Mayor Gregor Robertson has been on a campaign-style drive to explain his plan for affordable housing.
Since last Wednesday when council approved the plan that calls for fundamental changes to types of housing built in the city, he’s done radio call-in shows, one-on-one interviews, a so-called Twitter town hall meeting and wrote an editorial for the Vancouver Sun.
But while his efforts to explain a plan that involves language such as “inclusionary zoning” may be getting some traction, the question remains whether any affordable housing will be built in the near future.
Facing pushback from residents around the so-called thin streets concept of adding homes to corner lots has already seen the mayor pull back and say cutting wide streets in half for more housing won’t be forced on communities.
Another facet of the plan calls for a maximum of 20 projects such as new row homes, townhouses and duplexes to be built near major transit arterials. They all must be 100 per cent rental or sold at 20 per cent below market prices.
But when asked what developer will want to build a project that sells for below market prices, Robertson said he was confident builders will be interested in the idea he called a priority over the next year.
“I think the industry will respond to the opportunity for work,” Robertson told the Courier in an interview at his office Friday. “It may not be as high a margin as some of the product they’ve produced over the years but right now I think Vancouver is enjoying lots of construction activity that drives our economy. Many other cities aren’t.”
Details of who would be eligible to move into such a project aren’t finalized but Robertson said the creation of an Affordable Housing Authority will likely administer who gets in. The housing authority isn’t expected to be operating until possibly the fall of 2013.
All the housing under the mayor’s plan is aimed at finding homes for single-income earners with a $21,500 annual income and household incomes reaching $86,500.
If the public is to see any immediate affordable housing built under the plan, it could come on city land. The city continues with its request for expressions of interests from builders to construct affordable housing on six city-owned properties considered underused. “That’s the first foray in to leasing city land for affordable housing projects,” said the mayor, noting an estimated 500 affordable units could be spread across the six properties.
Over the next eight months, Robertson said, there will be more opportunity for residents to weigh in on concerns they have with the plan’s implementation.
The city also plans to consult with citizen advisory groups and reconvene a renters’ roundtable before a report goes to council in June 2013.
Several speakers who spoke to city council last Wednesday said there wasn’t enough public consultation during the lead-up to the plan’s approval. Robertson refuted the claim, saying the push for affordable housing has been a major part of both his campaign agendas in 2008 and 2011. “This is an ongoing process and there will be regular opportunities for residents to plug in and give feedback,” he said, referring to rezoning hearings and further discussions with citizens’ groups.
But, Robertson said, it’s also council’s job to “strike a balance” between taking action on an issue and collecting feedback from residents. “People expect the mayor and council to take leadership and make decisions for the good of the city and there’s no question affordability is a massive challenge in Vancouver.”