By Steve Hubrecht 

[email protected] 

An Invermere woman has started a petition urging elected officials — particularly the mayors of Invermere, Radium Hot Springs, and Canal Flats — to act now to address the Columbia Valley’s housing crisis.

Joan Gaskell has lived in Invermere for a decade. Housing has always been an issue here, but in the past few years it’s become markedly worse, she explained to the Pioneer. 

The issue became personal when her neighbour was kicked out of the home he had rented for 11 years. The landlord wanted to rent the home as a short-term rental (STR) instead of as a long-term rental. Gaskell tried to help her neighbour find a new place to rent and got a firsthand look at just how hard that can be in the Columbia Valley.

“You’d see a new listing (for a long-term rental), call and there would already be 80 people in line to do interviews for the place,” said Gaskell.

The experience lit a spark under Gaskell; she began asking people around town if they had similar tales. Did they ever.

“So many people want me to tell their story,” said Gaskell.

She talked with seniors living in sheds and garages, make-shift tents and other impromptu shelters, including a desperate 80-year old woman forced to make a dilapidated trailer her home. 

Gaskell heard from young tradespeople working long hours, with no hope of ever being able to buy their own homes. She spoke with people with skills and jobs choosing to leave the valley.

Gaskell had conversations with homeowners genuinely afraid of renting long term because they feel that the B.C. Tenancy Act favours renters too much; and with renters who have been evicted from their homes of many years to make way for STRs. 

Business owners and managers told Gaskell that it’s impossible to find staff, much less keep them. There were parents whose families have lived in the valley for generations but who are resigned to their kids having no option but to leave, and property owners and homeowners deeply frustrated by restrictions preventing them from living in tiny homes, from building additions to house elderly parents, or from creating other multi-generational housing on their land. And there were new immigrants struggling to make lives in the Columbia Valley in the midst of the housing crisis.

“It’s past emergency now. It was a crisis already a few years ago,” Gaskell told the Pioneer.

She isn’t just talking about the problem, however, she’s doing something about it and started a petition calling for Invermere, Radium and Canal Flats mayors, as well as the valley’s provincial and federal representatives, to do more to address the situation. In a relatively short time, the petition has managed to gather more than a 150 signatures.

“People want to stay and work here, but they just can’t,” said Gaskell. “There’s so much potential for what Invermere could be, but nobody can find a place to stay . . . my heart really broke for every single one of the stories behind the signatures (on the petition).”

Plenty of local residents working low-income or even lower-middle income jobs are being forced to take two or even three jobs just to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads, Gaskell said.

At one point she asked a local business manager if she could approach employees in his store about the petition. She was concerned he would think she was creating trouble. “Instead, he wanted to sign it too,” said Gaskell. “He said he loses a lot of staff who just can’t get a place to live.”

Gaskell suggested that landowners, landlords, tenants and business owners all need to come together to develop a plan. She noted that local governments have a role to play too: bylaws and restrictions preventing tiny homes, carriage homes, multi-generational housing, multiple dwellings on one single family residential lot, or other creative housing solutions in some communities are outdated and need to be changed. Gaskell also pointed to Creston’s Housing Action Plan, saying Invermere could do something similar.

“We need to find some balance, we have to change some things,” said Gaskell. “People really want solutions.”