Unsplash photo by Jens Behrmann

Volunteers wanted for housing task force

District of Invermere seeks range of participants for study

What if the Smurfs didn’t have their mushrooms, SpongeBob didn’t have his pineapple and the Ninja Turtles didn’t have their sewer?

Anyone with a pencil could draw a new home for them.

It might take more imagination to sketch out a plan to address the lack of affordable and attainable housing within the District of Invermere (DOI), but council is looking for volunteers to join the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing to brainstorm how to make sure residents can afford the roofs over their heads.

“A big part of this job is to try and search out the things that have been tried in the past in other areas and get creative and bring that forth,” said Mayor Al Miller. “It’s been identified over and over – the importance of having attainable housing, social housing, a place for people to come and be able to live and work and have that housing – and so we’re going to move forward with it. We’re going to get the job done.”

Housing has been an issue for years, with Chris Prosser, the DOI’s chief administrative officer, referencing a report from 2007 – before the 2008 recession – that said a figure around $247,000 was an attainable housing price based on income levels in Invermere back then.

But pinpointing a reasonable price wasn’t of much practical value because he said “at that point in time in 2007 there were zero at that price range.”

Now the DOI is looking for action – or at least an action plan – with the task force to be charged with providing recommendations to Council “to increase the supply, diversity, affordability and attainability of all forms of housing in Invermere.”

That includes housing for those with low or moderate incomes, attainable home ownership, affordable rentals, social housing and staff and workforce accommodations. The impact short-term rentals have on housing availability will also be up for discussion.

Councillor Gerry Taft, who is a realtor, said the task force’s work is going to be complicated because everyone has a different definition on reasonable costs to buy or rent.

“Attainability, affordability – those are relative terms. It depends what you’re making per hour or where you are in your life and your age. Those terms are very different for very different people, and defining those terms is going to be very challenging,” he said.

He also isn’t sure the DOI has the capacity to offer an abundance of all kinds of homes to suit everyone’s needs.

“There’s definitely a clear line between social housing and attainable (ie. people who are working but are not necessarily starving but would like to buy a place) and how do you decide what’s more important? How do you decide that you’re going to put money into one basket and not the other? That’s going to be a really hard decision, and I don’t know where that answer is,” he said.

The DOI is looking for members of the public to join the task force to find those answers and many more.

The group is to represent a broad swath of interests and backgrounds and is to be comprised of residents, First Nations band members, developers and those involved in housing, social services and the business community. A youth member may also be welcomed to the committee with their voice but not their vote.

Councillor Ute Juras said she would like the group to reflect “a good cross section from the community.”

While the task force looks for ideas and solutions, the DOI will also be conducting a Housing Needs Assessment simultaneously. The assessment is a provincial requirement, but Mayor Miller doesn’t want to wait for the answers to the issues the assessment will raise.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good idea – right here, right now – what some of our needs are,” he said. “I don’t want to wait around … I think we’ve got some talented people in the Valley here that can help us put together a plan to move forward in this community.”

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