THREE OF SEVEN VANCOUVER CO-OP HOUSING PROJECTS “STUCK” WAITING FOR PROVINCIAL, FEDERAL FUNDS FIVE YEARS LATER
In the spring of 2018, it was announced with much fanfare that the City of Vancouver planned to build more than 1,000 units of co-op housing with cheaper rents at seven sites on city-owned land by 2021.
Almost five years, and three mayors, later only two have been completed. One is under construction and another is about to begin construction while three of the sites remain empty, the projects stalled for lack of provincial and federal government subsidies, according to co-op advocates.
The delays illustrate some of the challenges of building affordable housing in an expensive market like Vancouver, even when the non-profit developer is given the land for free.“There is a difference between being able to build housing and to build them at the level of affordability for the people they were intended for,” said Thom Armstrong, CEO of the Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C.
The projects are to be developed by the Community Land Trust, a subsidiary of the CHFBC that operates as a non-profit housing developer.
All seven sites “could have all been built out by now but we would not have been able to make them truly affordable,” Armstrong said.For instance, the proposal for the site at 177 West Pender St. is for 76 homes for women leaving abusive relationships. Ideally, the rents would be $375 a month for a single, $750 for a family.
But that would require subsidies from the provincial and/or federal government, without which the units would have to be rented out for $1,800 minimum, more for multiple bedrooms.
“Women leaving violent relationships are usually leaving their income behind and we would have to say to someone the rents are this much,” Armstrong said.
To be able to lower the rents to levels they could afford, “that represents a deep level of subsidy” from senior governments, Armstrong added.
Even with free land, rents have to be set at market rates to break even based on costs of design and construction, which have risen significantly over the past decade, and interest rates, which have risen this year.Armstrong made the decision to apply for funding from senior governments in 2018 when there was a choice to build without it by charging market rates, but he said that isn’t an option because of higher costs and interest rates. Those three remaining projects are “stuck” without the funding.
He said the CHFBC has to apply for funding for its co-op proposals that compete against other affordable housing models, noting the province received 13,000 applications during the last call for proposals, and funded 2,400.
The co-ops were announced in May 2018 by former mayor Gregor Robertson. They were to provide homes for Vancouverites with low to moderate income of between $30,000 to $80,000 a year, the city announced at the time.The project on Pender, another for the 3200 block of Vanness for 102 units, half of which are to be large enough for families, and one in the Kensington-Cedar Cottage neighbourhood, at 1001 Kingsway, with 66 units, and one for 112 units at Davie and Seymour streets, are all awaiting funding.
The Sawmill, which is completed, has 337 co-op homes, 220 of which were developed by an Indigenous non-profit called M’akola Housing Society in the River District neighbourhood in southeast Vancouver. Another, 154 homes at Davie and Burrard streets, await final funding approval and the hope is that construction will begin in the spring.
The Kinship Co-op in the River District of southeast Vancouver is built and all 140 units are occupied, with a waiting list. Armstrong said it was completed under a federal funding program that offered long-term mortgages with low financing.Monica Jut was one of the first to move in to Kinship last year, with her teenage daughter, and she loves the sense of community at a co-op, like when a neighbour offered to drive her to pick up her daughter at her part-time job during this week’s snowstorm.
Members have to contribute to the running of the co-op, either yard work or the social committee, for instance, and Jut agreed to sit on the board.
And she likes that she can’t be asked to move and that it costs less in what the co-op calls housing charges. She didn’t want to disclose her previous or current monthly costs but said she pays about half of what she was paying for a two-bedroom in Maple Ridge.
“We feel really blessed to be here,” said Jut. “This is really our forever home.”What members of the co-op pay for their monthly housing charges depends on their income and the size of their unit. There are four units at the $375 a month shelter rate and others range from $1,038 to $1,190 for a studio, $1,200 to $1,600 for a one-bedroom, $1,450 to $2,400 for two bedrooms and $1,700 to $3,100 for three bedrooms, according to a chart provided by Armstrong.
Members’ household incomes ranged from $41,500 to $124,000, according to the chart.
The CHFBC last month released a study that showed that members of co-op housing buildings built between 1972 and 1993, the majority in Vancouver, paid on average 50 to 60 per cent of 2021 Vancouver market rents.
“Right now, because of high construction costs, you really need provincial and federal funding to get affordable housing built,” said Marc White, a clinical assistant professor in the department of family practice at UBC who has studied and written a report on co-op housing.That should come in the form of infrastructure and construction grants to municipalities so they can create more co-ops.
White, a longtime housing co-op member, said it is time for municipalities like Vancouver to revamp their affordable housing policy and develop a strategy that involves working in partnership with the province and Ottawa to create a vision and funding structure.
A B.C. housing ministry spokeswoman said in an emailed statement that it couldn’t comment on the status of the three yet-to-be built co-op housing projects.
The province announced in 2017 it was investing $7 billion over 10 years and by the end of the 2021/22, the province had spent $1.8 billion in capital and $230 million in operating funding, she said.In an emailed statement, CMHC spokeswoman Claudie Chabot said: “In order to protect the confidentiality of applicants, we cannot release information regarding specific (funding) applications or potential projects until agreements have been signed and announced by the proponents.”
Story by: Vancouver Sun