By Steve Hubrecht 

[email protected]

The Columbia Valley Housing Society (CVHS) has been working hard on a new from-the-ground-up affordable housing project in Invermere.

It is still very preliminary, but it’s a significant step, as it is the first such project (new, purpose-built, multi-family long-term rental workforce housing) that the group has embarked on in its efforts to help alleviate the long-term rental housing crunch plaguing the Columbia Valley.

CVHS executive director Bill Kirkpatrick told the Pioneer it’s difficult to put any sort of timeline on the project, given that it truly is so early in the process, but he did say, “it’s been very encouraging so far, and enthusiasm is being shown by the District of Invermere and Invermere council.”

The society first presented the idea to Invermere council during a committee of the whole meeting earlier this summer, and was back again at the most recent meeting, outlining a potential tenancy process to determine who would get to live in the project when it is complete.

The property the society is eyeing is a currently vacant lot on 10th Avenue, a few homes north of (and on the opposite side of the street from) the backside of Sobey’s. The lot is owned by the District of Invermere and the society is hoping the district will give them the land or lease it to them at an affordable rate.

The plan is to construct one building on the 0.24 acre (10,000 square foot) lot. The building would be divided into eight dwelling units (four larger two-storey multi-bedroom units, each with a separate, secondary one-bedroom suite below). The four two-storey units would include two three-bedrooms units, and two, two-bedroom units. Overall then, this four-plex would be home to 14 people.

The society is also asking council to consider some zoning changes to allow for the four secondary suites (current zoning only allows for one); to allow the maximum height of the building to be up to 10 metres (current zoning caps it at 7.5 metres); and to allow builders to create 10 off-street parking spots in a small parking lot in front of the building (current zoning is for 1.5 spots). In asking for these zoning changes, the CVHS noted that the vacant lot is ideal because it is in a part of town that already has high-density development. It also pointed out a different vacant lot, on 12th Avenue, outlining that it too could be ideal for an affordable housing project.

In terms of the tenancy process, the CVHS explained that a person’s placement in one of the affordable rental units would hinge on a number of factors including having employment in the Columbia Valley, total household income levels, references from employers and landlords, and Invermere’s CORE housing needs, among others.

Those applying to live in this rental housing cannot have gross household income of $120,000 or more a year, and cannot own (personally, jointly or indirectly through a business) combined assets valued at more than $100,000. No more than two people can share a bedroom, and parents cannot share a bedroom with children. Pets will be limited to one animal per dwelling.

The CVHS has developed a decision matrix to score applicants across six criteria to help them choose which applicants will get the housing. Those criteria are: length of time since applicant was first put on a waitlist for the affordable housing project; reference checks; combination of income and debt; low or middle income status (using a benchmark of rent being 30 per cent or more of income); length of time living and working in the valley; and how suitable and affordable the dwelling is for the would-be tenant.

Invermere Mayor Al Miller told the Pioneer that even though it’s very early in the process, he’s happy to see the first steps being taken. “It’s important,” said Miller, clarifying that “this is a workforce housing project. It’s to get people settled until they can get on their feet and then find a place that is better suited to them. It’s not a long-term thing.”

If the CVHS secures the land for the project, next steps will include planning, finding a builder and then constructing the homes.

“But it’s all contingent on finding grants and other funding,” cautioned Kirkpatrick.