The Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing offers nothing we didn’t see in the interim report. But it does add some meat to the bones and focuses more tightly on proposed solutions to deal with a critical problem in our city.
While it is focuses on housing for folks with individual annual incomes starting at $21,500 and families with collective incomes at $86,500, on the same day the city’s report was released there was a reminder about just how widespread this problem is. The University of British Columbia announced it was “becoming the only Lower Mainland employer to offer significant levels of restricted housing to employees and one of the world’s first universities to offer non-profit housing to low-income staff.”
UBC will be using its considerable land holdings to provide faculty, staff and students cut rates on accommodations. As many private sector firms have discovered in recent years, the cost of housing in this city has been a major inhibitor in attracting talent at practically all income levels. That’s why tenure track professors will be offered housing at 33 per cent “below benchmark” while faculty and staff will be given rental rates at 25 per cent below West Side rates.
The city also intends to use its land as part of the solution to the lack of affordability. The report is promising to implement trials of the “thin streets” proposal where 66-foot roadways will be sliced down the centre providing 33- foot building lots. It is one of the city’s top four priorities proposed years ago by city planners but only finding favour now.
That is only one of the proposals that will lead to densification of neighbourhoods. Another key proposal in that all new ground level construction of homes makes provisions for secondary suites. The city will “incentivize a minimum standard of suite ready status.” What was once anathema in Vancouver’s single family neighbourhoods will become mandatory.
In fact, as more than one observer has noted, there really is no such thing as single family neighbourhoods any more. An increasing number of building lots allow for three families, what with the principal residence, a secondary suite and the growing popularity of laneway housing.
But the major impact on density will come from increased density along transit corridors, an idea drawn from the report from the round table on building forms and design headed up by architect and developer Michael Geller.
That report talks about “transition zones” that “scale down from high-density housing near arterials, commercial centres and transit hubs to ground-oriented medium housing (e.g. stacked townhouses, row houses, townhouses, etc.) in the transition zone adjacent to single-family neighbourhoods.”
A great deal of this policy’s success is based on a robust public transit system that will reduce the need for parking and all of its development costs. This assumption comes at a time when TransLink has failed to acquire a sustainable revenue stream and is cutting services even though demand is on the rise. But that is another story.
Much of the fast tracking will be enabled by a proposed new housing authority, a kind of NEXUS system, to approve “affordable” housing projects.
Finally, within the report there is a backhanded mea culpa; an admission that this Vision council has failed miserably in the past in seeking neighbourhood input for its plans—everything from HEAT shelters for the homeless to spot zoning for affordable rental housing under their STIR program.
Now the city is looking at “more permissive” zoning and “accelerated planning programs.”
That is why deep into the report you see a commitment that “significant efforts should be made to develop sustained public support for the efforts to create more affordable and social housing.”
And it is about time.