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Task force recommends fast-tracking applications to build affordable housing in Vancouver

Report says senior-levels government support crucial to affordable housing stock

A task force created to tackle the citys affordability crisis recommends applications to build affordable rental or owned housing be allowed to jump the queue at city hall.

The recommendation is of one several so-called quick start actions announced by the mayors task force on housing affordability, which delivered an interim report Monday. Its final report is due in June.

Olga Ilich, who co-chairs the task force with Mayor Gregor Robertson, said building applications are taking several months to process at city hall. Once approvals are given, architectural drawings completed and permits in place, it can take another year to get a project built, she added.

Ilich said its up to city council to follow through on the quick start actions, which also include leveraging city land to get nonprofits and co-ops built and focusing on building row houses and town homes.

One of the big problems in Vancouver, of course, is the cost of land, she said, when asked about row houses. If you can put more units on a piece of propertyand not be in a highriseyouve got a different form of housing that uses land a bit more efficiently.

The task force is focused on addressing affordability for low to middle income households. This represents an individual earning $21,500 or less per year to a combined household income of $86,500 per year.

The housing is aimed at lower-income singles and couples with critical needs for suitable accommodation, singles and couples struggling to buy their first home, families who want to live in the city instead of the suburbs and empty nesters and seniors wishing to downsize without leaving their neighbourhood.

But how or who will ensure these types of people get first crack at affordable housing is a question Ilich was not able to answer when she spoke to reporters at city hall Monday.

Those are all things that were going to be dealing with in the coming months, she said.

The task force identified the Cambie corridor and its new land-use plan as an area to target for affordable housing. She said more clarity is needed for developers on the cost of community amenity contributions to speed up development. Same goes for the citys policy on inclusionary zoning in which developers have to devote a percentage of a project to affordable or social housing.

I think were going to be talking a lot about densifying, and gently densifying neighbourhoods such as youve seen with laneway housing, she said of the ongoing work of the task force.

The interim report notes the support of senior levels of government is crucial to getting affordable housing built, including the need for the federal government to provide enhanced tax incentives and financing mechanisms for builders.

That appears to be a hurdle.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty wrote a letter dated Jan. 4, 2012 to New Westminster mayor Wayne Wright, who is the chairperson of the Metro Vancouver housing committee. The letter was in reply to a request for the federal government to examine tax incentives.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of quality and affordable housing for Canadians, Flaherty wrote. It has chosen to support efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing by providing direct support and not by offering tax incentives.

He added that Canada enjoys a high rate of home ownership among industrialized countries and has a vibrant rental market and a broad network of social housing for those Canadians who need support.

Twitter: @Howellings