SCRD, Gibsons talk affordable housing

Local Government

Affordable housing was top-of-mind for officials at the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) and the Town of Gibsons last week.

Around 80 people came out to a June 8 open house in Gibsons to look over displays showing locations and proposed designs for a joint project by the Town and the Sunshine Coast Affordable Housing Society.

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The Housing Society is hoping to apply to BC Housing this fall for funding to build a 40-unit rental housing development on one of two Town-owned lots.

The Society’s Matt Thomson said they want to hear from the community about the design and the two possible locations: Shaw Road at O’Shea, or a lot known as the Charman Creek Lands at the foot of Shaw Road. “We want to know if there’s a strong preference towards one location over another, whether one location is better suited in terms of neighbourhood opinion and community opinion.”

Thomson said work also continues on a financial feasibility study to find out if the business case is better for one site over the other. Gibsons council will have its say as early as September, then if the BC Housing funding comes through, the Society hopes to start the rezoning process in 2018.

As of last fall, the average rent for a one-bedroom unit in Gibsons was estimated at $970. It was $1,460 for a two-bedroom. The Housing Society proposal is based on 20 one-bedroom, 16 two-bedroom and four three-bedroom units in four buildings.

According to the Town, “This project aims to target the middle segment of the housing market … including market rental, below market rental and subsidized rental units. There may also be some opportunity to experiment with affordable ownership.”

As well as the major project, the Town and the Housing Society are working with local company Click Homes to build rental housing on an unused road allowance on Franklin Road.

Directors at the SCRD were also talking affordable housing on June 8.

The planning and community development committee gave SCRD staff the go ahead to “prepare official community plan (OCP) amendment bylaws to implement affordable housing policies for consideration” by the third quarter of this year.

The staff report presented to the committee also pointed out that the potential already exists for as many as 2,209 new homes by “infilling of auxiliary dwellings, duplexes or second dwellings on existing lots.”

SCRD staff found there are 2,458 lots in rural areas zoned for a second dwelling, but property owners have only built second houses on 249 of them.

The report said, “When able, this potential should be utilized prior to creating development policies supporting housing on other lands.” It also said that opportunities exist now for affordable housing where “cluster housing development is encouraged in certain comprehensive development areas and village cores” and that so-called tiny homes can be an alternative to developing conventional mobile home parks, and “retain or exceed the density and affordability of mobile home parks.”

The OCPs for Twin Creeks, Hillside and Port Mellon, however, are not being considered for amendments at this stage. Director Ian Winn of West Howe Sound said Twin Creeks, at least, should not be ruled out. “During the Twin Creeks OCP review meetings the topic was raised, because of the need for housing in proximity of where the jobs are. It’s a very intensive job area through that industrial corridor,” he said.

Roberts Creek director Mark Lebbell said land-use rules are just part of the picture. “There are a number of challenges as we move forward on this, and one of them is ensuring the land-use decisions we make, to whatever extent possible within the reach and scope of the SCRD, do move us towards affordable housing rather than profit-making opportunities.”

The SCRD is also beginning consultations on regulating short-term rentals, and chair Garry Nohr, the director for Halfmoon Bay, asked, “What comes first, a bylaw on short-term rentals or the bylaw on affordable housing?”

Ian Hall, general manager of planning and community development, responded that his department recognizes that “the work done on each will influence the other” and the timing will see both issues come back to the SCRD board around the same time.

The committee also heard from representatives of Habitat for Humanity Sunshine Coast. 

Executive director Cori Lynn Germiquet and board member Thomas Smith gave the committee an update on Habitat projects, which have now housed 11 families, mainly in Sechelt. Smith said with more provincial support available, Habitat is looking at whether it can increase the number of units it builds every year.

“In order to build homes, we obviously need land,” he told the committee. “Because we’re focused on building as much as we can and putting our money towards building houses, cheap is good and free is better in terms of land… What we’re looking at is opportunities to find properties up and down the Coast.”

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