By Steve Hubrecht

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Radium Hot Springs recently took a major step to combat the ongoing housing crunch plaguing the village and the entire Columbia Valley by purchasing a three-unit home on McKay Street.

The home will be used as a long-term rental. A shortage of affordable long-term rental housing has been an issue in Radium and the rest of the valley for more than a decade, but the problem has become particularly pointed in recent years as the number of short-term rentals (STRs) has skyrocketed, as housing prices (and rental prices along with them) have surged upward, and as the valley’s population has boomed.

The village used money from its share of the provincial Growing Communities Fund to buy the house at a cost of $530,000.

All B.C. municipalities unexpectedly received money from the Growing Communities Fund earlier this spring, as the result of a provincial budget surplus. Radium got $900,000 from the fund and plans to also use the remaining $370,000 for affordable housing in the future.

The McKay Street home is approximately 2,000 square feet, divided between two one-bedroom units on the ground floor and a three-bedroom unit on the upper floor. The two ground floor units are already occupied by long-term renters and the upper unit is currently vacant.

Radium decided to spend 100 per cent of its Growing Communities Fund money on affordable housing during its budget process, Radium Mayor Mike Gray told the Pioneer last week.

“There were so many options on how we could spend the money to help with affordable housing. What is great about this option is that it is very quick. The impact is immediate,” said Gray. “If we had an infinite amount of time on our hands, perhaps we could have leveraged the money more, but then we might have been waiting forever . . . the need (for affordable housing) is now. This is a way to help right now, and to have an effect right now.”

Gray described the lack of long-term rentals in Radium as acute and noted that the ongoing housing crisis affects all village residents, explaining that everyone needs a place to live and that businesses need workers to have places to stay too, if they are to operate and serve residents and visitors.

“We’re quite happy with how quickly the whole project is moving,” Gray told the Pioneer. “It’s a start to the process of addressing the housing issue. Hopefully there will be more projects.”

Although the Village of Radium Hot Springs owns the property, Gray said the village anticipates the home will be managed through a partnership with the Columbia Valley Housing Society.

The village hopes to fill the vacant upper floor unit as soon as it can, but that process will likely need to be done through the Housing Society once the partnership is established.

Radium councillors and village staff are also considering other measures to help promote long-term rental housing, such as a tax incentive bylaw encouraging new purpose-built long-term rental housing,  and renewing Radium’s Official Community Plan to make long-term rental housing development a key goal for the village. 

Earlier this year, an Invermere council member expressed disappointment that rules surrounding the Growing Communities Fund did not allow third-party entities such as the  Columbia Valley Housing Society or Family Dynamix to be outright owners of any affordable housing project that Growing Communities Fund money is used for.

Such a requirement forces small town local governments to own rental housing when this is not their expertise, said Invermere councillor Gerry Taft at the time, adding “it far exceeds what we (as a municipality) can do . . . we struggle to do things cost effectively.”