Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Township's Housing Action Plan

As I mentioned yesterday, the Township of Langley has been working on a housing strategy for the past several years. The development of the strategy is a requirement of Metro Vancouver's Regional Growth Strategy. Township council was presented with a draft copy of the strategy last week. The strategy called the Housing Action Plan aims to look at how the Township can be an inclusive community that includes housing options from emergency shelters, transition & supportive housing, and social housing to market rental housing and home ownership. The Action Plan identified some major gaps in housing options in the Township today including:

Gap: Lack of rental housing close to transit, jobs and services
This is a particular issue for students, seniors and people who are reliant on transit to get to work. Employers noted that the lack of transit affects some businesses’ recruiting ability, especially for those located in business parks, which tend to be located at a distance from transit stops. The lack of rental housing options is equally challenging for modest income households, who neither qualify for government rental supplements nor the purchase of a home.

Gap: Lack of a variety of affordable homeownership options
This is not an issue unique to Langley Township, but it is particularly important in a family–friendly municipality. The Township’s Sustainability Charter speaks directly to this though the goal of developing livable and vibrant communities with flexible, affordable and mixed housing options. The wider the choice of housing types and sizes, the more options are available for homeownership.

Gap: Lack of housing for people with special needs
The Township has little transitional and affordable supportive housing for special needs groups, including youth-at-risk of becoming homeless, low fixed income seniors, and mental health clients. Service providers working with at-risk clients who qualify for rent supplements indicate that it is very difficult to find market rental housing as there is very little turnover in the existing supply.

Gap: Limited supply of social housing for seniors and families
Relative to neighbouring municipalities, Langley Township has very little subsidized family or seniors housing. Less than 1% of all dwellings are subsidized in the Township. In the City of Langley, this figure is 9%; in Coquitlam, it is almost 5%

In order to support a diversity of housing options, the Plan makes some recommendations. The first set of recommendations involves updating bylaws and dedicating staff resources to support the implementation and monitor of the Housing Action Plan. This would include generating a list of current non-market housing and market rental housing in the community. It would also include ensuring that all new neighbourhood plans supports a variety of inclusive housing options.

When it comes to marketing housing, the Plan recommends that the Township continues to support building a mix of housing types with a target of 30-50% of all new housing being medium or high density. The Plan also recommends that the Township encourage green construction methods that reduce energy use and environmental impact.

For market rental housing, the Plan recommends that the Township increases the supply of rental housing by supporting the construction of mixed-use buildings in walkable town centres where transit is available. One of the first steps for the Township will be to get a walkable town centre with frequent transit. To be honest, I think Aldergrove would be the only community that meets the metric today. Building a walkable town centre with transit will only happen when TransLink gets fully funded. This requires the support of the province.

The Plan also supports secondary suites. Recognizing that most home owners aren’t going to create “legal suites”, the Plan supports introducing health and life safety standards as an alternative to rigid building code requirements. It also recommends capturing the full cost of utility usage. This is something that I have recommended in the past. In fact, the default assumption should be that all new houses with a basement entrance will contain a secondary suite and require that these places be secondary suite ready from day one.

When it comes to non-market housing, the Action Plan recommends the development of new housing options and the regeneration of older non-market housing. The biggest challenge of course is funding. It is a real shame that the federal government stop providing funding for a national non-market housing strategy in the early 1990s. This dumped the responsibility to the Provinces which dumped the responsibility of providing non-market housing to local government. Without sufficient funding, the availability of non-market housing in Canada has become a national embarrassment.

While the Housing Action Plan notes that funding is needed from other orders of government, it also recommends using innovative local funding options. One option is to create an Affordable Housing Reserve Fund that developers could contribute to as a required “community amenity” in new projects. The Township could also provide density bonuses to developers in exchange for non-market housing units in new housing projects.

The whole Housing Action Plan is about 30 pages and worth the read. The next step for the Township will be to adopt the Plan and move forward on developing policies that support a diversity of housing options in the community.

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