The City of New Westminster is exploring options for providing financial support to affordable housing projects – including a project being proposed on Sixth Street.
The Aboriginal Land Trust Society has made applications to the city for an amendment to the official community plan, a rezoning and a development permit as part of its plan to build a 96-unit apartment building at 823 to 841 Sixth St. The proposed six-storey apartment building, which would be built on six lots across the street from the new high school, would house members of the Indigenous and Swahili communities.
The Aboriginal Land Trust, Lu’ma Native Housing Society and Swahili Vision International Association are holding a virtual neighbourhood meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 20 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. to provide the community with information about their proposal to develop affordable, multigenerational and multicultural homes for members of the urban Indigenous and Swahili communities. To register for the session (registration is required) email info@ALTSixthStreet.ca by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
The city’s land use and planning committee received a pre-application review about the proposal at its August 2020 meeting, at which time the committee stressed the need for community engagement for the project proposed on the edge of the Glenbrooke North neighbourhood. The committee also directed staff to provide additional feedback to the applicant on issues such as massing (shape and form) of the proposed apartment, parking and ways the city can assist with the project's affordability, such as off-site works.
Upon receipt of a preliminary staff report in December, council approved several staff recommendations related to the proposed development, including directing staff to:
*Explore options in early 2021 for enhancing the city’s affordable housing reserve fund and updating the funding allocation guidelines, with the intent of providing council with additional opportunities to support more affordable housing projects each year. (This may mean a reduction in the amount each project is eligible to receive.)
*Report back with a recommendation about financially supporting the Aboriginal Land Trust Society’s project in a way that’s consistent with the updated guidelines.
*Work with the applicant to further improve the transition to the surrounding lower-density neighbourhood, provided this can remain a viable affordable housing project.
*Proceed with processing the development applications.
According to a staff report, the applicant has stated this project is reliant on funding from each level of government, including the city, and has proposed the city consider a number of ways it could financially contribute to the project to a total of $2.4 million. On that front, staff is exploring the enhancement of the affordable housing reserve fund and the use of that fund to financially support this project.
Coun. Mary Trentadue said she was “quite excited” to see this proposal come forward and supports the path the city is on with this project.
Jackie Teed, the city’s senior manager of development services, said staff have been discussing the affordable housing reserve fund for several months, and it’s in their workplan to have further discussions on this topic in early 2021.
“We do recognize there is a need to have that conversation with council and identify with council what level of funding would be best suited for those kinds of projects,” she said. “Part of that conversation is looking at the different tools that we have; how do development applications support these kinds of housing projects versus what kinds of capital projects does the city want to do; and what other opportunities do we have to partner with external agencies, other levels of government for funding. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle.”
A staff report notes the neighbourhood around the site is designated in the official community plan to have lower density uses, but the OCP allows for the consideration of six-storey buildings in cases where there is “high alignment” with city policies.
“This project would deliver much-needed affordable units in New Westminster, aligning with the mandate of the 2019 to 2022 strategic plan through which the city resolved to ‘aggressively pursue creative approaches to housing policy and on-the-ground projects to transform the way housing is provided in New Westminster’ and to ‘use partnerships, negotiations with developers and leveraging city resources to secure development of below- and non-market housing, as well as affordable child care,’” said the report. “The project’s intent to house multigenerational members of the Indigenous community, including elders, families and individuals, is aligned with the city’s reconciliation initiative.”
At the Dec. 14 meeting, council also received a letter from residents Ken and Susan Dextras that was accompanied by a petition signed by 82 people who oppose zoning changes in the Glenbrooke North neighbourhood. They’re opposed to any development of townhouses, rowhouses, condominiums or apartments and they support retention of single-family homes in the neighbourhood.