Coun. Cal Crawford had a “big problem” with the short-term rent control offered for the affordable-rental units in a development application presented to council on March 15.
The developers were looking for 10 additional units in a four-storey apartment in exchange for offering six units at affordable rates for the next five years. Crawford said the offer was “a bit of an insult.”
“I think it’s very unfair to take it this low,” Crawford said. “What does that do for the people that are going to live there? Put them in for five years, and then tell them they have to find somewhere else if they still require some type of control.”
Staff recommended rejecting that portion of the application, as it was “considerably less” than what other proposals wanting to benefit from the density bonusing program have offered. Typically applications in the program offer units at below-market rates for anywhere from 10 to 30 years.
Crawford said that future applicants will judge how low councillors allow that bar to fall, and there would be no point having an incentive program with terms of five years.
“I would like to see a 15 year period,” he said.
The developers hoped to build a 54-unit apartment on the 33000 block of Barker Court, and requested zoning amendments which would incorporate the property into the density bonusing area.
A letter was sent to council requesting leniency on affordable housing because they had given up 8 meters of land (or at least six units, the developers estimate) to the district for the future upgrading of Stave Lake Road. They initially offered the district direct payment in lieu of affordable units.
Crawford was joined by Coun. Mark Davies and Coun. Danny Plecas in firm rejection of the current proposal, and council voted to defer a decision on moving the application forward.
“Five years simply isn’t enough,” Davies said. “This development in my mind needs to go forward without the bonusing, or it needs the (rent term) timeline needs to come up.”
The developer will have to either increase their rent control threshold, or redesign the project to remove roughly 20 per cent of density, staff said.
Plecas said they need a more strategic approach when it comes to affordable housing. It’s currently difficult to gauge the benchmark of acceptability of development applications with affordable-housing, said Manager of Planning Rob Publow, adding they would benefit from a guide.
“We are constantly struggling with that question,” Publow said, adding He said the density bonusing bylaw does not specify the length of time a housing agreement must be in place.
Staff are in the early stages formulating such a benchmark, and they will have more details when the District completes its affordable housing strategy in several months, said Mike Dickinson, manager of long range planning and special projects.
He said they are currently working with consultants and looking at other municipalities for best practises, although there is no standard benchmark. Some key points of focus are creating more affordable units larger than bachelor suites, and longer rent-control periods.
“I would argue for as long a term as possible,” Dickinson said. “People definitely need security of tenure … or else (affordable housing) just vanishes after a short period of time.”