West Vancouver to fund affordable housing

Dedicated municipal fund now around $5 million

A property purchased by the District of West Vancouver sits decaying on Gordon Avenue. The district is looking to redevelop the site for affordable housing | Mike Wakefield/North Shore News

District of West Vancouver council is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to affordable housing.

Council voted unanimously Monday night to establish a reserve fund specifically to pay for affordable housing projects.

In July 2016, council changed its policy to begin allowing cash in lieu of other community amenity contributions from developers in exchange for extra density. Council put that into practice in October with the approval of the Sewell’s Landing development in Horseshoe Bay, which included $4 million in cash for the district.

The Hollyburn Gardens project approved the following month put up another $700,000.

Having a designated fund will allow the district to leverage more cash or grants from senior levels of government and from non-profits for affordable housing projects, according to district staff.

Mayor Michael Smith said it was an important motion for council to pass.

“We’re not trying to create housing for everyone who wants to live in West Vancouver. We can’t create 30 million housing units. But what we are trying to do is make sure we have a complete community,” he said, noting that means housing that works for people in a range of ages or abilities, or even district staff.

“It gives council a lot of tools to tweak our housing stock to meet the needs of the community.”

With “shrewd” use of council’s land assets, it should be possible to bulk up the fund quickly, he added.

The district owns several plots of land it is eyeing for affordable housing. This includes a large property on the 2100 block of Gordon Avenue the district purchased from Vancouver Coastal Health for $16 million in 2014.

The move was supported “wholeheartedly” by housing advocates. At the last count, there were at least 8,990 households on the North Shore experiencing “core housing need,” meaning they spent at least 50 per cent of their income on shelter costs, according to Don Peters, chairman of the community housing action committee.

“I urge you, as I do the other two municipalities on the North Shore, to be as opportunistic as you can deciding where this money goes,” he said. “Approval of this bylaw, ladies and gentlemen, will be an important message to everybody.”

West Vancouver’s official community plan does call for the creation of affordable housing. Both the province and the federal government have announced funding will be made available for affordable housing projects.

As reported in Wednesday’s North Shore News, annual population estimates recently released by the province reveal that West Vancouver is the fastest shrinking municipality in the Lower Mainland, something Smith attributed, in part, to a lack of affordable housing.