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Letter: Affordable housing proposal for Gordon Ave will come at a cost to taxpayers

60-year lease of municipal land adjacent to civic site is a bridge too far for West Vancouver taxpayers, former mayor Michael Smith writes.
2195 Gordon Ave rendering
District of West Vancouver council voted unanimously on May 9 to move ahead with the affordable housing project at 2195 Gordon Ave.

Dear Editor:

Re: Gordon Avenue Affordable Housing Moves Forward, May 11, front-page story.

District of West Vancouver council is proposing a 60-year lease of the municipal property at 22nd and Gordon. The history behind why the land was purchased needs to be understood in order to make meaningful comments about this proposal.

The property was acquired after I found out as mayor that a behind-the-scene deal had been made by the province to sell this Vancouver Coastal Health property to the three First Nations [Musqueam, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Tsleil-Waututh] and the Aquilini Group. I met with their representative on the site and pointed out that it was zoned for community use and would remain so if privately owned. They then backed away and the district purchased the land based on the BC Assessment value.

There was a clear understanding that as the land was adjacent to our civic site, it would be available if some space was needed for municipal programs. If not, the site would be used for housing types that were needed by the community – specifically for housing units suitable for young families, seniors, and those wanting to downsize and move closer in.

The proposed model that would be followed was the former Wetmore site at 22nd and Marine. Here, the district bought the land and determined that it should be used for seniors housing. Requests for proposals were sent to interested parties, and council selected the proposal felt to be in the best interest of the community. The net result was a good return on the taxpayers’ original investment, and a community need was met. No subsidy was involved.

The current proposal will come at a huge cost to taxpayers. No financial return in the next 60 years will be received for the property worth well in excess of $20 million. It is true that some obviously needed housing will be created, but the district will have no direct involvement of who lives there.

“Affordable housing” in West Vancouver has become a popular phrase, but is an impossibility as there will always be many times more people wanting to live here than can be accommodated. The province has the responsibility for housing. BC Housing, a provincial agency, already subsidizes hundreds of housing units in West Van. Council does not have the expertise or staff to assume that role nor do municipalities have the revenue sources to meet the demand.

The future budget situation in West Vancouver is far from certain, with businesses and residents struggling to pay the high taxes our community requires.

In addition, both the provincial and federal governments are in large deficit positions, and Metro Vancouver is requiring billions to meet the water and sewer needs of the region.

Funding for necessary programs and services in the future will be tight. For us to subsidize 150 housing units at such great cost without the ability to determine the eligibility of the applicants now or in the future is a bridge too far for West Vancouver taxpayers.

Michael Smith (mayor 2011-2018)
West Vancouver

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