Disaster-hit B.C. municipality could get help from provincial housing program

Grand Forks councillors at UBCM convention eye HousingHub for help to rebuild dozens of homes destroyed by Kettle River flood

Flood-stricken Grand Forks could be the inadvertent beneficiary of a provincial program aimed at easing B.C.’s housing crunch through creating homes for middle-income buyers.

“We have people living in fifth wheels or they’re leaving town,” Coun. Chris Hammett said. “We need to get housing.”

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And, that’s where the BC Housing HousingHub program could help, Hammett and other councilors from the West Kootenay city of 4,000 said.

The province announced HousingHub under the BC Housing umbrella April 13. The aim is to boost the housing supply for middle-income earners priced out of the Lower Mainland’s market.

“By moving the middle-income earners from the rental pool, it would move other earners into the rental pool,” said HousingHub director of development and asset strategies Paul Kwong.

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson told Union of British Columbia Municipalities delegates Sept. 11 that the program aims to build 114,000 housing units.

HousingHub targets developing homes for people with average incomes between $50,000 and $100,000.

Grand Forks Coun. Julia Butler said such incomes are high for Grand Forks, prompting Kwong to explain income figures would be adjusted for communities.

HousingHub aims to work with non-profits and private developers, property owners, federal and local governments, faith groups and Indigenous partners to find, use, or repurpose, land where affordability is an issue.

Provincial land will also be designated for some projects, a BC Housing project description said.

Developers would receive low-cost financing in exchange for building affordable housing. 

Kwong said the program ensures developers’ profit margins are protected while taking advantage of BC Housing’s ability to provide low-cost financing for housing not requiring capital funding and ongoing operational funding.

“It’s by working together that we can make sure that affordable homes are built,” Robinson said.

And, the Grand Forks councillors believe it’s a program they might be able to work with.

Dozens of homes were destroyed when the Kettle River flooded this spring.

“We’re having to remove an entire community and move it back into the flood plain,” Hammett said.

She said the city is buying out those houses.

And, that’s land a program such as HousingHub could use.

“If you’re creating additional supply based on buyouts, there’s the opportunity to use this model,” Kwong said.
He said municipalities can ease the way for the program’s work through providing land, streamlining regulatory processes and approvals and facilitating working with other community groups.

And, Kwong told the Grand Forks contingent, the program doesn’t just apply to new construction.

He said a community such as Grand Forks could use the program to renovate existing buildings to add housing and value.

To be eligible for the program, applicants must be Canadian residents of B.C. and have been in a rental or non-ownership situation. Income brackets shift depending on family size.

There is no interest or pre-payment penalties for 25 years.

If an owner sells, Housing Hub would take part of the profit and re-invest it.

“Think of it as the bank of mom and pop but BC Housing is that bank,” Kwong said. “You can sell at any time with repayment required on sale.”

Moreover, Kwong said, with government assistance, qualifying buyers receive protection against interest rates and market fluctuations as well as avoiding high mortgage insurance costs.

 

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