OTHER VOICES: Defeat of Delbrook proposal sends troubling signal to affordable housing partners

Whatever the criticisms or concerns one might have about the recently defeated Delbook Lands proposal, no one has reasonable grounds, not even the new council, to argue that the proposal was not thoroughly considered.

Furthermore, it’s very clear that the public had ample opportunity to provide meaningful input into the proposal.

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During the years 2014-2016, District of North Vancouver council became concerned about the growing need to address the housing needs of low to moderate income earners. In fact, the 10-year (2016-2026) estimated demand for affordable rental units meant that the district had to maximize and expedite options for delivering non-market housing projects across the district.

After all, the official community plan in 2011 had identified increasing housing choices for all ages and incomes as “a key objective for the community.” Council’s concern over the potential loss of more affordable housing units, displacement of lower-income residents and low vacancy rates led staff and council to host a string of workshops to hammer out a draft position on affordable housing - the kind of housing so desperately needed by increasing numbers of DNV residents.

On April 22, 2016, planning staff provided council with a summary of stakeholder feedback on the draft, a summary that reflects the broad and deep consultation that resulted in three major goals: to expand the supply and diversity of housing; to preserve and expand the rental supply; and to meet the housing needs of low and moderate income earners.

All this feedback was reviewed, debated, taken to the public via surveys, small-group consultations with staff, and council consultations with constituents.

Finally, after some eighteen months, the official District Rental and Affordable Housing Strategy (November, 2016) became a policy that aims to guide developers, community, council and staff towards achieving the goals and meeting the estimated rental and affordable housing in the district.

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Don Peters, chairman of North Shore Community Resource Society’s Community Housing Action Committee, outside a Lower Lonsdale apartment building - photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

In the fall of 2015, the district partnered with Simon Fraser University to determine the most broadly supported land use options for the Delbrook Lands.

A key finding of the 2016 Delbrook Dialogue Final Report: “the majority of participants supported non-market housing if paid for by other levels of government.”

Subsequently, Catalyst and CareBC, with funding from both BCH and VCH, were selected to do exactly what the Rental and Affordable Housing Strategy contemplated, and exactly what council had directed. A project was proposed: 80 below-market units and a seniors respite centre.

During the recent municipal election campaign all candidates assured the electorate that they were solidly behind addressing the critical need for more below-market (i.e. affordable) housing.

But, inexplicably, after at least three years, and at least $400,000 in development costs, plus significant district planning and consultant costs, not to mention extensive community engagement, the new council decided to reject the project - despite the grant of district land, government funding, no evictions, and close proximity to transit, and various community amenities.

Some approve of council’s decision, citing faulty process, the need for more family units, greater affordability, alteration in building design.

But for many across the district - residents, non-profits, developers, advocacy groups and others - the decision was hasty and, like CHAC, are urging council to engage further with the major parties to explore possible adjustments in order to rescue what seems like an obligation to follow their own carefully built policy - as well as an opportunity to deliver on their own campaign promise: housing for lower-income people.

That’s why the enormity of the DNV decision to shut down the project is so breathtaking.

Don Peters is a housing advocate and chair of North Shore Community Resources’ Community Housing Action Committee.

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