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Squamish grapples with affordable housing

Policy being developed for low-income demographic, but housing homeless also a problem



Squamish’s Affordable Housing Policy came a little closer to fruition last week, as the district toyed with the idea of establishing a housing authority similar to entities in Whistler and other jurisdictions across the Lower Mainland.

The policy has been in the works for about two years, time spent struggling to establish a framework friendly to both developers and low-income renters. The debate now centres around three approaches: collecting cash contributions from developers, requiring a certain amount of low-income units to be built into each project, or a combination of the two.

“This is not a simple nut to crack,” said Cameron Chalmers, director of planning with the District of Squamish, during a mid-week strategy session in council chambers. “The development community is willing to participate in a solution for affordable housing, but they want to know how much it’s going to cost.”

In previous meetings, the Squamish Landowners Association positioned itself in favour of making cash contributions the district could put towards purchasing housing assets. Such an approach would allow all their units to fluctuate in price with the ebb and flow of the market while the district managed a tenant list with its own portfolio. In that case, cash would change hands only when units were sold on the open market.

That’s not good enough for Councillor Corrine Lonsdale.

“We need money,” she said. “We need money now. Where we sit in the realm of things, we’re not going to become more affordable in the future. We’re going to stay the same or magnify.”

Mayor Ian Sutherland agreed: “We aren’t going to get affordable housing by dealing with cash contributions. It’ll take longer, not faster. Doing this five years from now is not what we wanted to do when we started this process two years ago.”

Councillor Raj Kahlon, meanwhile, preferred to combine the two systems when it makes sense to do so. According to Kahlon, a cash contribution is the appropriate approach when it comes to ultra-high end residential developments not suitable to low-income tiers.

Still another issue is whether a semi-regulated housing market services renters, buyers or both.

“I have a philosophical problem with helping people purchase real estate and then they make a profit with tax payer dollars,” said Councillor Greg Gardner.

Gardner proposed a clause that allows the district to buy the property back at the original selling price, or else compel tenants to repay funds when their finances recover.

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