We are often told that the creation of affordable housing is dependent upon partnerships between the public, private and non-profit sectors. When we think of the public sector, we usually think of the municipal, provincial and federal governments.
However, we overlook another level of government: regional government.
This month, Metro Vancouver is organizing affordable housing workshops to bring together regional housing and planning officials, along with healthcare, non-profit and private sector representatives. Unfortunately, politicians are not invited, although Vancouver Coun. Geoff
Meggs and Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart attended the first session.
The purpose of these workshops is to review proposals to update the Regional Affordable Housing Strategy that was first adopted by Metro Directors in 2007.
While the primary responsibility for affordable housing rests with municipalities, Metro Vancouver plays a number of roles. These include delivering mixed-income housing in Vancouver and other municipalities through its Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation (MVHC), setting policy direction through its Regional Growth Strategy, undertaking housing research and organizing workshops, advocating to senior governments for new policies and resources and using fiscal measures such as waiver of its development cost charges for affordable rental housing.
While few of us are aware of Metro Vancouver’s past accomplishments when it comes to affordable housing, the Regional Growth Strategy is an important blueprint for the future planning and development of the region. Metro has also prepared useful housing demand estimates and undertaken research on parking requirements in rental housing, amongst other things.
Metro housing officials have established a number of goals for the coming decade. They include expanding the supply and diversity of housing, especially near transit, preserving existing rental housing stock, meeting housing demand estimates for low and moderate income earners and ending homelessness throughout the region.
These are all lovely goals. Unfortunately, given Metro’s mandate, it does not have the authority to do as much as it should when it comes to affordable housing. It must rely on persuasion, rather than regulation. However, there are things it can do.
Using the results of its parking study, it should encourage municipalities to reduce excessive parking standards. As we increasingly use transit, car-share programs and our feet, today’s minimum parking requirements could become tomorrow’s maximum requirements, provided special consideration is given to visitor parking.
Metro should also help municipalities rationalize their myriad of zoning and building bylaws.
Why should there be so many different rules and regulations when it comes to determining building heights, density calculations, and unit sizes? They all add to costs.
For example, why does the City of North Vancouver insist that studio suites be a minimum of 440 square feet when other municipalities allow smaller, more affordable apartments?
Conversely, why are basement suites legal in North Vancouver duplexes, but not in Vancouver’s duplexes?
Recently, laneway housing has become a popular form of housing in some, but not all municipalities. Metro could play a valuable role in persuading other municipalities to permit laneway homes by preparing a model zoning bylaw and best practices guide.
The same could hold true for other forms of housing such as freehold townhouses and stacked townhouses. I know that many municipalities would welcome such resources.
Metro should also promote other forms of housing tenure. These could include life-lease ownership, which was used to create affordable housing for retired actors and performers at the Performing Arts Lodge at Bayshore.
Metro could educate us about shared-equity ownership, an excellent way to help young households buy their first home, which is common in the U.K. and other countries.
Metro could also promote co-housing, a cross between cooperative and condominium living. It has proven itself to be an attractive and affordable housing option for young families and seniors looking for community-focused housing choices, especially in Europe and the U.S.
I will have more to write about co-housing in a future column. However, if you would like to learn more now, Kathy Sayers and James Chamberlain of oururbanvillage.ca are planning an information session for people interested in co-housing at the Creekside Community Centre in Olympic Village on Sunday, Nov. 29 from 4 to 6 p.m. Further details are available on their website.
I will be there. Hopefully Metro officials and politicians will be there, too.