Valemount, B.C., looks to Whistler for lessons as ski resort speculation prompts affordability fears
Pending construction of Valemount Glacier Destination Resort drives up home prices as population stagnates
With out-of-town investors cashing in on cheap vacation homes, the village of Valemount, B.C., is looking for ways to remain affordable to year-round residents.
The pending construction of the Valemount Glacier Destination Resort, slated to open in 2020, has attracted new money to the Rocky Mountain village located roughly 120 kilometres west of Jasper, Alta.
It's also prompted fears over affordability as the small community prepares to become B.C.'s newest resort town.
Real estate rise
Traditionally a forestry town, Valemount's population has increased by just three people since its primary sawmill closed down in 2006. That reality was reflected in housing prices, with the average single family dwelling assessed at just $174,000 as recently in 2016.
However, the latest numbers from B.C. Assessment show a rapid rise between 2016 and 2017, with average residential properties values increasing 24 per cent — the third-highest jump in the province.
That's no surprise to realtor Tammy VandeNobelen, who said she's been busier than ever since the province signalled its support for the resort project in 2016.
"That changed the market really quickly," she said, as people from other parts of B.C. and Alberta came to town looking for cheap vacation homes. She said she's expecting even more business once construction of the resort begins, tentatively scheduled for this summer.
"People that have been in other resort towns with ski hills are telling me to be prepared," she said.
While realtors prepare for an influx of investors, others in the community are preparing to deal with the potential fallout of rapidly rising housing prices driven by out-of-town investment.
A 2016 affordable housing needs report warned mayor and council about the downside of rapid growth, estimating that up to 20 per cent of Valemount homes were already in the hands of seasonal owners.
"If seasonal/recreational homeownership and property investment from outside the community is in fact increasing (as the data would suggest), it can lead to increased housing supply and demand constraints as well as housing hardship, especially for low- and modest-income households," the report said.
In response, the village formed a housing committee to look at the experience of other tourism-based towns, including Fernie, Nelson and Whistler, for guidance on how to manage an influx of seasonal residents.
We don't have the wages to match the housing.- Rashmi Narayan
Local business owner Rashmi Narayan volunteered for the committee.
"Housing is one of the pet issues for me," she said. "My concern is, the kind of wages that Valemount offers... we don't have the wages to match the housing."
Narayan said with the decline in forestry, many of the remaining jobs in Valemount are service and tourism-based, not careers that allow people to purchase a $300,000 home. There is also a lack of rentals, she said, another gap identified in the housing report.
In Oct 2017, the committee recommended Valemount change its bylaws to allow single family homes to be built on smaller lots, and to allow for more housing units to be built on top of commercial properties.
Narayan said she's interested in going further, for example, by setting aside land only available to permanent residents as is done in Whistler, or requiring developers to build affordable housing alongside market-value property.
Narayan said while some people are worried such measures might deter developers in the early stages of Valemount's transition to a resort town, she's more concerned about the people who already live there.
"It's about preserving a vibrant community so we have the workforce we need and supporting young families," she said.
With files from Audrey McKinnon