Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Housing Update highlights funding issues and cross subsidization concepts

As they have at the end of many City council sessions previous, housing issues once again dominated the conversation on Monday evening, as council members took stock of where they are at on a file that they've been engaged with pretty well since they took office last December.

To start the discussion off on Monday, the Mayor provided a short overview of the latest developments between the City and the various stakeholders in their housing committee. Noting that they haven't made much progress from the last Council session, but that they are hopeful of moving the process forward in the weeks to come.

He also advised that they had assessed a list of  city properties that they had identified from their recent tour of the city and created an internal city report as to which lots might be accessed when it comes to housing issues or other uses.

Councillor Thorkelson then took charge of the majority of the discussion, sharing some of her recent discussions in the community regarding housing concerns, noting that the Mission of the Good Shepherd is looking to find partners to create some affordable housing in the community.

However, she also outlined that the group is looking to address needs ranging from housing for families, to the need for just overnight beds for in town residents who may be homeless for a short period of time.

As Ms. Thorkelson recounted, like many other groups, the Mission of the Good Shepherd is running into problems in trying to access funding for their proposal to purchase and renovated a building for that purpose.

With that as the background to the current situation, Councillor Thorkelson then offered up a concept that may soon become part of the discussion for Council members on how best to tackle the issue of housing need in the community.

Making note of one approach to the situation may be through what is called cross subsidization, which would see rental properties scale their revenue from rentals, with some rents higher than others in the same building, a process which would provide for subsidized accommodations for those that may not have the means for higher rents.

As part of her presentation to council members on Monday, Councillor Thorkelson observed that it could be the quickest way for the city to address the current situation and to access some affordable housing int he community.

Providing the suggestion that the city could talk to the developers coming to town to adopt the concept voluntarily, or if required, to put some bylaw changes in place for current developers that are looking at housing proposals in the city at the moment.

That would introduce a process which would make it a requirement to either build the cross subsidized accommodation concept as a stand alone structure, or have part the concept incorporated into their current proposals for the community setting aside a number of units for subsidized housing.

She noted that this is the process that takes place in parts of Vancouver, with subsidized housing on one side and high rent housing on the other side of the same building, something that is called corridor housing.

A look at the Vancouver approach can be found here from the City of Vancouver website, which explains that city's focus on social and market rental housing. Whether concepts designed to answer the needs of a metropolitan area of over 1 million residents can be delivered to a community of less than 13,000 is perhaps something however that might require a little further study.

It's not the first time that the Councillor has brought that theme up at Council session, most recently she introduced the idea of cross subsidization back in July, when City Council reviewed the proposed of the waterfront view condo development proposed for Stiles Place/Bill Murray Way area near the Chances Entertainment complex.

Councillor Cunningham also had a few thoughts on the topic, addressing the theme of funding for housing options. Making note of one current funding program in place and suggesting that with the change of the Federal Government there may be additional money provided towards housing issue, suggesting that city staff should be keeping track of any changes or new grants when it comes to housing opportunities.

For his part of the conversation, Mayor Brain noted that the City does have someone on staff that is actively keeping track of any grant opportunities that may be available to the community. He did suggest that while the city doesn't traditionally seek out housing grants, that the City could pass on that information to community groups that could make use of that process.

Councillor Niesh offered up an alternative to Councillor Thorkelson's suggestion, observing that developers in the region that might not wish to adopt the model that she suggested, could instead provide funding towards an affordable housing fund, that could be directed towards addressing housing issues in the community. He suggested that city staff investigate that process further to see how other communities handle the issue.

Before staff might get too bogged down in exploring housing strategies in other communities, Councillor Mirau noted that there is a draft report available for study on the topic from Urban Systems, a document which did offer a range of policy options for the city to take a look at.

Councillor Thorkelson also observed that there have been similar studies delivered for Terrace and Kitimat as well, but remained determined to move forward some discussion on her initial theme, reinforcing her belief that having developers buy into the cross subsidization model is the best approach at the moment to address the housing issues in Prince Rupert.

The full discussion on housing concerns can be found from the City's Video Archive, it starts at the one hour seven minute mark.

You can review our notes on the housing files from our archive page here.

A full review of Monday's Council session can be found here.

For more items related to City Council discussions see our archive page here.

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