City-owned land may boost housing supply

Mayor's task force will look at affordable units



Vancouver might offer city-owned land to help boost the supply of affordable housing units, a move that critics say could backfire.

"If you're in the market, there are risks. The potential exists to lose money," said University of B.C. real-estate Prof. Tsur Somerville on Monday. "It's one thing to build social housing for poor families and it's another to be building rental apartments at market prices in competition with private developers. That's a horrible idea."

A mayor's task force on housing affordability is expected to be approved today by the Vision Vancouver majority on council.

Former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Olga Ilich, a well-known private real-estate developer, will co-chair the task force with Vision Mayor Gregor Robertson.

"It's positive that someone from the private sector is heading the task force," said Somerville. "It won't be driven by just a wish list."

Vision Coun. Raymond Louie said members of the task force are donating their time to examine a broad range of accommodation, including social, rental and market housing.

He said the city might draw from its own land holdings or buy property to assist in making projects happen quickly.

Deals could be done with non-profit agencies, senior governments and private developers.

One recent example was the new Woodward's development, in which the city traded its financial stake in return for addition-al units of social housing from the developer.

"It is getting harder and harder to live in our city. How will our children afford housing? The task force will address those problems," Louie said.

Ilich believes the work won't infringe upon private developers' turf.

"We need private developers' help, but we need to make sure it works for them as well," she said. "I'm happy to see the city putting some focus on this. An action plan is needed."

Opposition Coun. George Affleck will be following the costs closely for the NPA.

"The Olympic Village taught us to stay away from development," he said. "It really concerns me if city land reserves are sold for development purposes. We shouldn't be in the business of building buildings."

The task force's final report is expected in June.


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