When they ran for election four years ago, each councillor who occupies a seat in the council chamber today noted that working on Revelstoke’s housing issue was one of the most important items on their agenda. This council has pushed forward the development of a number of housing units, attempted to lay the framework for regulating short-term rentals, and completed the Official Community Plan.
At the regular council meeting on Aug. 23, a housing plan was approved as one of their last decisions of this term.
The city has been working on the Revelstoke Housing Action Plan (HAP) since November 2021. In the development of the strategy, city staff worked with Urban Matters, a community contribution company based out of Kelowna.
“It’s really great to see these ideas that we chatted about independently all in one place,” said city councillor Jackie Rind as the councillors started their discussion about the action plan.
Matt Thomson, an Urban Matters team lead, attended the meeting to review the 67-page document with council for their approval. Thomson said that city council should avoid policies that require city staff to manage the projects, as this only complicates the goal.
According to the HAP, the goal of the framework within the document is to support diverse, balanced, affordable, and healthy housing local residents.
The newly developed plan finds that there is a massive need for affordable –below market units– in the community. As of 2021 there were approximately 364 renter households in the housing need gap.
In engaging with the community, Urban Matters found that an overwhelming majority of residents said that affordable, long-term rentals should be the highest priority on the list of future developments.
The budget for the HAPwas set at $147,000, with $60,000 of that total funded externally through grants.
Is affordable really affordable?
Building affordable housing is proving to be a challenge for the council.
A number of affordable housing units have either been completed or have begun construction in the community as of this year. A complex at 297 Humbert Street will open its doors to the first renters in less than a month and hopes to provide affordable housing to hospitality workers. However, rent is set to be $1,150 per month for each unit.
Census data from 2016, which was used in the creation of the plan, indicated that approximately a third of households who rented earned less than $30,000 annually, a quarter earned between $30,000 and $60,000 annually, and just 40 per cent earned more than $60,000 annually. Data from 2020, indicates that the average after-tax income of Revelstoke residents was $45,480.
The plan went on to add that households earning less than $30,000 a year require units that are priced between $125 per month and $750 per month to be considered affordable.
The report also found that current municipal restrictions on density and developable areas, combined with the low supply of units, have led to high rental rates and housing prices.
Not a municipal issue
Some councillors said that the dilemma isn’t an active municipal issue.
“On principle, I don’t think municipal government can solve the housing crisis,” said Coun. Rob Elliott.
Elliott wasn’t alone in his belief. Coun. Tim Palmer also weighed in on the topic to say that when municipal governments try to solve problems like the one Revelstoke currently faces, it’s “voluntarily downloading” provincial responsibility. He added that municipal governments often do a lousy job of handling the problem.
Instead, councillors Palmer, Elliott and Mayor Gary Sulz all came to a similar conclusion when it comes to creating more housing options.
“We need to get the hell out of the way,” said Sulz.
Though the plan appeared before city council now, they will not have an implementation plan for some time.
“One of the key things, specifically in the planning group before the end of the year, is to start to develop a more robust work plan on how we actually go about implementing this,” said city planner Paul Simon.
City council voted unanimously to approve the HAP.
Sulz went on to add that he and other councillors were ‘very happy’ that the plan was completed before the end of their term. This council has three regular meetings left before the election on Oct. 15.
Though the work is some time from being started, the conversation has. The rest of the plan will be established by the next city council.