City weighs land sale for affordable homes

THE City of North Vancouver is weighing a proposal to sell off some municipal land on the cheap to help create affordable housing for working families.

Peter Ladner, former Vancouver city councillor and current fellow at Simon Fraser University's Centre for Dialogue, pitched the initiative, dubbed HomesNow, at a council meeting July 16.

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The plan would see the city or another organization put up a piece of land at a discount. Once the site had been established, organizers would invite developers and non-profits to partner and submit proposals for a multi-family development targeted at those earning $35,000 to $80,000 per year. The contest would take place in three municipalities, so results could be compared. The ultimate goal, Ladner said, isn't just to create more housing options, but to create a successful model that would allow the project to be replicated in other cities.

"We'd love to do something in the City of North Vancouver, because I know that you're very active on this file and you've shown some leadership," Ladner said in his pitch to council. "It would be great to have something on the North Shore."

The suggestion brought a litany of questions from council, ranging from HomesNow's financial viability given recent changes in Canadian mortgage law to whether it was feasible to find a piece of land with a low enough value to get the competition started.

Other cities like Whistler and Abbotsford have created belowmarket housing by thinking outside the box, Ladner said, and Coquitlam and New Westminster are showing interest in the initiative.

There were also questions as to whether it was the city's role to take on such a project, and whether city should be using its influence to elicit more community amenities from developers instead.

"Why come to the city, when you recognize that we're already, in many ways, demonstrating leadership and doing it on our own? Why not offer a program like this to our neighbours in the district?" asked Coun. Pam Bookham, noting that the city provides almost all of the North Shore's affordable housing.

Other councillors said the City North Vancouver should let other municipalities with more resources take up the challenge.

"It may be that we're better to wait and see the experience of those municipalities, . . . because we don't have a lot of land to be the guinea pigs and have it not work," Coun. Don Bell said.

HomesNow's biggest supporters on council, Couns. Craig Keating and Linda Buchanan and Mayor Darrell Mussatto, pushed fully to back Ladner's plan and commit city staff to working with the HomesNow steering committee to scout for suitable city land.

"We'd look like fools and frauds if we didn't support this," Keating said after reminding his council colleagues that every one of them campaigned on increasing affordable housing stock.

After their motion was voted down 4-3, council agreed to a more cautious approach, asking staff report back on the issue and incorporate it into a larger discussion on affordable housing in the fall.

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