Revelstoke housing society looking for new members

After building only 14 units in nine years, the Revelstoke Community Housing Society is restructuring & looking for new members & directors

The Revelstoke Community Housing Society opened 12 units on Oscar Street in early 2016.

The Revelstoke Community Housing Society opened 12 units on Oscar Street in early 2016.

The City of Revelstoke is looking for new members and a new board for the Revelstoke Community Housing Society after choosing to end its control of the agency.

The housing society is holding a special meeting in order to elect a new board of directors at the Revelstoke Business Information Centre board room this Monday, Jan. 9, at 4 p.m.

The move comes after council decided to remove its control of the society and instead turn it into a true arms-length city agency.

Until the end of 2016, the city had four council representatives and one staff member on the board, giving it complete control of the society. However, after auditors decided that the society’s debt belonged on the city’s books, council decided to end its control.

“The housing society will still exist, but we have to take the council representatives off,” said Alan Mason, the city’s director of economic development and a member of the board since the society was formed in 2007. “We’ve been asking people to join as members.”

The upcoming meeting follows a long council discussion on Dec. 20 in which Mayor Mark McKee butted heads with Dean Strachan, who just resigned from the city as manager of development services to take a post elsewhere.

Strachan’s last act with the city was to present a new land use plan for the city-owned 14-acre property on Oscar Street. He proposed breaking it up into five pods, with the goal of developing a few parcels near Oscar Street in the near future, while setting aside the bulk of the land for development 15-20 years from now. It could be for affordable housing, commercial, or light industry, said Strachan.

“We’ve prepared a plan based on more what we’re seeing today in terms of growth,” he told council. “This property has so many potential opportunities for the future that it should be held in reserve at this time.”

Photo: A new plan for the City of Revelstoke’s Oscar Street property proposes dividing it into five areas. ~ Image from the City of Revelstoke

The new plan put him up against Mayor McKee, who was mayor in 2007 when the housing society was founded and has chaired the organization since 2010.

“I think the housing society has a different view of this property. I support this motion of receiving it, but I think we should be contacting the housing society, seeing how they feel about the property, because I sure wouldn’t want them or the community thinking this council doesn’t support affordable housing, because I think they do.”

The 50-minute council discussion centred around four recommendations, including that they receive the land use plan for consideration and that they direct staff to create an infrastructure plan for the site.

McKee expressed his frustration with the lack of progress made by the housing society since it was formed in 2007.

“My frustration Dean is this is the third plan I’ve seen,” he said. “Every iteration is what the current planner of the day has supported. My concern is this plan hasn’t been seen by the housing society and the reason why is the housing society was set up was to give advice to council on everything to do with housing in the community.”

The Revelstoke Community Housing Society was set up in 2007 as a response to rising housing and rental prices resulting from the development of Revelstoke Mountain Resort. For a few years the city provided the society with $100,000 per year, which they used to hire a manager and create a development plan for the Oscar Street property. The first plan was for affordable ownership, but it collapsed in 2009 when the economy tanked. They then looked at building a pair of duplexes on CPR Hill, but lack of funding resulted in the lone duplex that was built on Oscar Street in 2010.

“The problem is you have to come up with capital for the front end,” said Mason in an interview.

For a time, the city charged a fee to developers to help fund affordable housing. It’s not known when or why they stopped collecting that money.

In 2010, the society was embarrassed when they didn’t have quorum for their AGM. That led to the manager quitting and a new board led by McKee was appointed.

In 2011, the city sought proposals from private developers for the site. According to reports, three came in, but none were accepted. The rejected proposals were never made public. Around then, Fraser Blyth was contracted to develop another plan for the site.

In 2012, BC Housing and Columbia Basin Trust announced a partnership to fund affordable housing throughout the Basin. The housing society successfully applied for $1.2 million in funding, but the development of the 12 townhouse units on Oscar Street became bogged down in politics and construction didn’t begin until 2015. They finally opened in early 2016.

After nine years, the society only has 14 units to its name.

“We missed the boat from the ski hill. From day one, 10 per cent of their housing units should have been affordable housing,” said Mason. “You should have rules and regulations so every time there’s a development, X per cent are affordable.”

Strachan defended his newest plan, saying it would divide the property up into smaller pieces, make it easier for the housing society to work with, and allow flexibility in the future.

“There isn’t the growth in the community to support having that much land allocated for residential at this point in time. The proposal is to keep the door open for this property because the growth isn’t going to require that land for affordable or market place housing in the near future,” he told council. “The whole objective of this was to get to something that could be real today so that we could apply for grants and get some infrastructure design completed so we can have some shelf-ready projects so when there’s an opportunity for federal or provincial funding you can then go forward with a project and already have the engineering completed.”

His responses to council felt like a lecture on planning principles. “These big lumps of clay like this one, we don’t know what it’s going to be,” he said. “You don’t know if you’ll need a vase or a pot. You don’t know what you’re going to need for the future so leave it as clay for the now and let a council of the future mould it.”

For McKee, the frustration was seeing another plan by another city planner — one who was on his way out. “We could possibly be looking at a fourth one,” he said. “I want to do be doing something and I know the housing society wants to do more.”

The debate prompted an outburst from councillor Scott Duke, who expressed bewilderment at the length of the debate.

“It is painfully easy to put this stuff through. All it’s going to do is better the community and fast forward us to having more affordable housing,” he said. “It is not going to deter what the housing society does. It’s going to give them space to do it. It’s going to say here’s the space to do it and we’re going to figure out what it costs to service this space.

“It is mind boggling that we’re locked up on this.”

In the end, the plan was supported by a majority of council, with McKee and coun. Gary Sulz voting against it.

“The housing society does projects. This will help them focus on the size of the project they can work,” said coun. Linda Nixon. “I think getting the information on services up front, what it will cost to service this area, is a workable, focused plan. I think the size of the project is something they would be successful in getting a grant for.”

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