Social Planning Cowichan recently released the business case for their proposed Cowichan Valley Regional Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and Mayor Ross Forrest wants to make sure Lake Cowichan is on board.
Housing trust funds, also known as housing reserve funds, are used as a means to assist housing providers and developers with the capital costs of new or renovated projects, ensuring adequate and affordable housing is available to the community. The capital of the proposed trust fund would be contributed by any municipality in the region who opts into the program.
According to the business case, support for affordable housing projects from both federal and provincial governments has dropped over the past two decades, leaving many municipalities and districts to pick up the slack.
Social Planning Cowichan formed a subcommittee, called the Regional Affordable Housing Directorate (RAHD), in 2010. RAHD received a grant from the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) and the Real Estate Foundation of BC last spring, which the recent business case is the first result of.
Similar trust funds have proven to be successful in other regions and cities across British Columbia, such as Kelowna, Richmond, Coquitlam and Abbotsford.
“In our case, the trust fund is better with regional support,” Forrest said, “so developers won’t have an unfair advantage in one community over another.”
According to the business case, taking the regional approach to establishing a housing trust fund would provide municipalities with a more stable source of funding, allowing a stronger focus on long-term goals and priorities.
However, working as a collective would also pose additional risks to the individual municipalities, such as administrative costs, the political will of elected officials as well as public support being low during the initial years in which a sizeable trust fund is still being established.
Another recent report on housing, the CVRD’s 2014 Affordable Housing Needs Assessment, found that despite having slightly lower housing costs than its neighbours, Lake Cowichan’s “housing affordability” rating is similar to the rest of the Valley. This is partly due to a lack of employment within the town’s limits. The report also found Lake Cowichan to be lacking in rental options.
“We could use more housing, we definitely could,” Forrest said. “I’m pretty sure we’re close to capacity for our existing buildings. I’d like to see another apartment or condominium project go up soon.
“I don’t know if [affordable housing] is a bigger priority for council, but it is a priority. It’s something we’re concerned with, though there aren’t enough developers right now for us to worry about affordable housing – we’re worried about housing in general.”
As for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Social Planning Cowichan will soon be undertaking additional dialogue with the other municipalities within the Cowichan Valley before moving forward.