Letter to the Editor: Affordable housing concerns in Valemount

A couple of weeks ago, Valemount Council passed a motion to review and update the Official Community Plan (OCP) through a “housekeeping type” amendment bylaw, rather than hiring an outside consultant to do an entire rewrite.

A report to Council from the interim CAO, Gord Simmons, says the current OCP, adopted in 2006, has served the village well, and could continue to serve the community for another 5-10 years. I generally agree with him, except in one major aspect – the OCP does not address the issue of housing for families, young workers, seniors and low-income residents. If that is not changed, there will be no changes to the zoning bylaws to address the issue, and our community will continue down the road it is currently on – forcing families, young workers, seniors onto the street and/or out of Valemount.

We have lack of housing available for purchase at a rate many local residents could afford to buy, and a severe lack of rental housing and alternative housing options. There is also a complete lack of the tradition idea of “affordable housing.” Council’s current policies are not addressing these issues. The current wording in the OCP “to encourage affordable rental and special needs housing” (as noted in the report to Council) does nothing more than cover the requirements in the Community Charter and Local Government Act to have “a policy.” The OCP does not even mention high-density housing.

On top of that, many of us in the community have noted a number of references by some members of Council that housing affordability isn’t an issue here. That is very concerning to many of us, because they are clearly not seeing what is happening in the community, or they just don’t care.

A variety of single-family development options is not good enough. We need to encourage high-density housing, and allow smaller and non-traditional types of housing units. Our residential zoning types currently do not allow either of these, and we won’t have grounds to broaden the types of housing allowed in the residential zones if we don’t start with those principles and real policies in the OCP.

Our previous CO and planner, Andrew Young, was working on some proposed changes to residential zoning, including the changes that allow for the proposed townhouse development on Ash Street, opposite the High School. The developer of that project touted $290,000 per 2-bedroom unit as “affordable”, but no one making minimum wage could afford a mortgage like that. We need to continue the work that Mr. Young started in broadening what is allowed in residential zones, as well as actively encouraging high density and small, non-traditional housing in Valemount.

We need to start that process by integrating real policies that will help make housing available and affordable in the OCP. Act now to let Council know you agree.

Korie Marshall, Valemount