The City of New Westminster is hoping to make affordable rental housing mandatory in new developments across the city by the middle of 2019.
On Monday, city council endorsed a draft inclusionary housing policy and directed staff to apply the draft policy when reviewing current pre-applications or formal applications from developers.
“Housing is going to be one of the most important issues that we work on around this council table and will be one of our top priorities. There is no one single policy that is going to address the affordable housing crisis that we have here in Metro Vancouver, but I do believe inclusionary zoning is actually one of the more powerful tools that local governments do have,” said Mayor Jonathan Cote. “I’m looking forward to seeing this policy work advance, and I think there is going to be a number of other policy items that are going to be put forward in early 2019 as we here in New Westminster try to address and be a leader when it comes to the housing challenges faced, not only in our community but in the region.”
A report to council states that the inclusionary housing policy aims to increase the supply of new affordable rental housing to meet the needs of very low-income households (under $30,000 a year) and low-income households ($30,000 to $75,000 a year). The report states that an appropriate target rent for those earning below $30,000 is $750, while those earning between $30,000 and $50,00 can afford to pay between $750 and $1,250 and moderate income households can afford to pay up to $1,875 per month.
Cote said the city will be engaging with the community and the development community during the first half of 2019 about the policy, with the hope and intention of having an inclusionary housing policy in place in New Westminster by the middle of 2019.
According to the staff report, the draft policy provides three options for applicants to pursue, all of which involve the transfer of affordable units to a vetted non-profit housing society or the city.
“This is a big step for us to be bringing this draft policy forward,” said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy. “I’d like the community to be active. Have a look at it, tell us what you want. We have a pretty broad range of inclusionary zoning that we are considering. We will be looking to the community to guide us.”
A staff report states that low rental vacancy rates are making it difficult for renters to find affordable rental units, and there’s an inadequate supply of non-market housing due to a lack of new affordable housing construction over the last 25 years. In addition, the report states that many of the older rental properties are being sold and there is an increasing number of renovictions.
Cote said affordable housing has become one of the most critical issues facing Metro Vancouver and a variety of policy approaches will be needed to address the issue. While there are solutions to be found through all levels of government, he said local governments have an important role to play, particularly in encouraging and mandating affordable housing in new development projects.
“Over the last number of years the City of New Westminster has been able to secure nonmarket affordable housing within developments, but these have been on a case-by-case basis and negotiated individually. Really, what an inclusionary housing policy is is actually stipulating that new developments have to have a certain percentage of nonmarket or below-market housing component in there,” he said. “To me, I think this is a really important step forward.”
In addition to the inclusionary housing policy, city council has directed staff to develop a rental replacement policy, which would strive to replace rental units lost through redevelopment.
Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said the city needs to come out “all guns ablazing” at the next Union of B.C. Municipalities, Lower Mainland Local Government Association and Federation of Canadian Municipalities conferences with strong resolutions to ask senior levels of government to start bringing in laws that will preserve housing and continue to allow for healthy communities.