash grant in lieu of 2016 property taxes.
“What was before council was this request to follow through with an annual review and consideration for payment of taxes through a grant-in-lieu,” explained Trail Mayor Mike Martin.
Backtracking to 2013, the society was required to show local support for affordable housing, particularly from local government, when submitting for primary funding through Columbia Basin Trust and BC Housing.
“That was the backbone of the initiative,” Martin said. “And that’s why in 2013, Trail indicated they would be prepared on a year-to-year basis, to consider a grant in lieu of taxes.”
The dollar amount was approved during the June 27 governance meeting – but not unanimously.
Three council members, Coun. Robert Cacchioni, Coun. Lisa Pasin and Coun. Carol Dobie opposed the decision after being defeated in their request to table the matter pending further details from the society.
“The decision to provide funding to the affordable housing society was a split vote on council,” explained Pasin. “I opposed the original motion to provide the funding as I felt that I needed more information on this program and its future direction.”
She is seeking specific facts, such as how many units are planned for Trail, who is being supported in the housing project and what is the screening criteria, as well as repercussions to the program should the city no longer be able to provide financial assistance.
Trail Councillor Lisa Pasin
“(This) would allow me to rationale the long term spending that the city may have to make,” Pasin continued. “This program has the potential to download costs directly to a municipality, rather than having it funded through the provincial government,” she added. “We see this with many other programs across the Kootenay Boundary and as a result, the direct impact to taxation in our city is significant … my position taken was to receive more information before providing funding, so the whole picture and long term effects/impact to the city could be analyzed as a whole.”
Cacchioni echoed Pasin’s stance, saying, “The housing issue is a provincial responsibility and we are stretched already as a municipality.
“And two, we are assisting an organization in competition with people who rent in our area. We are subsidizing rents for some but not for people who have buildings to rent as a business or to help with their financial situation – we are using taxpayer money in an area where have no statutory reason for being involved.”
The mayor referred to the society’s 2015 presentation and respective approval for a $340 grant in lieu of taxes.
“This was before council last August,” Martin countered. “At that time they came forward to request a partial year coverage of taxes, because they didn’t acquire the house until late last year,” he continued.
“There was good information and understanding on the matter and to have to ask the society to come before council yet again to provide justification … was (considered) redundant.”
Martin says council is asking for an update with regard to affordable housing locations in other communities.
“Particularly Rossland and Fruitvale,” he said. “They had support from the three communities, so we do want a bit of an update on where they are at in terms of facilities.”
Studies generated through the Skills Centre and Career Development Services, revealed about 1,400 households in the Lower Columbia region were paying greater than 30 per cent, in some cases up to 70 per cent, of their gross income on housing.
“Something to be pointed out is the society took a number of month to get the renovations done in Trail, and they’ve got a facility that is of good quality, good standards and will be provided to a family in need