By Steve Hubrecht

[email protected]

Invermere officials are preparing for the upcoming Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention with a list of key issues at the ready. 

The convention isn’t until late September, but councillors have been as busy as a blacksmith hammering out what they want to discuss with provincial representatives.

Some of these issues are very specific to the Columbia Valley, others are broader in scope, but all of them affect Invermere in significant ways, and the district wants the provincial government to step up and help out with many of them.

The issues include: affordable housing; Lake Windermere; turning the old provincial highway maintenance yard in Athalmer into an industrial park; changing the provincial Rental Tenancy Act (RTA); tweaking the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI); increasing public library funding; adding more building and plumbing officials; and addressing BC Hydro delays that are backing up development.

In terms of affordable housing, Invermere councillors want to find out from the provincial government what funding options are available to the nonprofit Columbia Valley Housing Society in its efforts to create projects for year-round residents. 

For Lake Windermere, they want to discuss ongoing funding opportunities to help the Lake Windermere Ambassadors champion respectful boating on the lake and to examine different options for creating a healthier lake. 

The highway maintenance yard in Athalmer is no longer used for its original intended purpose, and the district wants to lease it to create more industrial space.

The changes Invermere council would like to see to the Rental Tenancy Act involve making it more balanced, at least in the view of Invermere council members. The act has been changed in recent years, and Invermere councillors feel these alterations have skewed the act so that it favours renters over property owners to an unacceptable degree.

“The pendulum has swung too much one way,” said Invermere Mayor Al Miller. He said the act makes it so onerous and cumbersome to be a landlord (to long-term renters) that many Invermere property owners are opting instead to rent out their homes as short-term rentals (STRs) or to not rent out their homes at all, purely to save on the considerable logistical and bureaucratic headaches long-term landlords can face under the act.

This, Miller pointed out, combined with the higher revenues that can be earned from STRs have greatly reduced that availability of long-term rental housing in Invermere, and has significantly pushed up the prices of long-term rentals that remain.

Councillor Kayja Becker said in creating the Rental Tenancy Act, the provincial government “forgot about small towns . . . it might work in the Lower Mainland, but not in small communities.”

Some parts of the act create an artificial cap on rental income (rent control) “that is so dramatically out of sync with market rental rates that the rental rate is literally double what is allowed to be charged for rent,” added councillor Gerry Taft. 

“It helps some tenants in the short term, but in the long term it is not doing anybody any favours. It is in fact creating a huge push by many landlords for end of tenancy. They want to use the property as a vacation home, or to live in it year round, but they don’t want to rent any more because it is such a hassle.”

When it comes to tweaking the RMI, the district wants the provincial government to add infrastructure to the Resort Development Strategy. The money Invermere gets through the RMI program can typically only be used for tourism-related projects, with just a handful of exceptions. If the province made the changes Invermere wants, the district could instead spend its RMI money on things such as its municipal water and sewer system. Invermere officials argue the changes they are seeking make sense, and reflect the increased pressure on the municipal infrastructure system that comes during the busy summer season in the Columbia Valley, with its large influx of tourists and second homeowners.

For library funding, Invermere will ask the B.C. government to increase funding province wide in light of rising inflation and in light of changing programs. 

The Invermere Public Library is “not in a tight spot, but maybe an uncomfortable spot. They are so restricted on their budget. They could do so much more if the provincial government would ante up,” said Invermere Mayor Al Miller. “They’ve had ‘no raise’, so to speak, for more than a decade. They’re due.”

“Although it’s not a tight spot (for the library) at the moment, if we don’t try to fix it now, it could become a tight spot down the road,” added Becker.

The BC Hydro holdups that Invermere officials want to address are a result of extreme short staffing at the Crown corporation. Invermere councillors want to make provincial officials aware of just how much it is holding up new developments in Invermere, including affordable housing projects — in some cases subcontractors are seeing design and installation wait times of more than a year, explained Miller. “Sometimes the provincial government blames local governments for slowing down development, but in this case it is the Crown corporation that is holding us up,” he added.

The shortage of building and plumbing officials is a province-wide problem, and is especially acute in small, rural communities. Invermere is, very luckily, not burdened with that particular problem, but that’s only because the district was finally able to hire a second building inspector back in December after a months long search, explained Taft.

If the district had not been so fortunate, it would be in a tight place in that regard, like almost every other rural B.C. community, and that alone makes the issue worth lobbying for, added Taft.

“If we were running with just one building inspector, and that inspector got sick, we’d be in big trouble. It is not a sustainable situation,” said Taft.