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Letter: West Vancouverites deserve 'sober second thought' on Gordon Ave housing

"District staff and council, and the proponents, have worked hard to get the project this far. But they could work a little harder to reconsider a few parameters," writes this West Van resident.
2195 Gordon Ave rendering
District of West Vancouver council voted unanimously 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.

Two West Vancouver mayors have weighed in lately on the proposed use of the Gordon Avenue site in West Van for affordable housing. 

Former mayor Mike Smith asserts that there is too much emphasis on the allocation of most of an $80-million asset to keep 156 below-market rental units at 75 per cent of market rent.

Current Mayor Mary-Ann Booth is justly proud of the project in general and considers the unit mix to be appropriate. I have to disagree with her suggestion that the non-market rentals “are not being subsidized.” 

The opportunity cost of foregoing $60 million in land sale revenue means to me a capital subsidy of about $385,000 per rental unit. Invested in the Endowment Fund last year, such a sum would have earned about two per cent or $1.2 million. That’s $7,700 per unit; roughly $640/month/unit. That cost will of course be higher in future with increases to interest and bond rates.
This crisis in housing unaffordability truly calls for leadership, open minds, and all parties with influence to dig down and work for the best community benefit achievable. 

As a real estate professional with some understanding of how development, financing, and the market work, I know how both for-profit and non-profit developers and operators work – and I know about their sources of funding in the current market.

With due respect for the parties involved, I regret that the leasehold strata titled portion of the Gordon Avenue site appears ready to deliver nothing new or innovative, to really address community needs. 

Nothing I’ve seen in the reports by district staff to council, and in the proposed development permit, assures that condos will be sold to locals intending on residing in them, or to the local workforce. There’s nothing to assist the local workforce and families in achieving ownership, and the smallest units average 850 square feet and will hardly be affordable. There is no protection against commoditization of West Van residences by speculating investors – these units could be vacant and owned by non-residents.

The staff and council, and the proponents, have worked hard to get the project this far. But they could work a little harder to reconsider a few parameters:

■ the eligibility criteria that should be applied to both renters and first buyers, if we’re trying to incent local families and workforce access and participation;

■ the condo unit mix, with a view to reallocating the available net salable square footage to a greater number of units that includes some smaller, more affordable units, and

■ the implementation of a rent-to-own program whereby the district could defer receipt of a small portion of its land price for a few years to help local first home buyers, and still make good returns on its money, on a non-recourse basis.

The proponents (Kiwanis and Darwin) are both highly qualified and deserve to continue to build and operate the Gordon Avenue project, but the community deserves some “sober second thought” in careful consideration of all of its housing problems, and the best balance in land allocation and unit mix, to address our needs.

Pat Frewer

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