New Westminster is suspending work on a number of initiatives so staff can focus their efforts on affordable housing.
At a special meeting on Aug. 10, council supported an “expedited” review process for an affordable housing project on a city-owned site at 350 to 362 Fenton St. in Queensborough. Council has endorsed in-principle a proposal from the Vancouver Native Housing Society, which is proposing to build a 51-unit, three-storey apartment building.
“Staff recognizes that this is a higher-density proposal than initially anticipated through a small-site process, however, staff still recommends advancing this project given the benefits that would be realized, including delivery of much-needed affordable housing units and the overall quality of the proposal,” said a staff report. “Consultation with the community and stakeholders during the development review process would explore how design, and potentially density, can be modified to ensure that this building form would fit appropriately in this context.”
To make additional staff available for this project, council directed planning staff to suspend work on three other initiatives: A Welcome Centre/Neighbourhood Learning Centre in the new high school; implementation of the Sanctuary City policy; and work on a shared entrances and common areas policy.
“I do think we need to push forward with the next BC Housing intake so this seems reasonable,” said Coun. Nadine Nakagawa. “It is still an unfortunate tradeoff.”
According to a staff report, the expedited application review process is required in order for the proposed project in Queensborough to target the January 2021 round of provincial funding. The project would provide housing for low-to moderate-income singles and families, with a focus on Indigenous individuals and families.
Nakagawa said the city doesn’t have endless resources, and staff don’t have endless time, so she appreciated seeing what work needs to be paused in order to move this work forward. She questioned whether staff anticipates the need for a policy on “poor doors” in the near future.
“With regard to separate entrances, we have gotten guidance from council previously with regards to common entrances and amenities,” said John Stark, the city’s supervisor of community planning. “That guidance is assisting us when we are negotiating with developers.”
Last November, council approved a workplan for the development of a policy about shared and separate entrances and common areas. That stemmed from concerns that arose during consideration of an uptown highrise, which will include separate entrances and amenity areas for residents of the strata and rental units.
Stark said staff has completed most of the work related to a Sanctuary City policy, but still need to reconnect with settlement organizations and those with lived experience. He said staff hopes to bring the policy forward to council in the fall and implement the policy in the new year.
“We will have the policy in place, and it will still be communicated to all of our departments,” he added. “So it will be guiding all of our work, but the specific implementation will not occur until the new year.”
Sanctuary cities are communities that welcome refugees and immigrants and allow people to access municipal services without fear of being deported.
As for the city’s Welcome Centre and Wellness Centre in the new high school, Stark said staff paused work on that project because of COVID-19 but it’s still on the city’s radar. He noted the new high school is behind schedule and will open in January 2021, which has provided some additional time for consideration of city spaces in the new school.
“We have lost some time but I think that was just a reality of situation, given COVID-19,” he said. “That will be moving forward in the fall, and I am sure a lot of the work will happen early in the new year.”
In addition to the Queensborough site, the city previously issued a request for proposals for a small-site, affordable housing project on city-owned land at 2035 London St. and 2038 Ninth Ave. In a report to council, staff stated they aren’t ready to make a recommendation about which project should be selected for the Connaught Heights site because more time is needed to research the history of the vacant site.
Council directed staff to work on that project, with the goal of having a shovel-ready plan available for the next round of BC Housing funding, which is expected to be in 2022. Staff will report back to council once research into the site’s history is complete.