Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Metro Vancouver’s Council of Councils Part 2: Working together for affordable housing, clean water, regional prosperity, and more transit

On Monday, I posted about the first half of Metro Vancouver’s Council of Councils meeting. This meeting was an opportunity for all people elected to local government to learn, and ask questions, about key regional plans, projects, and priorities.

Today I will continue with what I learned during part two of the meeting.

Metro Vancouver Regional Affordable Housing Strategy

Housing affordability is top-of-mind for people living in Metro Vancouver. In the City of Langley, maintaining and enhancing our current affordable rental housing stock is critically important.

Metro Vancouver’s new Regional Affordable Housing Strategy focuses on rental housing, and transit. Why is transit important? Because besides housing costs, transportation is the second largest expenditure for most households in the region. By supporting affordable housing near frequent transit, people can start to see real household savings.

Metro Vancouver is actually a public housing provider via the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation. The Housing Corporation is looking at redeveloping many of its sites as mixed-income housing projects. This means that there will be both market-rate and below-market-rate housing. The idea is that these housing developments can be self-supporting.

Another key focus of the regional district will be to build more ground-level, family-friend affordable housing.

Metro Vancouver’s Regional Affordable Housing Strategy, unlike the Regional Growth Strategy, does not obligate any local government to participate in it. It is a framework to allow all levels of government to work together to tackle housing affordability in the region.

With new money from the federal government available to address affordable housing, cities throughout Canada will be wanting to get their hands on it. We are stronger as a region when we work together. I believe that supporting Metro Vancouver’s strategy will be the most effective way to get more affordable housing in the region.

If Metro Vancouver is successful in securing funds from the federal government and/or the province, it will be used for projects managed by Metro Vancouver. I asked at the meeting if Metro Vancouver will be doing anything to incentivize private developers to build or renovate affordable housing, and was told no.

Langley City has a lot of older rental stock that needs to be renewed. When this housing supply is renewed, and no protections are put in place, rental prices will increase. This will reduce the amount of affordable housing in Langley.

One of the options available to maintain affordability could be for Metro Vancouver to partner with private developers to ensure that as housing is renewed in Langley, the current amount of affordable rental housing in maintained. For this to work, Metro Vancouver would become the owner and/or operator of the affordable housing units. I asked around at the regional level, there appears to be support for this sort of model.

Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant

As I noted on Monday, Metro Vancouver received special funding from the federal government to help pay for the new Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant. Due to federal environmental regulations, this plant needs to be in service by 2020. With the federal commitment to invest $212 million into the plant, Metro Vancouver is lobbying for the provincial government to match those funds.

Artist rendering of new Lions Gate Secondary Wastewater Treatment Plant. Select image to enlarge.

The new plant will integrate with the community and will include “spaces to support outreach and educational opportunities.” The plant will be built in North Vancouver, and will take four years to build. You can find out more information about the plant at Metro Vancouver’s website.

Metro Vancouver Regional Prosperity Initiative

Metro Vancouver creates more than 50% of GDP for British Columbia, yet only represents 0.3% of its land base. Even though Metro Vancouver is the economic engine of this province, we have the second lowest GDP per capita of any other major region in Canada and the US.

This is why Metro Vancouver is working on the Regional Prosperity Initiative. You can read more about this from a post I wrote late last year.

One of the key aspects of the initiative is to act as a regional forum. The first forum will be held today, and will have people from the private and public sectors, as well as organized labour. After that, an Interim Steering Committee will be established to sort out governance and funding. The plan is to launch the initiative in full-force starting in April 2017.

10-Year Metros Vancouver Transit Plan Update

It is no surprise, and it was noted at the meeting, that mayors in our region are frustrated by the limited oversight of TransLink. For example, the mayors have a very limited mandate when it comes to who they can appoint to the TransLink board. While there has been a better collaborative relationship between TransLink and the mayors, more accountability is still needed.

With the feds now committed to paying for 50% of transit capital costs in the region, the region’s mayors are working to ensure the province pays its 33% share still. The mayors are also sorting out how to close the remaining 17% funding gap without triggering a new referendum. One of the ideas pitched was for a regional developer cost charge for transit.

One of the things that I heard clearly at the meeting is that the Mayors’ Transit Plan is an all or nothing proposal. No projects in the plan will be cherry picked out for funding. For the region to work, we must all be speaking with one voice, and there must be something in it for everyone.

One of the key things that I took away from the Council of Councils meeting was that calibration is key. This is why our region works so well. All local governments get together at the regional level, and work together to find solutions to complex issues. I am very proud of our region and what we’ve accomplished together.

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