Housing report

LETTER – Valemount’s housing report is impressive, but misses half of the equation – The Rocky Mountain Goat

First, I would like to congratulate the authors of the recently completed Valemount housing report. After reading it cover to cover, I was impressed with the comprehensive work that was done, and I think our village was ultimately given some value for another study that was commissioned.

There are several conclusions that the report seems to infer that I support. Mainly the conclusion that staff accommodation for businesses is NOT the responsibility of the municipality. A fast food franchise is worth over a million dollars without real estate included. These companies generate millions every year, even in our small town. As such, it is ridiculous for them to expect the village to provide or even partner in providing housing. A house in Valemount costs less than $500,000. Local hotels have purchased their own staff accommodation. The local heliski operation has purchased and/or rented its own staff accommodation. Staff time should no longer be wasted searching for subsidized or partnership housing for high-volume ventures, with the majority of margins leaving the community as profit and payment to shareholders.

Now, there are certainly instances where public and municipal or partnership housing is not only necessary, but morally required. The elderly, for example. As well as people with disabilities. It goes without saying that any community should welcome and support the housing needs of vulnerable people. But there is another category that should qualify for public housing if market housing is simply not available: teachers, nurses and other public employees. Although this may be an unpopular opinion with some, it is a simple fact of living at a distance. Do you want teachers in this city? The only teachers who own a house in this city have already retired or bought it several years ago. Gone are the days of a young teacher coming here, renting for a year and then getting married and mortgaging a house. Same for the nurses. So who is going to replace our teachers when they retire or get tired of living here and leave? With the big economic toll on public spending looming, teachers and nurses won’t get big pay rises anytime soon. If we want to attract and retain basic public services in this city, temporary and transitional housing for civil servants is not an option. But the village shouldn’t pay for it, housing new and transitional teachers should be part of the school district’s budget. In addition, nurses’ accommodation must be provided by Northern Health. Rural northern British Columbia had housing for civil servants in the past. We still have social housing for RCMP officers. We are quickly coming full circle. It shouldn’t be luxury, and there should be annoying rules like no alcohol on the premises, but just enough to encourage a young teacher or nurse to find private accommodation as soon as possible. Still, the option of moving here immediately on job offer is on the table.

And this brings me to my last point. The only criticism I have of the report is that it skips the question of “streamlining the approval process”. It’s easy to say. But regulatory hurdles are not a phantom menace that can simply be told to calm down. Want to build your own house? Sorry not allowed…there is a new law that stops that. Want to install your own septic system instead of paying $40,000 upfront? Sorry not allowed, there is a new law that stops this. Do you want to subdivide your land? Sorry, it now costs $20,000 to put 4 metal rods in the ground. Do you want to build a road for your new housing estate? Sorry, it must be paved. Now I can already hear some objections, this does not affect housing within the municipality. But you can’t separate the housing market between the Village of Valemount and the 566 service area. They are one in the same. The list continues. If the authors of the report are tasked with making a revision or update in the future, I ask that they spend more time listing and naming exactly what makes building a house ten times more difficult and five times more expensive than just a generation ago. And dig deep. Yes, in theory you can still have a septic tank installed by the landlord. But good luck getting one of the private inspectors you need to hire to certify it. Why would they help you not hire them to build it? Thus, the real analysis of the root causes of the problem remains intact. Every level of government continues gaslighting saying… “Well you can always build your own septic system” when no one is willing to “streamline the approval process” and tell private inspectors to start to certify owner-built systems or lose your license. Same thing with the horrible “certified owner” building program. We should never have gotten rid of the certification process for public building inspectors. We don’t need more government-provided housing outside of listed vulnerable demographics. We need more government encouragement and stopping young people from building their own homes, as it once was and should forever remain a standard economic right of passage in rural Canada.

Joseph Nusse

Valemount, BC