By Timothy Schafer, The Nelson Daily
Enough planning, time to get dirty.
Coun. Donna Macdonald called on City council to take action on the Housing Needs and Housing Strategy reports to begin to address the dire situation of a lack of affordable housing in the city.
One month after the reports were delivered to City council — by Coun. Macdonald and Rona Park, executive director of Nelson Cares — the documents were brought forward during regular council meeting Monday night to be acted on.
When she announced the housing needs and strategy reports were going to be undertaken earlier in the year, Coun. Macdonald was sensitive to the knee-jerk reaction to yet another study on the need for affordable housing.
She was adamant at the time the report would contain deliverable points council could digest in an attempt to right the balance of the high cost of housing — both in real estate and in the rental market.
On Monday night after the report was accepted by council, she re-iterated her stance and urged council to move on several of the points contained in the report.
"We need some short-term action fairly soon," she said. “Let’s not spend six months doing an elaborate implementation plan. Let’s identify the short term ones … and identify the ones that are the highest priority and are the easiest to tackle.”
She noted the City could apply for one of the ACT government grants and hire someone to bring about smaller, more bite-sized policy changes like upgrading the standards of the maintenance bylaw — raising the standards of rental accommodation — making an amendment to zoning bylaw to allow for laneway housing or develop programs to encourage density.
There were 10 tasks identified in the housing strategy required to implement the plan, but each task involved significant resources — staff time and money — to manage the task to completion. See attached files for detailed listing of the tasks. Or click here for complete link to the housing strategy (and the housing needs report).
A City staff report noted that short-term actions, as defined in the strategy, could not be completed internally. Medium term actions could only be completed as established priorities.
The strategy was written with the intent of being used as a baseline document to address affordable housing needs that will benefit the community.
The housing strategy report identified six major roles the City could play to encourage affordable housing opportunities, including setting policy in the Official Community Plan to ensure applications for development were vetted through a "lens of housing affordability."
Mayor John Dooley noted that policy is already being written, as well as the second point of modernizing the zoning bylaws to allow for a range of housing types, sizes, densities and parking by encouraging housing choice, and using legislative tools such as amenity zoning and housing agreements.
He said the third point — financially assisting appropriate developments through permissive tax exemptions, establishing a reserve fund, donating land and reducing fees and charges — was something council was already doing.
The other three points were reliant on other agencies to accomplish, including collaboration with various groups to identify opportunities for synergies, providing educational opportunities and lobbying senior levels of government for funding, and promotion of quality design and energy conservation in the design of new affordable housing forms.
"Clearly we have to invest some resources into this," said Coun. Macdonald. “In a perfect world we would have lots of money and could hire someone.”
Both Coun. Kim Charlesworth and Coun. Deb Kozak agreed with moving forward and moving quickly, and putting the City's money where council's mouth was.
"We do need to move forward and, if needed, supplement staff time with consultants to accomplish this," Coun. Charlesworth said.
However, Coun. Robin Cherbo cautioned on not moving too fast, to make sure more housing and higher densities fit with the nature of the neighbourhoods.
He pointed to a recent development that put in three units of housing where one previously existed in Uphill, but ended up greatly interfering with the view and the aesthetics of the neighbourhood.
"In our rush to get affordable housing, we have to be respective of those neighbourhoods," he said.
There is not just planning work to be done, said the director of corporate services, Linda Tynan, but there is an amount of bylaw that has to be written.
The costs and resources required for the implementation of the strategies identified within the housing strategy have not been identified within the City's budget.
The consulting firm of CitySpaces of Vancouver was engaged by the City in February of 2010 to develop the reports.
The housing needs report focused on the need and demand for affordable housing in the city, containing a description of the wide range of factors that influence the housing market, identifying groups who are least able to access affordable housing, and a comment on the gaps and issues in the market and non-market sectors.
The housing strategy report was written in response to the needs identified in the housing needs report, proposing objectives, policies and actions for City council and staff, the city's non-market housing providers and community organizations.