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Task force targets housing 'affordability crisis' in Vancouver

Recommendations include community land trust

The city may create a housing authority, expand zoning to allow more forms of housing such as row houses and upgrade decaying rental housing stock to create so-called affordable homes for middle to moderate income earners.

Mayor Gregor Robertson announced those recommendations Monday and others, including the creation of a community land trust to acquire and hold land for cheaper housing, as part of his task force on housing affordability. There is no quick fix for affordable housing in Vancouver, the mayor told reporters at city hall. This is many decades of decline and challenging circumstances mounting and were not going to fix it overnight here.

But, the mayor said, the focus of the task force, which he co-chaired with former provincial Liberal cabinet minister Olga Ilich, is to zero in on what city hall can do to put a dent in what he called an affordability crisis. The recommendations, which will be open to public feedback before going before council in September, are aimed at finding housing for people earning between $21,500 and a combined $86,500 per year.

The report notes two sobering facts:

Vancouver has the highest housing prices in Canada and the vast majority of households in the city have incomes well below those required to purchase even a modest condo.

Nearly 50 per cent of households in Vancouver headed by people under 34 years old spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing.

For the city to have any impact on the citys market-driven real estate, the task force recommends broadening forms of housing to allow for more townhouses, row houses and laneway homes to achieve greater density. By extension, new forms of housing would increase the diversity and affordability of housing. Building that housing near transit is also key, according to the report, noting the benefits of lower transportation costs, proximity to jobs and easy access to child care, schools and parks.

The current state of housing in Vancouver exists largely in two formssingle-family homes on single lots and apartment buildings.

There is little in the continuum of housing beyond these two forms to meet the needs of families and smaller households, said the report, which was developed by a range of people including developers, non-profit housing providers, a First Nations leader and city councillors Raymond Louie and Geoff Meggs.

Other recommendations include investigating building affordable housing in partnerships with non-profits, foundations, unions, religious organizations and philanthropists.

Such partnerships acts as ethical investment vehicles, committed to providing financing at less than market returns for non-profits undertaking affordable housing projects, the report said.

The task force identified a need for a city-owned housing authority that would be tasked with developing social and affordable housing. Similar authorities already exist at Metro Vancouver, in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto.

As for rental housing, the city is currently reviewing four community plansin Marpole, the West End, Grandview-Woodlands and the Downtown Eastsidewhere a vast amount of market rental housing is decaying.

David McLellan, the deputy city manager who oversaw the work of the task force, said deciding how best to re-invest in that housing stock will or is included in the reviews.

Neither the mayor nor McLellan provided any costs of implementing the recommendations.

Twitter: @Howellings