Council Member Mathew Bond presented the newly elected DNV Council with a proposal to move ahead the District’s development of non-market housing during the November 26 Council meeting. Bond’s proposal intended to pre-zone District owned land in order to advance the successful Ballot question that authorized Council to spend $150 million over ten years to build at least 1000 new units of non-market housing.
Bond presented a short history of the previous Council’s work on the rental and affordable housing portfolio, and the “363 pages of staff reports, 110 slides of staff presentations and 40 pages of meeting minutes (that) went into developing the “Rental and Affordable Housing Strategy.”
“I say this because we have already spilled a lot of ink on a plan for affordable rental housing in the District of North Vancouver, and I don’t know how much more ink is left in staff’s pens to do more study. We need action.”
Bond pointed out that the District’s reputation had “taken a hit” with Federal and Provincial partners, as well as the non-profit community. Making land available specifically for non-market development would make it easier to develop projects, and would help to restore that reputation.
Councillor Jim Hanson opened the discussion by acknowledging the sincerity of Bond’s attempt to address the housing problem, and by agreeing that affordable housing is “a dramatic community need.” He then argued that “What’s actually required for us to move forward, to achieve a better vision of affordability in North Vancouver District, starts with a consensus at this table … the seven of us need to form a collective vision, a strategy, a plan.” Hanson felt that the proposed motion was potentially divisive. “A word that we’ll have to come back to is ‘compromise’.”
Hanson also pointed out that four members of Council were new, and were not part of whatever work previous Council had done. “When we talk about the work that has been done, ‘our work’ to use the words of Councillor Bond. it was in fact the work of three of us. Four of us had no participation in that work. I think that is a very critical part of what’s actually required to move us forward.”
Mayor Mike Little said that everyone on Council had discussed the need for housing during the election. “My concern though is about putting too many resources into situations where you get a 10% or a 20% discount, something that could have been achieved by better maintaining older stock; be achieved by somebody moving into a ten or fifteen year old place; could be achieved by moving out of the town centre to some place with slightly less services.”
Little was the first member of Council to insist that it was important for the District to define what is meant by “affordable,” and not leave it to developers to decide that. He also felt that prezoning District land “en masse” was a mistake, and that zoning should be done on a case by case basis. Little argued that “genuine social housing” was more important than discounted rents for working people who were “genuinely a decent income earner.”
Little then proposed that Council “take this discussion and move it forward until right after Council has had the opportunity to set our strategic initiatives.” He moved that Bond’s “Rental and Affordable Housing Action Plan” be referred to a Council workshop to be held in early 2019.During his second speaking window Bond countered that the three years of hard work by the previous council survived the individual Councillors involved at that time, and expressed frustration that after his first term on Council not a single affordable home had been built.
Bond made the point that all of the various discussions and goal setting can take place in parallel with a prezoning process, allowing the District to take advantage of a positive funding climate. “All those discussions can go on at the same time that we are preparing these lands to be available and we’re finding the funding. Bond worries that beginning yet another round of discussions might also leave this Council with no homes built in another four years.
Councillor Megan Curren echoed Mayor Little in calling for a definition of “affordable” but added that she would view affordable housing proposals through the lens of environment. She wanted to make sure that we could support “our existing ageing infrastructure” before embracing densification.
Councillor Hanson said that all of this discussion “sits in a vacuum” until we define “affordable”, and decide which groups we hope to house. Hanson pledges that if no homes have been built by the end of the term he will consider that a personal failure.