Metro Vancouver could look at affordable housing fund

Since 2005, the Capital Regional District on Vancouver Island has used a fund to help build and retain rental homes for families with low or moderate incomes.

The elected municipal politicians on the Metro Vancouver board may want to consider creating a similar fund. The concept is particularly timely because thousands of rental units across the Lower Mainland are at risk of being torn down.

Burnaby councillor Colleen Jordan, who is a member of Metro’s housing committee, is eager to look into this.

“There is an opportunity because the difficulty is for any one municipality to do any kind of significant project on their own,” Jordan told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “It’s very, very expensive.”

To illustrate the challenges individual municipalities face in providing affordable rental-housing options, Jordan cited the case of her own city. According to her, in the last few years Burnaby has produced only a handful of these units via private developers who were granted extra density for their projects in return.

“As with other things that Metro Vancouver does, when we collectively put resources together we’re able to spread the cost around,” Jordan said. “So that seems a reasonable way to look at things.”

However, Jordan also pointed out that, even though a fund could work, the region cannot meet all needs. She suggested that the provincial and federal governments should resume funding the building and acquiring of rental housing.

According to the Capital Regional District, 12 of its member municipalities participate in the Regional Housing Trust Fund. In 2011, these municipalities contributed over $882,000 in total.

Since 2005, according to the CRD’s website, the fund has provided $4.9 million in grants for the construction of new rental-housing units, as well as the acquisition of existing ones. It has produced 397 units so far. These homes house both singles and families.

The CRD notes that the fund has increased the district’s ability to raise cash because it can be used to leverage additional monies from both senior levels of government and the private sector.

Janet Kreda, who is a senior housing planner with Metro, mentioned the concept of a “Regional Affordable Housing Trust Fund” in a report on the meeting agenda for the regional district’s housing committee on Friday (June 22).

Kreda also looked at the broad picture with regard to the risks facing the region’s purpose-built rental inventory. These are buildings with four or more units that were built before 1980.

According to her report, about 14 percent—or nearly 7,000 out of the 48,000 rental units located outside the city of Vancouver—are in danger of being demolished and replaced with nonrental homes. The number may increase to over 10,000 units in the next 10 years.

“There can be limited incentive for landlords to make capital upgrades to existing units that could prolong the life…of the asset or to make investments to improve operating efficiencies, if the opportunity for redevelopment is just around the corner,” Kreda wrote.

The Lower Mainland has a total of 115,000 purpose-built rental units. About 67,000 of these are in the city of Vancouver. In her report, Kreda recalled that a 2009 study showed 12 percent of Vancouver’s rental stock would be at risk of redevelopment if the city didn’t have its rate-of-change bylaw. This regulation requires developers in Vancouver to replace rental units that are demolished on a one-for-one basis.


By Carlito Pablo

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