As part of the communications strategy, a series of five articles were written about the housing initiatives and published in the Bowen Island Undercurrent in the fall of 2008. Links to PDFs are at the bottom of the page.
1. BIM to deliver affordable housing
It feels like a blow every time we hear that members of our community are leaving, forced out by the high cost of living. The lack of affordable housing on Bowen is an issue that has taken its toll and continues to threaten the economic and social stability of the island. That is why the municipally-appointed Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG) is moving quickly to address the issue.
Headed by Elizabeth Ballantyne, the group first came together in February of this year. It evolved from the Affordable Housing Strategy committee mobilized by the Bowen Community Housing Association (BCHA). BCHA raised awareness and spotlighted concerns about the impact of an inflated real estate market and the unavailability of suitable long-term accommodation. The association raised funds for a Housing Needs Assessment and developed an affordable housing strategy, which was presented to municipal council one year ago.
Council responded by embracing a number of the strategy’s recommendations. With a budget of $10,000, Council established the working group and tasked them with the job of developing an affordable housing policy and beginning to undertake the work of a municipal housing organization. The AHWG, with the help of consultant Tim Wake, delivered the policy earlier this summer.
The document, which Council passed unanimously, is a tool for the municipality to be applied when negotiating development proposals and considering rezoning applications. It provides clear objectives and targets for the delivery of a mix of housing types and sizes, including both potential rental and ownership units.
The working group has also made considerable progress in laying the groundwork for a municipal housing organization. This week, the AHWG presented to Council a timeline and budget covering Phase II of its mandate. It would like to see the municipal housing organization up and running by the end of the year. It also has plans to launch an affordable housing waitlist for rental and ownership housing this fall.
The municipality has taken other steps towards implementing an effective affordable housing strategy. It passed a bylaw legalizing secondary suites earlier this year, and is considering the sale of community lands to attract developments that feature affordable housing. So there seems to be a real reason to hope that the tide will turn for those in our community who have struggled to find an affordable place to call home on Bowen.
To ensure the public is kept abreast of its activities and progress, the AHWG will run a series of short articles over the next few weeks. The intent of the articles is to explain various policies and strategies and clarify processes and procedures for those who are interested in securing affordable housing. The working group will also host two public meetings in October and November to answer questions and hear comments.
2. Defining Affordable Housing
Many share a vision for Bowen that includes a socially and economically diverse community supported by the provision of diverse and affordable housing. But what is affordable housing exactly?
How one community defines this may be quite different from another. In many jurisdictions, affordable housing is described as housing, whether rented or owned, that does not exceed 30% of a household’s income.
According to the Bowen Island Needs Assessment, in 2006 an annual income of $85,000 – $100,000 was needed to purchase an entry level home on Bowen, based on the median price of $613,000. But according to surveys, the median household income was only $74,000. This leaves a significant gap in housing for those who cannot afford to purchase a home at market prices.
Lack of housing options is another component contributing to the housing crisis. On Bowen, 95% of the housing stock is single-family dwellings. Medium density housing, such as townhouses or row housing, doesn’t exist to any great extent. And rental housing is also limited, though secondary suites provide some relief for singles, or small families who can fit into a one- or two-bedroom living space.
According to the new Affordable Housing Policy passed by the Bowen Island Municipality (BIM) affordable housing is defined as non-market residential dwelling units that may only be owned or rented under the terms of housing covenants registered on title in favour of BIM. In simple terms, this means housing that is created affordably, and kept affordable through some restrictions on price. The objective is to keep it as affordable for future renters or purchasers as it is for those who first occupy it.
It’s important to note that affordable housing is not the same as social housing, which is housing that is subsidized, usually by government income support programs. Affordable housing is non-market housing that is built either privately or through a non-profit organization, is more affordable than market housing, but does not receive ongoing government funding. The creation of affordable housing can be achieved by securing land at little or no cost and producing housing efficiently and then renting or re-selling that housing to recover the cost of production. That’s the direction that BIM is taking in attempting to address the need for affordable housing.
This is the second is a series of article presented by the municipally appointed, Affordable Housing Working Group. In the next article, we’ll focus on Bowen’s Affordable Housing Policy and how it will help create new homes for island residents.
3. Policy will help deliver affordable housing
The newly-minted Affordable Housing Policy of the Bowen Island Municipality is a made-on-Bowen approach to begin addressing the housing crisis. Tim Wake, an affordable housing consultant, crafted the document with direction and input from the Affordable Housing Working Group (AHWG), a committee the municipality struck one year ago. Council adopted the policy in June.
The purpose of the Affordable Housing Policy is to provide clear direction to municipal staff, the public and developers, identifying expectations related to the delivery of affordable housing. Staff will consult the policy in conjunction with rezoning applications and other opportunities that have the potential of affording amenities for the community.
“It’s a guide,” explains Wake. “It will create an environment whereby the municipality challenges developers to create a more inclusive neighbourhood.”
The goal, as outlined in the policy, “is to establish a level playing field so that all development contributes to affordable housing solutions on Bowen Island in a meaningful, beneficial and equitable way.” The intended result is the construction of a mix of affordable rental and affordable housing from studio to three-bedroom suites, apartments and townhouses to semi-detached and single-detached homes.
This will be achieved by the stipulation that any new development or redevelopment project must reserve 15% of the gross floor area for affordable housing. Smaller rezoning applications will be considered case by case.
The municipality’s strategy is a “straightforward approach”, said Wake, whereby a number of conditions are created to deliver affordable housing. It involves the municipality acquiring land at little or no cost, such as property transferred through development contributions, or attained from private donations. Quality housing for rent or ownership is built on a cost neutral basis. That is, the units will be sold for the amount of money they cost to build, including design and construction.
With the target cost of producing a home for $200 per square foot, a home of 1,000 square feet could be offered for purchase as low as $200,000. Once determined, the value of the home will not significantly increase, as it will be subject to covenants held by the Bowen Island Municipality or a municipal housing organization.
Bowen’s municipal planners will encourage housing that is located within walking distance of Snug Cove, accessible to amenities, transit and services. The design and construction must meet or exceed green building standards.
Though only a few months old, the policy is already influencing negotiations between municipal planners and development proponents. Proposed developments, such as the Belterra project, civic lands (the “Surplus Lands”) intended for sale for residential development and the Cape Roger Curtis Neighbourhood Plan include plans for affordable housing.
The next step and task of the Affordable Housing Working Group is to establish a municipal housing organization. That body will exist as an effective and essential mechanism for facilitating, managing, acquiring and building perpetually affordable housing.
Council has approved a $25,000 budget for the start-up funding of this arms-length organization. Wake, continuing to consult with the Working Group, hopes to see it up and running by early 2009. He’ll be presenting the municipality with an organizational framework and business plan that includes a sustainable funding model.
This is the third in a series of articles presented by the municipally appointed Affordable Housing Working Group. The next article will focus on the proposed municipal housing organization.
4. Municipal housing corporation will help solve crisis
On behalf of the Bowen Community Housing Association (BCHA), in the fall of 2007, Eberle Planning and Research drafted Diverse Housing for a Diverse Community, a strategy for affordable housing on Bowen. The document was based on analysis of the comprehensive, professional Bowen Housing Needs Assessment, completed the spring of the same year, also thanks to the efforts of the BCHA.
The assessment illuminated the urgent and critical local need for an increased variety of affordable housing stock. One of the key recommended actions in the strategy called for the formation of a municipally owned not-for-profit Bowen Island Housing Corporation as a move towards addressing this need.
In September, 2007, The BCHA presented the draft Affordable Housing Strategy to municipal council. Shortly after, in acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation, and as a way of demonstrating its commitment to “adopting a proactive, ongoing affordable housing agenda”, council moved to appoint an Affordable Housing Working Group. The volunteer group was given the task of designing tools for council and municipal staff to pursue the production of affordable housing that meets the island’s needs.
The committee was mandated to begin the implementation of the Affordable Housing Strategy. Objectives outlined in the group’s terms of references included the job of drafting an Affordable Housing Policy, and beginning the work of a municipal housing authority.
The group, largely consisting of members from the Bowen Community Housing Association Affordable Housing Strategy Committee, was given a budget of $10,000 and the authority to hire a consultant.
With the assistance of consultant Tim Wake, the working group completed a draft affordable housing policy in early summer of this year. Council adopted it shortly thereafter.
Currently the group is turning its focus to the groundwork of setting up an arms-length municipal agency to facilitate and develop affordable rental housing and entry-level ownership housing.
As explained in the Affordable Housing Strategy, the job of a municipal housing agency is to manage, acquire, and build perpetually affordable rental and ownership housing on Bowen Island. The document articulated the need for a dedicated, single-purpose, professional organization, noting the success of agencies in communities such as Whistler and Canmore in adding to housing stock. It argued that a corporation is an effective and efficient mechanism for creating affordable housing.
This is further borne out in Smart Growth BC’s Review of Best Practices in Affordable Housing, published in 2007.
“It is not guaranteed that a Municipal Housing Corporation will quickly produce affordable housing in the diverse forms needed, but it is arguably certain that affordable housing will not be reliably produced without one,” Wake, who is the author of the Smart Growth report, told council recently.
The work of the municipal housing organization will include leveraging housing units through the development process (as facilitated by the Affordable Housing Policy) or with community partners. It will manage a waiting list of qualified prospective tenants or buyers, hold title to units and land as appropriate, manage the units as perpetually affordable housing and develop and enforce legal agreements.
In setting the groundwork for a municipal housing organization, the Affordable Housing Working Group is working with lawyers and municipal staff towards drawing up various legal agreements. It has drafted criteria and policies outlining qualifications of individuals and families and covenants to be registered on title of lands to be zoned for affordable housing. It has also developed a communications plan to ensure the public is informed about its progress and opportunities.
At a regular meeting in September, Council endorsed the Affordable Housing Working Group’s Phase II plan, budget and timeline. It points to the start-up date of early January for a fully-operational, accountable and transparent housing agency.
Council also approved the waitlist guidelines for ownership units. The municipality will launch this waitlist over the next few weeks. While there is still much to be accomplished before the ground is broken and affordable housing units are built, the affordable housing consultant has recommended that it is not too early to register those eligible for the eventual purchase of housing.
This is the fourth in a series of articles presented by the municipally appointed Affordable Housing Working Group. The next article will focus on the Bowen Island Affordable Housing Ownership Unit Guidelines for Qualifications and Waitlist Process.
5. Municipality to launch waitlist for affordable housing
Following a careful review of how it works elsewhere and fine-tuning to make it fit just right for Bowen, the municipality has designed Ownership Unit Guidelines. These procedures outline the qualifications and waitlist process to identify eligibility and register those seeking to purchase affordable housing on Bowen. Tim Wake, working closely with the Affordable Housing Working Group, presented the Ownership Unit Guidelines to Council in September.
The affordable housing consultant explained that the guidelines were written to be as simple as possible. They outline a straightforward process that will lead to an opportunity for applicants to purchase housing units, when they eventually become available. Though that may still be a few years down the road, it is not uncommon for potential purchasers to choose to add their names to a long-term waitlist in anticipation of owning at some point. That is not generally the case for renters looking for a place to live immediately or within a few months, so the activation of a rental waitlist is not yet planned.
To be added to the waitlist, individuals must fill out an application and meet a number of criteria. To qualify, they must be a resident or permanently employed on the island. They must not own property anywhere in the world, for at least five years prior to the time they apply to be on the waitlist for a residential unit. As well, applicants must be able to obtain pre-approval for a mortgage.
To get the list started, the guidelines have established a rough screening procedure to be followed for the first three months only. Applications from qualified individuals will be placed in a priority sequence based on a point system. Points will be assigned, totaling one point per year for every year of permanent residence on Bowen for adults 19 years of age and older and half a point per year for each child in the same household.
This will give families and long-term residents a slight advantage, noted Wake.
After the first three months, however, the point system will be dropped and qualified applicants will be added on a first-come-first-served basis.
The municipal housing corporation, to be established in early 2009, will ultimately file, review and hold applications. In the interim, the Affordable Housing Working Group will be responsible for administering the applications.
The new housing corporation will hold the right to disqualify applicants if information cannot be verified, is inaccurate or incomplete. As well, under special circumstances, its Board of Directors will have the authority to approve the addition to the waitlist of an applicant who does not meet all qualification criteria.
The housing corporation will keep applicants on the list updated on their position. As units are built, it will hold open house sales events. Applicants high on the list will be given three chances to purchase a unit. If they choose not to buy, they will be dropped to the end of the list.
Some Council members were concerned that the procedures as proposed would not fully ensure that the housing would go to those who most need it. The question was raised as to why qualifications were not based on income level.
Wake responded that it is unlikely that those who are not truly in need will be interested in the units that will be offered for sale. The goal is to “preserve the community that exists now.”
The Affordable Housing Working Group is currently finalizing the application for the ownership waitlist. It will announce the launch of the list and make applications widely available later this month. It will circulate an information bulletin to all residents and hold two public information meetings, one on the evening of 23 October, at the Gallery @ Artisan Square, and a second on a Saturday morning, 22 November, at Cates Hill Chapel.
This is the fifth in a series of articles presented by the municipally appointed Affordable Housing Working Group.
Links to PDFs of articles:
- BIM to deliver affordable housing Download
- Defining Affordable Housing Download
- Policy will help deliver affordable housing Download
- Municipal housing corporation will help solve crisis Download
- Municipality to launch waitlist for affordable housing Download