One of Housing Squamish’s core mandates is to coordinate and improve affordable housing delivery and access in Squamish. We’ve heard from existing housing providers in Squamish that there is a need for a single point of access for community members who are looking for housing and who are interested in and eligible for an affordable rental unit managed by a community-based non-profit provider.

The vision is for a coordinated access portal, developed and managed by Housing Squamish. This is an ambitious project that will require time and coordination to make real; our first step is to create a small pilot project specifically for properties managed by Housing Squamish, that can then be expanded over time to cover units owned by other entities in our community.

We caught up with our Executive Director, Sarah Ellis, to tell us a bit about what the community can be expecting in the upcoming year.

Q: Let’s start big. What is the overall goal for the housing access portal?

A: To be a one-stop online hub for people looking for affordable housing in Squamish. Our aim is to streamline the process so that people with specific needs can be matched with housing in our community that meets those needs. It will also allow the housing providers collectively to prioritize those most in need. This is a big vision and as far as we know, there is nothing like this in any community in Canada that spans the entire stock of non-market housing.

Q: Who is this for?

A: The vision is for a single point of access for anyone looking for affordable rental housing in Squamish. Existing housing providers in Squamish manage a range of housing aimed at households with specific needs, such as those experiencing or at risk of homelessness (Squamish Helping Hands Society), housing for seniors (Squamish Senior Living Society), or housing for families and key workers (Sea to Sky Community Services). Through the portal, applicants could indicate their interest and eligibility for specific housing based on their needs and the criteria set by those providers. Other available units may be built by private developers and secured by the District of Squamish as affordable housing through its Perpetually Affordable Housing Policy. Some of those will be prioritized for existing households in Squamish working a minimum of 20 hours per week in Squamish, or for families, while others will take a needs-based approach.

Q: And how would it work?

A: We are still in early stages of imagining how this would work, but one of the ideas that we are exploring is that people looking for affordable rental housing in Squamish would go to the Housing Squamish website to view available units in our own and our partners’ properties, indicate their interest, and provide their information, such as contact information, current accommodation, household composition, income, and housing preferences. As units become available, Housing Squamish would work with community partners to screen applicants against specific criteria for the specific housing selected.

Q: What are the first steps in developing this housing access portal?

A: We will start small and first develop an initial interest list and housing application policy, and an online web-based form for the first units coming under Housing Squamish management, most likely in the next year. Applications will be open for a fixed period of time, after which tenants will be screened for eligibility based on their income and employment and selected via a lottery process. Unsuccessful applicants and anyone on the interest list will be notified when future properties come online.

Q: What are the main considerations for Housing Squamish in rolling this out?

A: We know the community needs are great, and that this housing access portal can go a long way in decreasing the paperwork and stress when looking for affordable housing. However, this is a big, ambitious project with many moving parts, and it will take some time to roll it out. We are learning from other communities who are working on similar projects and understand that it can take a few iterations before it meets everyone’s needs perfectly. We will be transparent and work with partners to ensure a clear, user-friendly and fair system. This includes working with a technology provider to build the underlying database management system and working closely with community partners at every step along the way.