Can building lower cost units in New Westminster help Vancouver's affordability issue?
In last week’s column, I began to explore what cities like Vancouver should do to help create more affordable housing. I raised the issue of pre-zoning more stacked townhouses and row houses as a means of introducing low-cost options for first-time home buyers.
If we all agree that lowering the value of current homes is not a realistic policy option, then it’s critical we get more creative in order to increase housing affordability. However, we must first ensure our civic politicians and planners adopt three key principles:
Principle one: The City of Vancouver must work with neighbouring municipalities to solve its affordable housing crisis. In other words, we must look at the region as a whole if we want to develop cost-effective strategies.
Principle two: The fees and levies cities layer on to the final price tag of a home are increasingly becoming part of the problem.
Principle three: There are many good ideas that can be found beyond our borders.
Regarding principle one, we should be building thousands more affordable housing units near rapid transit stations conveniently located 30-40 minutes away from downtown. Constructing less expensive units near rapid transit in Coquitlam and New Westminster, where land is relatively cheaper, is a realistic way of beginning to ease the pressure within Vancouver’s boundaries.
In regard to principle two, cities must also acknowledge they are reducing affordability by layering on thousands of dollars worth of fees, levies and red tape to each new unit constructed. These charges don’t disappear after they’ve been assessed by a municipality; rather, they get passed along to the first-time home purchaser.
Lastly, following the third principle, we need to begin looking at best practices around the world to see what might work here locally. For example, why are we not implementing the concept of equity sharing as a possible solution?
Otherwise known as “shared ownership”, this model allows an individual to purchase less than a 100% share in a home, even if they can’t afford a mortgage for the whole amount. Considering that securing a down payment is one of the biggest barriers preventing young buyers from buying their first place, this could well help to address that problem.
I have no doubt the affordable housing issue will continue to be top of mind for years to come. But I also remain hopeful our civic leaders are prepared to expend some political capital to help solve it.
- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on on Twitter @CityCaucus or you can "like" us on Facebook at facebook.com/citycaucus. This column first appeared in 24 Hours Vancouver on Thursday, December 15, 2011.