This article was originally published in the Revelstoke TIMES Magazine, available now at your local coffee shop, book store, or any other business in downtown Revelstoke.
Who wouldn’t want to live in Revelstoke?
Whether you come here to ride the snow, hike the mountains, or just enjoy a little peace and quiet, the community is an enticing place for people from all walks of life.
With every turn of the pages of the calendar, and every passing paycheck, affording to enjoy the picturesque mountain town that is Revelstoke is becoming less and less affordable for people in all stages of housing. Whether you own a home or rent a room, the tightening grip of the nationwide housing crisis can be felt.
Calling the housing issue complex is an understatement. There is no single cause for the housing crisis in Revelstoke. Equally, there isn’t a single solution. Decisions are being made every day by individuals, investors, developers, and all levels of government that will either help or hinder the housing market.
Each of these decisions, big or small, is a piece of the puzzle that is the housing crisis.
Housing: A crisis
First, it’s worth recognizing that the housing crisis is not unique to Revelstoke. Neighbouring communities, economically similar communities, even British Columbia as a whole faces a housing crunch. Canadians of all shapes and sizes are struggling to afford rent and seeing their hopes of one day owning a home disappear, across the country.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) released a rental market report in January 2023 that outlines some of the biggest challenges Canadian renters are facing, and why they may be facing them. The study suggests that the vacancy rate for purpose-built rental apartments decreased in 2022, while the demand for rental housing increased. In that time, vacancy rates in Canada reached the lowest point they have been reported at in over 20 years. CMHC suggested that this was in part the result of a higher net migration amongst renters nationwide and the return of students to on-campus learning after a change to how they learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report added that despite a higher overall supply of rental units, the number of units that are affordable is in the low single digits or ‘too low to report’, especially in two provinces: Ontario, and, of course, British Columbia.
Another factor that causes rental units in the country to be sparse is the cost of home ownership. CMHC’s report added that higher mortgage rates and elevated price levels have made homeownership more expensive. Owning a home has become harder and less attractive for those looking to make the leap from renting to owning.
The report concludes that in Canada, purpose-built rental units have a country-wide vacancy rate of 1.9 per cent, with an average two-bedroom rent of $1,258.
So, let’s zoom in on Revelstoke. A survey of rent prices in the community for 2022, completed by the Revelstoke Community Housing Society, shows that the average price for a single-room rental was $875, a studio apartment rental was $1,102, a one-bedroom rental was $1,400, a two-bedroom rental was $1,800, a three-bedroom rental was $2,500, and a four-bedroom rental was $3,115.
In a report released by Property Assessments BC, the typically assessed value of a home in Revelstoke as of July 1, 2022, is $801,000, an increase of 12 per cent when compared to assessed values from 2021. Revelstoke saw an astonishing 32 per cent increase in typical assessed property values between 2020 and 2021.
It’s no secret that housing is the biggest issue that faces Revelstoke and its residents. One needs only to scan online forums like the Revelstoke Community Facebook page for a few minutes or speak to a resident hanging out at a local cafe to find a Revelstokian who has an issue with housing. In fact, during the local general election in 2022, every local candidate identified housing as the biggest issue in the community.
In response to the problem, Revelstoke hosted an Affordable Housing Summit on Mar. 9, 2023. The event brought community leaders from comparable resort municipalities across the province to Revelstoke to discuss what challenges they face when it comes to housing, and some of the unique – and not so unique – strategies they employ to battle the issue.
Whistler, Banff, Tofino, Sicamous, Sun Peaks, and Canmore were all represented alongside Revelstoke at the summit, which drew in a crowd of roughly 300 residents, both in-person and online. It’s worth noting that not all the communities are completely similar, they share similarities in reliance on tourism and its economic impact.
Let’s take a closer look at what was presented by a few of the communities that shared their challenges and ideas with Revelstoke at the Affordable Housing Summit on Mar. 9.
When looking into what the future may hold for Revelstoke for economy and tourism, many may argue that Whistler is either ‘dystopian’ or ‘utopian’ depending on your outlook. “Just like Whistler” is a term often thrown around in local conversations when complaining about long lift lineups or packed restaurants.
As far as its history as a resort municipality, Whistler has gone through many changes over the last half-century or so. In the early 1960s, an effort was made to bring the 1968 Olympic Winter Games to British Columbia. Although the bid failed and the games were held in France, this kickstarted the development of a ski area in Whistler. On Jan. 15, 1966, Whistler Mountain officially opened for skiing, and fourteen years later, Blackcomb Mountain opened as a separate ski area. Of course, the climax of Whistler’s history would come a few decades later when it, alongside Vancouver, hosted the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Today Whistler is a full-blown resort municipality, with four-season tourism options. According to the Whistler Housing Authority (WHA), the municipality has 14,000 permanent residents, with 12,100 employed in the community, and 77 per cent of its workforce living locally.
Whistler has made a serious effort to combat housing struggles related to the tourism working force by having an impressive 7,000 beds of employee housing, and 22 per cent of their residential bed units are restricted to employee housing use.
In the last five years, seven developments for employee housing have been completed with a total of 748 new beds for people looking to work in Whistler.
Renters make up a large portion of people who live in Whistler. 55 per cent of the workforce who live in the community full-time live in rental housing, and a further three-in-four permanent residents rent market homes. The WHA reported that 60 per cent of renters in Whistler expect that they’ll have to move within 12 months, and only one-in-five renters are looking to buy their own home.
The WHA’s plan going forward is to ensure an appropriate and affordable housing supply for both permanent and seasonal staff through the creation of flexible and diverse housing options.
Representatives from Tofino, including Mayor Dan Law, were also present at the Affordable Housing Summit on Mar. 9.
The picturesque community of Tofino sees approximately 750,000 visitors every year, equal to 300 visitors for every resident of the community.
When looking at housing and development, Tofino is unique in that the community is surrounded on three sides by water and a National Park on the fourth, so opportunities for further development are limited.
“We have a large population that is sub-housed, or ill-housed, or under-housed,” said Mayor Law in his presentation on Mar. 9.
The THC hopes to develop 30 units of price-restricted, resident-restricted housing and 150 rental units by the year 2030, however, they recognize the need may be much greater, and they may need as many as 400 units over the next few decades.
In their presentation, Tofino laid out some warnings to other communities regarding what they’ve found in their experiences while creating affordable housing. First, they identified that the housing market will not in itself solve the housing crisis, citing evidence that there is a need for public investment and delivery of housing. Second, unstable political commitment can cause challenges for affordability, adding that solutions may evolve over the course of multiple election cycles, but consistent work is necessary. Third, they identified that having land is not enough, funding is also required. Lastly, they stressed that investment in qualified staff is paramount, especially those who have real estate development and housing experience.
Tofino has a number of rental housing developments, including Creekside and Headwaters, where residents can apply to live and pay a fixed rental cost. THC executive director Ian Scott noted that striving for what the government of Canada deems ‘affordable’ housing isn’t the only way to make housing more affordable, as most people in Tofino already pay well above 30 per cent of their annual income on housing.
A number of residents in Tofino are living in trailers, some illegally. Tofino does not have a permanent residential campground. As they transition and build more housing, Mayor Law says Tofino will look to crack down on those living in trailers and RVs.
Although it doesn’t reside in the same province as Revelstoke, Banff deals with similar problems when it comes to housing.
As of 2021, they have a population of approximately 8,300. Banff sits on just four square kilometers of land inside of a National Park, meaning the community must look for creative opportunities in housing. The community sees approximately 4,000,000 visitors per year.
61 per cent of Banffites rent and 72 per cent of the population earn less than $50,000 per year. Presenting on March. 9, Sharon Oakley, Manager of Housing Sustainability for the Town of Banff noted that the community has a projected housing shortfall of between 700 and 1000 units.
Although Banff has built 375 new units in the last 8 years, the vacancy rate for those looking to rent in the community sits at 0.3 per cent, and Oakley added that the number may even be below zero ‘if that’s even possible’.
In spite of the challenges, Banff has also seen successes. The Ti’nu Affordable Rental Housing development in Banff was built in just 14 months and has 131 units of affordable studio and two-bedroom rental units. To make the development possible, Parks Canada released lands for development, and the Government of Canada contributed half of the total cost to build.
In the last eight years, the Town of Banff has developed 375 units of affordable housing in their community. In contrast, in the 13 years since they broke ground on their first project, the Revelstoke Community Housing Society has built just 38 units. Sheena Wells, Co-Chair of RCHS recognized that the number of units available in Revelstoke is insufficient and stressed that developing affordable housing isn’t a ‘resource problem’, adding that there’s plenty of money in the community that needs to be funneled into the appropriate channels to build quicker and more efficiently.
The elephant short-term-renting the room
Of course, being a tourist destination, at any given time it can be expected that a handful of people in the community will only be occupying the home they’re in for a short time.
A number of Revelstokians have expressed concerns that short-term rentals and the use of apps like AirBnb or VRBO are taking up precious space in a community where the housing supply is already low.
Short-term rentals typically exist in secondary suites, whether it’s a detached unit or a basement apartment, which are typically considered cheaper options for would-be renters.
On the flip side of the coin, if you own a home in Revelstoke and have a secondary suite, the additional income from renting your suite out as a short-term rental can be vital to making ends meet given that the price of housing is so expensive.
It’s been nearly a year since Revelstoke council passed the bylaw that regulates short-term rentals in the community. Even now, it remains a hot issue, and many of the questions asked at the Affordable Housing Summit were related to short-term rental regulations.
At the Affordable Housing Summit on March 9th, the City of Revelstoke recognized the importance of this separate, but intimately related, issue and added that they plan on having a separate event to focus on just short-term and long-term rentals.
Short-term rentals are allowed in certain zones in Revelstoke, namely adjacent to Revelstoke Mountain Resort. As of right now, the city is not allowing for rezoning of specific residences that wish to short term rent but aren’t situated in those zones because of the low stock of housing in the community.
In Revelstoke, if your property isn’t zoned to allow short-term rentals, you can be ticketed. City staff and council are currently working on ways to make it easier and more straightforward for bylaw officers to issue tickets to those who are committing infractions.
“Solving the short-term rental problem, or the difficulty with illegal short-term rentals, is not the panacea for housing,” remarked Revelstoke Mayor Gary Sulz.
The facts, opinions, and statistics laid out before you in this article only scratch the surface when considering how many more pieces exist in this puzzle. As previously stated, there is no single cause, and there is most certainly no single solution.
Presumably, Revelstoke will continue to grow and evolve while difficulties with the housing market persist.
According to Revelstoke’s Housing Action Plan (HAP), the population of the community grew by 9.4 per cent between 2016 and 2021, well above the Canada-wide average of 6.3 per cent for the same period. The HAP suggests that anywhere between 500 and 1200 additional units of housing will be needed to accommodate growth. The Revelstoke Community Housing Society suggests that only 15 per cent of Revelstoke’s population can afford a house in the community based on average income data.
Finally, the HAP predicts that by the year 2041, the population of Revelstoke could be as high as 21,000 people.
By then, maybe more pieces of the puzzle will have fallen into place, and perhaps the picture for the future of housing in Revelstoke will be a little clearer.