BC Housing looking to engage industry in northeast

Lynsey Kitching


“In small communities it’s harder for us to know what the impacts of a new mine are or having something close down. Those are the kinds of things that non-profits are better fit to respond to, and have that knowledge,” says Stephanie Allen, senior projects manager for BC Housing.

She explains how there are housing opportunities being created here in the northeast by the multi-billion dollar investments in energy and resource extraction. This is creating a pressure and demand for housing, yet at the same time, “Vacancies fluctuate and they were above the provincial average in this region, but we know how that changes, and when there are different pressures with economic development.”

“This is the largest pressure on housing for families and seniors,” explains Allen, “Single parent households are also in families. About 75 percent of seniors’ households are spending 30 percent or more of income on housing. Families it’s 45 percent of household.”

BC Housing’s role in the province is to help people find affordable housing, and to also help industry keep their workforce housed affordably.

They do this through government funding and by lending out the treasury board’s money as a line of credit, and using those funds to create housing.

Allen explains much of the funding is now coming more and more from the non-profit groups who get involved.

“We are in a time where there are no government funded programs. We keep saying we’re hoping there will be an announcement soon from the federal or provincial government. In the absence, not-profit groups must fundraise; they have to look for sources of equity to make projects work. Some of you may be petitioned, but that partnership is great because it creates lasting legacy. Government has also stepped back from owning and operating projects,” she continues, “Non-profit builds a team, representatives and volunteers, and has connections in municipalities. Non-profit groups are better than government agencies to know the local housing needs.”

BC Housing offers lending for construction, and mortgages to help projects get going as well as federally the government builds frameworks and offers overall guidelines for how the program should be administered. An example of BC Housings work can be found in Chetwynd. “We worked with Chetwynd to develop land there,” explains Allen, “BC housing has taken the title, offering that land at no charge to a partner who will develop it. We are hoping they will partner with a non-profit and create workforce housing as well as affordable housing for the community.”

Other examples include the Vancouver Olympic legacy units, which were used during the Olympics and have been dismantled and sent to different communities around the province including Chetwynd and Fort St. John. In Tumbler Ridge, BC Housing helped in the creation of the seniors’ housing units on Pioneer Loop.

A non-profit housing provider if they pair with BC Housing and industry could create housing that is 49 percent market value, and 51 percent affordable housing. Allen warns 100 percent must be affordable. Plans can get going rather quickly with board meetings every week.

“We would like to engage the private sector and work with private market developers to create housing where there isn’t a non-profit to do so, or where that developer has specifically targeted affordable housing. There may be some opportunities for leveraging our financing, working with non-profit or developers to make some workforce housing, affordable housing, or do some kind of variation there in,” says Allen.

The project currently underway in Fort St. John for workforce housing is bigger than usual with three bedrooms, “but can provide for families,” says Allen.