Direct funding probably not the answer for housing in Oliver

Viable housing solution?

The Town of Oliver is exploring the many options available to address the housing affordability crisis and the models out of reach for a small town.

At their recent meeting, council received a presentation on housing corporations, used by numerous municipalities around the province in their housing strategies.

Sandy Mackay, housing research and policy lead at M’akola Development Services (MDS) presented information on the MDS, different strategies for non-market housing, tools local governments can use, and how direct funding housing corporations can operate.

MDS is an indigenous-based housing and community planning consulting firm that is committed to building affordable and sustainable communities. They have one development already in Oliver.

This comes after numerous complex developments have come through council for approval with council sometimes divided on what kind of strategy the town should adopt.

This also comes on the heels of Mayor Martin Johansen taking a swing at the concept of affordability and the fact that some developers use the buzzword but fail to define it.

Johansen brought up this issue to Mackay in the presentation who responded, “You are right the word affordable can be used disingenuously in certain circumstances by certain people to advocate for a certain building.”

But Mackay did explain that “the accepted definition of affordable, across the country, that is promoted in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation definitions, even in BC Housing definitions, is that a unit is affordable if it costs less than 30 per cent of the occupants take-home income.”

In his presentation, Mackay provided a bit of insight into how the province has had a “systematic disinvestment in social housing since the mid-90s”.

The presentation outlined that the reduction in new rental buildings along with smaller households becoming more common because of a growing and aging population has resulted in housing getting “harder to obtain and more expensive for just about everyone.”

Housing corporations are part of the direct funding model to manage and address housing.

This means that the entity, authority, or non-profit can act as a land steward and facilitator, or developer and operator to help build affordable housing.

He used the Resort Municipality of Whistler's Housing Authority as an example, which is an independent municipally owned corporation created to “oversee the development, administration, and management of resident restricted housing.”

Mackay described that this comes at a significant financial commitment to get started.

He explained that Tofino, which has a housing authority, is probably the closest in size to Oliver and it costs around $250,000 per year.

He recommended continuing indirect housing models instead of going to a direct funding model.

One of the reasons for this is that there are no municipalities that have housing corporations in this direct funding model that are not resort municipalities or large population centres.

Towards the end of the presentation he said that “in small communities, indirect funding can actually have a greater short-term impact.”

The indirect model takes the form of municipalities partnering with non-profit housing providers, social service organizations and other affordable housing actors to establish advisory committees, and local housing tables to de-regulate the process to make housing more affordable.

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