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Affordable housing strategy nears adoption

Likely to be among Squamish council’s last acts



Nearly one-year after the first draft was presented to Squamish council, the district’s Mixed Income Housing Policy (MIHP) is about to become a reality.

Though opposed by Councillor Corinne Lonsdale, all other members of council met the final draft of the MIHP with tempered support during last week’s strategy session. It stands to be adopted on Nov. 16, the last regular meeting of sitting council.

“This is a long-term attempt to make sure there’s some affordability,” said Councillor Patricia Heinztman.

The policy is aimed at working families and individuals with reasonable incomes, both groups under pressure by years of climbing prices in the corridor’s housing markets. Individuals and families earning less than 80 per cent of the town’s average annual income could qualify for ownership assistance should council adopt the policy.

According to a staff report, households earning less than $51,000 in 2007 would’ve been candidates for assistance. At the same time, the report notes that households earning less than 60 per cent of average income would not meet financing requirements, a reality that sees the policy serving those earning between $38,000 and $51,000. The district will maintain a waiting list of qualified buyers.

The MIHP will fuel itself from developers seeking rezoning, as a successful third reading stands to boost the value of a given lot. That extra value is called a land lift, and a portion of that projected lift goes into the MIHP, either through pledged units or cash in lieu.

In the case of apartment projects, a developer is expected to sell 10 per cent of its units at 80 per cent of market rate. For townhouses, the expectation is five per cent at 60 per cent below-market. In some cases, such as when a development has less than 10 apartment units, a cash in lieu contribution is expected.

Lonsdale voted against the policy for a number of reasons. She said the unit-based approach would take “eons” to make an impact. Neil Plum, district land consultant, said the policy allows for council to switch from units to cash should the market shift unexpectedly.

“We’re missing the renters and those in real need,” said Councillor Jeff McKenzie. “I guess that’s farther down the road. Is there a plan or a strategy for that?”

“What this does at the rezoning stage is give us the opportunity to acquire funds,” said Plum. “This doesn’t preclude council from putting funds towards any of those issues.”

Further, added planner Sabina FooFat, should council adopt the MIHP, which is the product of considerable negotiation between the district, developers and land owners, then staff can better focus on special need groups.

Though the policy has yet to be adopted, staff has been using it in negotiations for some time. By the end of 2007, according to the district’s finance department, the municipality acquired 20 units and $36,600.

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