RDCK workshop prompts housing crisis initiatives

·4 min read

The Regional District of Central Kootenay’s board of directors has decided to pursue some “quick wins” to begin tackling the local housing crisis.

The board approved a plan at its May meeting to review its zoning bylaws to incentivize infill housing, support local not-for-profit housing organizations, make vacant or underutilized land available for community housing projects, and take other steps to try to provide more housing in the region.

The call to action came from a workshop on housing held in April, following up on the RDCK’s Housing Needs Assessment that was released last fall.

“Safe, affordable, and inclusive housing is vital to societal, economic, and individual health and well-being of Central Kootenay communities and residents,” said a report to the board by Planning Manager Dana Hawkins. “Unfortunately, safe, affordable, and inclusive housing is increasingly difficult to find.”

The Regional District’s consultants on the issue created a planning and resources report for the board to help them focus on what resources and powers local governments have to influence the housing market. The recommendations line up to the needs identified within the report, and lists policy tools that can be implemented. That report was the focus of discussion at the April workshop.

Directors heard that local government roles and powers can be summarized into four categories. Local governments can incentivize affordable housing through several direct and indirect tools, like policy and zoning; they can adopt regulations that support affordable housing; they can partner with non-profit housing providers; and they can be an education and advocacy group publicizing housing issues and lobbying for help from senior levels of government.

The workshop then explored what the RDCK could do next to address the region’s housing needs. The participants decided that:

• further studies could be done, such as building and land inventories, feasibility studies for projects, studying the causes of the problem, and searching for solutions to service constraints.

• directors could pass bylaws, policies and regulations to permit and incentivize infill and other housing options like secondary suites, carriage houses and other forms of ‘missing middle’ housing.

• the board could work with other local governments and non-profit housing groups to address the issue. It could also advocate and lobby higher levels of government for more support for housing.

Based on those priorities and possibilities, directors decided to seek some ‘quick wins’ that can be undertaken by staff now “on actions we know will make a difference,” says the report. Staff will explore zoning change opportunities and other incentives to encourage housing, as secondary suites are seen as a good way to increase the supply of housing on a fixed footprint of land.

Bylaws will be reviewed to see where else gains could be made, including supporting the building department’s inspectors to provide advice on suite development.

Another short-term ‘easy win’ is collaboration and partnership with not-for-profit providers.

“Current non-market affordable housing is largely supported by local non-profit housing providers,” the report states. “By workshop, survey, regular meetings or other means, RDCK can reach out to be the venue to bring these groups together and further explore how local government can support their efforts.”

Longer-term strategic planning actions are also recommended, but these will require budgeting, assistance outside RDCK, and/or further research. These actions would include providing land or supporting a land transfer to a non-profit developer, cutting the cost of affordable housing. That would include creating an inventory of existing land and building assets, acquiring land close to services and amenities, developing a criteria for purchasing land, and making it available to housing groups based on need, non-profit status, and funding availability.

Also in the longer-term, directors are encouraged to create a Housing Action Plan that provides a framework that allows government to implement multiple strategies intended to create and develop housing opportunities.

“A Housing Action Plan lays the foundation for success by translating housing needs within the community into solutions,” the staff report indicated. “Communities that have undertaken such strategies have generally been more proactive in addressing the shortage.”

Convening non-profit housing groups early on could help form a strong foundation for the plan, says the report.

Another long-term solution is to investigate whether to set up a regional Housing Authority to provide and manage affordable housing stock.

“In addition to being a repository for affordable housing units, a housing organization can house expert advisors on affordable housing, ongoing champions for affordable housing, and in some cases leverage expert skills and know-how to support other needs such as property management,” says the report.

“Some local governments have chosen to fulfill this role and create their own housing organizations. RDCK can explore what a regional housing authority could look like.”

The planning department has included housing as a project for this year, and discussions are continuing with housing agencies and other interested parties

In the meantime, they’ll actively pursue the ‘quick wins’ as directed by the board.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

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