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Pemberton affordable housing in spotlight

Village seeking feedback as Official Community Plan review process opensĀ 
N-Affordable housing-28.05 (Photo submitted)
The Village of Pemberton is opening its Official Community Plan review process by soliciting feedback on how to approach its affordable housing shortage.

One might think that as the Village of Pemberton (VOP) sets off on its two-year journey of analyzing every facet of its Official Community Plan (OCP), it would be a challenge to land on a natural starting point.

Not so, according to Mayor Mike Richman, as the VOP launched the process by seeking community feedback on how to approach its affordable housing shortage. By targeting what it can do to facilitate projects on “all parts of the housing spectrum,” Richman said the VOP hopes to nail down some actionable decisions even before the OCP review is complete. 

“There’s a lot of work to be done yet, but it doesn’t mean we have to wait,” he said. “We’re active on it now. 

“If things emerge through the process that council wants to look at implementing right away, then we’ll have that conversation,” he added.

The VOP has analyzed the situation in recent years, completing an age-friendly affordable housing needs assessment and action plan as well as a general background report, all in 2019. All the documents are available on the VOP’s Have Your Say site ( Richman added that the VOP is working with Sea to Sky Community Services to investigate completing a project together.

At this point, however, the VOP is seeking direction from residents as to what their priorities are. The municipality held an information session via Zoom on Jan. 26 with roughly 50 accounts tuning in (some accounts had multiple viewers) before launching a survey that closes on Feb. 17. 

The survey asks respondents for opinions on: the perception of what affects housing affordability and what solutions are reasonable for the community, allowing an increase in maximum apartment building height from the current three storeys and in what situations, if any, it would be appropriate to vary parking requirements. The survey also offers residents an opportunity to express any concerns they have with expanding housing offerings in existing neighbourhoods.

Roughly 40 people had completed the survey as of Feb. 8. Anyone who answers the survey is eligible to win a $25 gift card to a local business.

Richman acknowledges that there’s a sense of fatigue and burnout within the community, but hopes people take the time to complete the survey.

“For the OCP process to work, we need as much engagement as possible,” he said. “We really hope people will take those opportunities and help us identify the North Stars.”

Alternative options

During the Jan. 26 presentation, manager of development services Lisa Pedrini said the VOP is open to new types of housing that could impact the character of the village, ranging from apartment buildings to tiny houses to secondary suites in duplexes, that could provide more residents with affordable options (defined by the VOP as 30 per cent of income before taxes).

“It’s important that we check in with you and get a sense of your willingness or tolerance for changes that could impact you but could also greatly benefit the community at large,” she said.

In a flash poll during the presentation, more than a quarter of attendees identified an acute need for affordable options as their main reason for tuning in. Pedrini said the Village is becoming more aware of the issue all the time, noting that Pemberton was recently in top 20 per cent of most expensive communities in Canada, and generally trends higher-than-provincial average. 

As well, the 2019 background study found that prices have increased significantly in recent years, with local businesses being challenged because employees can’t secure housing.

Acknowledging that prices have increased subsequently, between 2008 and 2018, single detached home sale prices in Pemberton went up 56 per cent while townhouse prices jumped 89 per cent and apartments were up 99 per cent.

“It’s looking pretty dire if you’re having trouble affording housing in Pemberton,” she said.

Pedrini added that Pemberton faces unique challenges in addressing the issue, citing the floodplain, lands that are part of the agricultural land reserve and topographical conditions as complicating factors. Planning consultant Cameron Chalmers noted that labour and economic conditions also play a role.

While the VOP has completed some analysis of the situation, Chalmers added that relevant projects still to come, in addition to the OCP review, include a housing options study, a development cost charge (DCC) review and an amenity policy review.

Among the options the VOP is considering is waiving DCCs on affordable projects to make them more palatable for developers to create.

“The challenge of affordable housing is someone has to build it and someone, presumably, has to make profit off of it,” he said. 

Planner Joanna Rees, meanwhile, provided a rundown of potential options for filling in the gaps.

She noted that types of housing currently allowed in Pemberton are: detached dwellings, duplexes, townhouses, apartments, mixed-use buildings, mobile homes, secondary suites and carriage houses. 

While tiny homes have emerged in recent years, Rees noted that they’re not specifically addressed in building codes and often struggle to meet size requirements. As well, regulation challenges make it difficult to find locations and connect to services and it may be harder to get construction loans and insurance.

Other options being considered are secondary suites in duplexes and lock-off suites, which are similar to a hotel room, typically roughly 300 square feet in size and include a kitchenette. 

The full slate of staff presentations are available on the Have Your Say site, though the subsequent Q&A portion was not recorded.

Review overview

Residents can expect further requests for input as the VOP continues to review the OCP, which also addresses topics such as land use, transportation, sustainability and climate change impacts.

The Have Your Say site already includes climate change and OCP review portals in addition to the affordable housing section.

“The OCP needs an update on all levels. It’s been a number of years and Pemberton has changed a lot over the last few years,” Richman said. “[It] represents the vision of Pemberton by the locals, by the residents, what their vision of Pemberton is as we continue to grow.”