Sparwood’s demand for housing may find some relief in a new program approved by the District of Sparwood (DOS). During a special meeting, Sage Pointe Developments and Project Build Society made a presentation to Sparwood Council followed by a public hearing on September 23. Sparwood Council agreed identifying that the program was in line with achieving the housing priority of affordable homeownership for modest income families.
What it may amount to is a $28,000 gifted down payment that never needs to be repaid by applicants who qualify with no conditions attached to the property once the sale is complete.
Project Build is a not-for-profit organization that “aims to get people out of renting and into ownership,” said Leanne Hammond. “The organization happened to tackle the housing situation in the Okanagan but it’s similar here. It’s for people who would not be able to purchase a home without this program.”
Their target is a first time home-buyer who has started saving a down payment but may not have the closing costs.
“This is not social housing which is in the $150,000 range,” said Hammond. “It’s aimed at middle-income earners who are looking for a hand up, not a hand out.”
Project Build and Sage Pointe Development Ltd. facilitated the purchase of 23 homes in West Kelowna with 60 families. With only one resale and zero defaults in five years, it seems to suggest that Project Build’s review of qualifications for the program are rigorous enough to avoid buyers who will flip homes or default on mortgages. Applications must have approval for a mortgage from a financial institution. A volunteer selection committee reviews applications with the applicant being blind or anonymous presuming it will avoid bias.
Each applicant is enrolled in a financial literacy program so they have a full understanding of the true costs of being a home owner and must demonstrate the readiness to enter home-ownership. As of September 23, Project Build had received 25 applications and expressions of interest from the Sparwood and Fernie area with no advertising or marketing in the area.
“The need for housing is here,” said Maureen D’Angelo from Sage Pointe Development Ltd. “One builder built forty houses in two years. We build in volume to lower the costs. We contract to the home-owner and to the builders.”
DOS and the public voiced concerns over various issues including the price point that D’Angelo reviewed in her presentation. The houses range from $400 to $450,000 at 1,400 square feet with an option to have a suite in the basement or ground floor.
“I’m looking at the price points,” said Councillor Andy McIntyre. “I moved here for the lifestyle and it would be very difficult for me to make my mortage payments (at that cost).”
A number of developers present during the public hearing questioned where the money is coming from for the gifted down payment.
“All of our builders must have a philanthropic nature,” said D’Angelo. “Cash donations have been made to Project Build,” said Hammond. “Some of the donations have come from contractors too.”
“Call it what it is,” said Joe Vallentine, Whiskey Jack Development. “It’s a kick back.”
During the final question period, a Lethbridge developer cautioned DOS to do an audit to see where the money is coming from and going to in this project. “Where does the free money come from? I’ve been a building contractor for 30 frustrating years. We can’t cut our costs any lower.”
After the public hearing, Council held a discussion before voting on the resolution.
“It’s not what I want,” said Councillor Margaret McKie. “But it’s what people in Sparwood want.”
“This program meets two of the four housing strategic objectives,” said Mayor Lois Halko. “Our goal is to direct staff to programs that attract more residents to Sparwood and increase the number of businesses. One housing initiative does not address all of the issues but this does address one of four targets of attainable housing.”
The motion to execute the Option Agreement with Sage Pointe Developments Ltd. as presented to council by District CAO Terry Mercer, was carried with a vote of 4 to 3. The application process starts immediately as does bidding from builders. There are 23 District owned lots in Cherrywood, two vacant lots from Parastone and multiple lots for townhouse development in Cypress.