Cities can assist home buyers
From emergency accommodations to entry-level market homes, municipalities have a variety of tools to enable the development of a range of housing choices.
Although housing is not a primary responsibility of local governments, a Metro Vancouver staff report on the Friday (November 23) agenda of the regional body’s housing committee demonstrates how municipalities can play a leadership role.
But while there may be general agreement on the need for supportive and affordable rental housing for the less wealthy, the subject of how far governments should go in facilitating private ownership of homes is subject to debate.
For development consultant Michael Geller, municipalities shouldn’t place obstacles in the way of building entry-level market homes. But he also draws the line at using public land for this purpose. “I think that I would rather see municipalities make it easier for the private developers to build entry-level housing on private lands rather than be using public land for entry-level housing,” Geller told the Georgia Straight by phone. “And that’s because I do worry about who gets to live in those units, and whether there’s not a higher or better use for some of these sites.”
According to Geller, one tool local governments can use is the relaxation of parking requirements. It’s one of the regulatory solutions highlighted in the Metro Vancouver staff report What Works: Affordable Housing Initiatives in Metro Vancouver Municipalities.
The report profiles 12 housing developments and programs in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario that municipalities can draw lessons from in planning a range of housing options. “Increasing the supply of affordable housing in the region also includes ensuring that entry-level homeownership opportunities are available to residents,” it states.
One example of easing parking requirements is at 60 West Cordova Street in Vancouver. For the 112-unit development, city hall allowed a reduction of the required number of parking stalls from 73 to 19.
The report notes that creating a parking stall in downtown Vancouver costs between $30,000 and $40,000 to build. With reduced parking at 60 West Cordova, excavation for underground parking wasn’t necessary.
The city also approved small units, which contributed to the units’ affordability. For example, one-bedroom units range from 524 square feet to 619 square feet. Two-bedroom units go from 755 square feet to 791 square feet. Seventy percent of the units had price tags below $300,000.
The Metro Vancouver report also looks at protecting the continued affordability of entry-level private homes built with the help of municipalities.
“One of the key questions that must be addressed when facilitating affordable ownership housing options is how affordability is to be preserved, if at all, and for how long?” the report asks. “Should the price be affordable for the first purchaser then be governed by the market, should affordability be controlled for a certain time period, say 20 years, or in fact, in perpetuity?”
The report cites examples of resale restrictions adopted by a number of municipalities to ensure that these private homes remain affordable in the future. In Ottawa, owners disposing homes they bought at below-market prices at the 30-unit Clarence Gate development must sell these back to the nonprofit developer Centretown Affordable Housing Development Corporation at a price equal to their original purchase value plus inflation based on the Consumer Price Index. For this project, the city waived charges and fees, and delayed payment on the city land used for the project.
Under Calgary’s Attainable Home Ownership Program, owners can sell their properties to any buyer. However, a portion of their home’s appreciation value goes to Attainable Homes Calgary Corporation, a nonprofit owned by the city, and is reinvested in the housing program.
In a cover memo for the report, senior regional housing planner Margaret Eberle emphasizes that affordable housing in various forms is a pressing issue in the Lower Mainland. With the region’s ongoing population growth of 40,000 people per year, she notes that this requires municipalities to come up with strategies to meet shelter needs.
Eberle stresses, however, that senior levels of government have the principal responsibility of housing low-income and vulnerable people.