Mountain News 

Revelstoke tackles affordable housing

By Allen Best

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – Even before the hammers have begun to swing at the new ski resort, Revelstoke has been experiencing tightening housing prices. More people from Banff and Whistler, but also cities, have arrived to enjoy the mountain lifestyle but at lower costs than elsewhere.

In doing so, they are driving up prices. Almost no single-family homes have been available for rent, and those that are go for $1,800 a month. While that might seem like next to free in some resort areas, in Revelstoke, it’s about triple of rates just a few years ago, reports the Revelstoke Times Review.

Girding for a real estate boom, the city council is trying to construct an affordable housing policy. The possibilities include what are called inclusionary zoning and linkages, which require affordable housing in all development, both residential and commercial. As well, there is talk of a lodging tax, sometimes called a tourist accommodation tax.

There is some talk of discouraging the creation of vacation homes, also called second homes. One mechanism would be a higher property tax on homes that do not include full-time residents. “This is something we could do as an incentive to dissuade people from buying residential property they won’t use more than once a year,” said one Jill Zacharias, at a housing committee meeting. “Across the board, it is the out-of-town home buyers who buy in residential areas who are responsible for rising prices,”

Does that statement reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the economics currently in play? Another Revelstoke resident, Tuulikki Tennant, seems to think so. “People who can afford to play here can afford higher taxes.”

One thing that Revelstoke has going for it that many resort towns in the American West would dearly love is an abundance of land available from the provincial government that could be used specifically for affordable housing.

The Revelstoke Times Review argues that the experience of other resort communities underscores the need for government action.

“Not a single resort community that allowed the economic laws of supply and demand to determine the affordability of local housing has had any success,” said the newspaper. “What’s more, the consultants and speakers brought to town to talk about this issue have all said that affordable housing is an issue that must be dealt with sooner rather than later. If we let the market sort it all out, we’ll wake up one morning to find the middle-class priced right out of here, along with our seniors, our young families, workers, teachers, police officers and others.

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