Karen Ungerson from the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation was one of two corporate representatives from the organization who put on a housing strategy workshop in order to help communities in the region develop effective housing strategies to meet the needs of all of the community.

Housing strategy talks for Fort St. James

Creating a housing strategy for development in the Fort is being discussed again.

In February, the local district had committed to putting forward $10,000 towards funding half of the development of a housing strategy for the community, but so far nothing has been done.

Creating a housing strategy for development in the Fort is being discussed again.

In February, the local district had committed to putting forward $10,000 towards funding half of the development of a housing strategy for the community, but so far nothing has been done.

They had also allocated some land towards the plan, which was a precondition of applying for grant funding through the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) for the other $10,000 required to complete the study.

District could not clarify where the land allocated was or if it was still available prior to press time, so it is not yet clear whether the community will still qualify for the funding.

However, CMHC did put on a housing strategy workshop on September 13 to help educate local stakeholders on how to address housing issues by developing a housing strategy and what resources are available to do just that.

The workshop was for the entire region, and included participants such as Shelley Carlson, the economic development officer from Fraser Lake, Frank Read, a councillor from Vanderhoof, Agatha Sam and Leona Thomas from Nak’azdli and Kathie LaForge, the economic development officer from Vanderhoof.

Local councillors Brenda Gouglas and Dave Birdi were also there, along with Mayor Sandra Harwood.

The workshop touched on some success stories in other B.C. communities in creating affordable housing such as one in Victoria, and Jason Niles also came as a consultant to offer up information from the community of Ucluelet’s experiences and suggest steps to take and some best practices which worked for them, including establishing a percentage of houses in developments which must be dedicated “affordable housing.”

Karen Ungerson, one of the corporate representatives from CMHC putting on the workshop, explained affordable housing is not subsidized housing requiring continual funding, but “non-market housing” sold at or rented below market value.

She also stressed importance of the process of educating the community about the modern approach to these types of initiatives as being key to prevent the “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) mentality.

When asked to explain the current situation, Mayor Harwood voiced her concern over changes the town may potentially see, with Mt. Milligan Mine bringing in new families and the Fort Green Energy bioenergy plant now planned as well.

She sees the population increase as “a huge change for our community” and said in the foreseeable future, the town “will have to do something drastic.”

Ungerson said the starting point should be accurate housing research, and there was some discussion around the housing shortage on Nak’azdli by Leona Thomas and it was then pointed out this would then affect the district because over half of those who weren’t able to find housing on the reserve were therefore renting within the district.

It will therefore likely be key to bring the communities together to address the issues by identifying challenges and establishing priorities, according to Ungerson.

A time frame will also have to be developed, and while nothing has yet been struck in the Fort, they will have to designate some land to be eligible for the seed funding available.

Ungerson said CMHC wants to put their money into communities which bring something to the table.

She also said working with private developers can also be an option, offering tax incentives or other options in exchange for dedicating some of the development to affordable housing. The non-market housing would be either affordable rental or purchasable homes at below market value to put them within reach of young families or seniors, for example.

Emily Colombo, economic development officer for the Fort said the participants are now hoping to build on what they have learned and while it isn’t known how it will look for the community, she said they are looking at what the next steps are to get the discussion going.

The next steps will involve pursuing the seed funding from CMHC, which if obtained, would be used to hire a community planner, and to re-establish the housing committee previously established in order to finish applying for this seed funding.

Council will now have to discuss whether they would like to establish a housing action committee specifically, to move further along with the process.

“I was encouraged to see so many people come out,” said Colombo.

Given the housing issues already impacting both Nak’azdli and the district as well, Colombo said “I think that’s really important for (the two councils) to sit down and share information so that they recognize the similar challenges and similar needs.”