By Steve Hubretch
The Columbia Valley Housing Society has hired its first employee.
That employee is longtime Columbia Valley resident Bill Kirkpatrick, who is the society’s new project manager.
The organization was incorporated in June 2022, with the aim of helping create more affordable housing for permanent Columbia Valley residents working for local businesses.
Kirkpatrick is diving right into his role, and has been liaising with local and regional government officials and attended the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Housing Summit in March.
“It’s such a challenge in the valley right now,” Kirkpatrick told the Pioneer. “There is a real lack of affordable housing. There is simply nowhere for people to live.”
This social problem is having a significant impact on the local economy here, explained Kirkpatrick.
He pointed to the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 Labour Shortage Survey, which found that there are more than 300 full-time positions that local businesses are unable to fill, owing to a lack of workers.
The main reason there’s no workers is that would-be employees can’t find long-term rentals to live in, said Kirkpatrick.
“Businesses have had to adapt by adjusting their hours and shrinking their scope. Some by quite a lot,” he said.
Kirkpatrick outlined there are plenty of homes in the valley, but a great many are purchased not as primary residences but as speculative investments, as vacation homes or second homes, or with the intent of being used as short-term rentals. This, he noted, has driven up property values.
“It’s created a shortage of long-term rentals, and it’s pushed up prices, making it very difficult for would-be, first-time homeowners to buy that first house,” he said.
Kirkpatrick is a familiar face to many Columbia Valley residents. He moved here in 1994. It’s a typical Columbia Valley story: he came west for just one season after graduating from university.
“I just wanted to ski,” he said.
He found work with the Panorama Mountain Resort ski patrol, and ended up staying on the patrol for 11 years (the first four as a patroller and then the next seven as the ski patrol manager). Kirkpatrick met his wife Lynda in 1997. She was also working at Panorama.
“We put down roots and had a daughter,” explained Kirkpatrick.
‘Just one season’ became a lifetime.
He eventually switched out of ski patrol and took jobs in Panorama’s lodging division, working for a time as a project manager for Intrawest (the company that owned Panorama at the time), and eventually becoming Panorama’s director of lodging.
In 2017 he decided it was time for a change and worked with Eagle Ranch and then the Radium Golf Group.
Kirkpatrick’s background in lodging is an asset in his new role, as is his experience living first at Panorama (where he stayed for 15 years) and then in Invermere (for 14 years).
“Having a place to live that I could afford made the decision to move to the valley an easy one for me,” he said. “That’s not really the case anymore for a lot of people who want to move to the Columbia Valley now.”
Kirpatrick’s first step as the housing society’s project manager has been meeting with local governments and working with them to begin identifying parcels of municipally controlled land that would be suitable for high density, long-term rental housing.
He’s already got his eye on a few properties, but didn’t want to say exactly where they are, since everything is still very much preliminary. “We’re really just starting, it’s too early,” he said.
From there the next steps would see the society negotiate with the municipalities to use the land; then pursue grants and other funding; attract builders and developers; and work with those builders and developers to keep costs low (so that the project makes financial sense as rentals).
Kirkpatrick also plans to work with local valley homeowners to develop more secondary suites.
“Information advocacy about that could actually go a long way,” he said.
The UBCM Housing Summit that Kirkpatrick attended in March was “very insightful,” he said. “It was a great chance to network with other people in similar roles, and an opportunity to see what other municipalities have done with the issue, and to find out where they’ve had success, what’s worked well and what hasn’t worked.”
The summit also gave Kirkpatrick an appreciation for how widespread the affordable housing crisis is across B.C., and how many other small, remote communities are caught in the crunch.
When not working, you’ll find Kirkpatrick enjoying time outside.
“I love the outdoors, especially skiing, mountain biking, hiking and golf,’ he said.
For more information on the housing society, visit www.cvhousingsociety.ca.