Affordable housing efforts a ’dismal failure‘

By Ron Seymour
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An attempt to formalize a long-standing city practice aimed at encouraging affordable housing was defeated Monday by Kelowna city councillors.
Council voted 6-2 not to formally endorse the policy, which grants higher-densities to new projects if the builder provides some affordable housing units or provides a cash-in-lieu contribution.
Coun. Carol Gran was among the critics of the approach, which she said amounted to a form of “blackmail and extortion” against developers, and which has been nothing but a “dismal failure.”
Less than 60 affordable housing units have been created in recent years through agreements between the city and developers, and most have been studio or one-bedroom suites.
Gran said she‘d heard that many of the units had been bought by wealthy people on behalf of their children attending UBC Okanagan. “That kind of speaks to how wrongheaded this whole exercise is,” she said.
Other councillors said it‘s up to the provincial and federal governments to provide more affordable housing, particularly rental accommodation.
“We don‘t have the power or the resources,” Coun. Barrie Clark said. “It‘s time to admit we have not solved the problem and we never will.”
Since 2000, the city‘s official community plan has contained a provision that allows for a so-called density bump, which allows developers to build more units than would normally be provided, so long as some provision is made for affordable housing in the project.
But the details of how that should be achieved have never been written down. Planning staff‘s practice has been to encourage builders to set aside 50 per cent of the extra units for affordable housing, and the cash-in-lieu option has always been subject to negotiation.
The proposal defeated Monday by council would have specified exactly how the OCP objective would be achieved. If a density bump was sought through an OCP amendment, five per cent of a building‘s total living space would have to have been for affordable housing units. Alternatively, a new formula could be used to come up with a cash-in-lieu payment.
Social planner Theresa Eichler described the proposal as “nice, clean and easy” and an improvement over the current practice of having staff negotiate with developers and then council ratify each arrangement.
With the defeat of the policy, affordable housing arrangements will continue to be struck on a case-by-case basis.
Mayor Sharon Shepherd and Coun. Michele Rule voted to introduce the standardized policy, saying it would help to provide at least a few affordable housing units.
Couns. Gran, Clark, Colin Day, Andre Blanleil, Brian Given and Norm Letnick voted against it.
Given said the city should focus on getting new rental projects built.