Metro Vancouver staff raise prospect of TOAH funds boosting affordable housing near transit stations

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      Metro Vancouver is considering an innovative approach to help develop affordable rental housing near transit locations.

      It’s a model inspired by what is being done in a number of metropolitan regions in the U.S., including Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver.

      It involves the creation of a regional fund as a low-cost financing tool to support the development of what is known as “transit-oriented affordable housing”, or TOAH. Raymond Kan, a senior planner with Metro Vancouver, wrote in a report that this fund could “incrementally improve the delivery of affordable rental housing”.

      As in peer jurisdictions in the U.S., this regional fund will blend public and private contributions, according to Kan. “In Metro Vancouver, this form of partnership would be novel, and would entail a deeper integration of regional land use and housing objectives with the business side of housing development,” he explained.

      An attachment to Kan’s report noted that regional funds in places like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver range in size from US$21 million to US$93 million.

      “These funds are not intended to bend regional market forces, but rather to target a modest amount of financial resources towards the creation or preservation of affordable rental housing in specific geographies consistent with regional plans,” the document notes.

      The paper said that in the four U.S. regional cities, transit-oriented funds have either created or preserved 3,000 affordable rental-housing units. The funds were established in the past three to eight years.

      The paper also related that major regional employers in the tech sector are pledging contributions. It noted that Microsoft, in January 2019, promised US$500 million for affordable and middle-income housing in the Seattle region.

      In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative—of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan—announced a partnership that pledged US$500 million.

      The attachment noted that minimum amounts for a TOAH fund in Metro Vancouver have been identified in order to “send appropriate signals to potential recipients” that it is a “serious source of financial support”.

      “A TOAH fund with a focus on pre-development would likely require a minimum $10 million fund size,” the paper explained. “A TOAH fund with a post-construction/permanent financing focus would likely require a minimum of $200 million.”

      In his report, Kan wrote that there will be an estimated supply gap of 24,000 to 27,000 units of affordable housing in transit-oriented locations across the region during the next 10 years. This refers to housing for renters earning less than $50,000 annually.

      It goes to the Metro Vancouver regional planning committee for discussion on Friday (April 5).

      Staff have recommended that the board send a letter communicating key findings of the Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing Study Phase 2 to various federal and provincial cabinet ministers, TransLink's board of directors, the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation, and city councils.