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Comox examines affordable housing policies, contributions

Comox council has decided upon a hybrid affordable housing contribution model
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Comox council has decided upon a hybrid affordable housing contribution model that allows the town to acquire homes as well as use funds to partner with non-profits for specific projects. File photo

Comox council has decided upon a hybrid affordable housing contribution model that allows the town to acquire homes as well as use funds to partner with non-profits for specific projects.

At the April 6 meeting, council voted on the option - one of four - which will allow council more flexibility in the type of housing the municipality invests in, but will have less certainty for administration as to what projects the town should be looking to fund, noted Jordan Wall, the town’s chief administrative officer in his report to council.

The other methods council considered were long-term acquisition (where the town acquires units from developers or uses cash contributions to acquire units that would become the property of the town); short term flood (the town will require developers to hold a certain number of units below market rates for a predetermined period of time) and a non-profit provision (whereas the town will acquire cash contributions at the time of development into its affordable housing reserve and would partner or hear proposals from non-profits and fund projects of its own choosing).

Coun. Ken Grant questioned why the community would want to be in the home ownership realm and noted the business is too risky to invest other people’s money, and that other agencies could do a better job.

Noting that money could be leveraged up to 19 times, Coun. Maureen Swift said she favoured the non-profit option, but added she could support the hybrid model “because I think it opens the door to taking advantage of opportunities that come up with grants.”

She added one of the issues she sees is knowing how the town can measure success, but Coun. Stephanie McGowan said the success of the program can be measured when affordability for rent goes to a “regular level and when people aren’t desperately looking for housing.”

The recommendation was passed with Grant voting in opposition.

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On the revenue side of the policy, council also passed a motion to bring back information on the comparative contribution amounts.

Grant noted it is important for council to learn costs and values in order to find a method that works for all involved.

“I think we went into this a bit blind. I don’t think there’s a lot of us around this council table that really understand the development business and what they do. Let’s work off actual numbers rather than pull numbers out of the sky. If you pull too big of a number, you get nothing. I think a lot of people look and say ‘gee, developers make a lot of money,’ and that’s okay, but you have to be reasonable about it.”

Noting both sides of the table have to be represented in the conversation, McGowan said while many don’t know what it is like to be a developer, developers don’t know what it is like to be on the edge of homelessness or under-housed in a particular community.

Mayor Russ Arnott asked for a majority to bring back the policy to the council table to discuss it further, and both Couns. Nicole Minions and Jonathan Kerr voted against the motion.



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Erin Haluschak

About the Author: Erin Haluschak

Erin Haluschak is a journalist with the Comox Valley Record since 2008. She is also the editor of Trio Magazine...
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