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New Westminster considers affordable housing project in Glenbrook North

Community consultation will be critical as the city considers a six-storey affordable housing project on Sixth Street.
Affordable Housing New Westminster Sixth Street
Conceptual rendering of a six-storey affordable housing development being proposed on Sixth Street in New Westminster. The Aboriginal Land Trust Society’s proposal, now in a pre-application phase, calls for a 96-unit apartment building to be built at 823 to 841 Sixth St.

Community consultation will be critical as the city considers a six-storey affordable housing project on Sixth Street.

That’s the view of the three members of city council who sit on the land use and planning committee, which considered a staff report about the Aboriginal Land Trust Society’s proposal at its Aug. 31 meeting. The proposal, which is at the pre-application review phase of the process, calls for a 96-unit apartment building to be built at 823 to 841 Sixth St., which are six lots across the street from the new secondary school.

“The project is intended to house multi-generational members of the Indigenous community including elders, families and individuals,” said the report. “In addition, the Swahili Vision International Association, a Swahili community group, has been invited to participate in the project.  As part of this partnership, a number of units will be made available to the Swahili community.”

The report stated the apartment would have a mix of rents and income limits: 30% affordable housing (moderate income); 50% rent geared to income (housing income limit); and 20% deep subsidy.

“I think this proposal actually speaks to a lot of the things that we have wanted – affordable housing, addressing the needs of housing for the Indigenous community,” said Coun. Chinu Das. “I am also happy to note that it speaks to our inclusive community by having a partnership with the Swahili community. That all speaks really well to me.”

While she is generally supportive of what’s being proposed, Das said she has some concerns about the massing of the project, which is located next to single-family homes. She also wants assurances that the city will consult with the community about the proposal.

“I am concerned about the massing. In that location, the six-storey will really stand out. I know that staff have suggested they will work with the community on that and make sure that the transitioning happens appropriately,” she said. “I also read in the report that there may be some streamlining of the process. In that process what I don’t want to see happen is public consultation being reduced, because I think the community will have a lot to say about this project and I do hope that the community gets the chance to weigh in.”

The project would require a rezoning, a development permit and an amendment to the official community plan. In order to meet the applicant’s objective of having the OCP and zoning bylaw amendments adopted by next summer, staff said a streamlined application process and dedicated staff resources would be required.

 “It definitely is going to need a fulsome public engagement,” said Coun. Chuck Puchmayr. “There is such a need for this type of housing, and it’s a need that is growing and it will continue to grow. I feel very positive about it. I do want to look at how interfaces with the eastern neighbourhood and make sure that it is sensitive to their concerns.”

Mayor Jonathan Cote said the “sensitivity” from a land-use perspective won’t be on the Sixth Street side of the project but for the single-family neighbourhood living behind the properties.

“That is where the attention likely needs to focus in terms of how does the project step back to integrate with that particular neighbourhood,” he said.

According to the report, Aboriginal Land Trust would seek financial support from the City of New Westminster through a significant per unit capital grant from the city's housing reserve fund and a reduction of applicable municipal fees. Although the city doesn’t have funds available to allocate to this project, staff suggested the city could support the project’s feasibility in other ways, such as providing assistance with identifying and advocating for additional funding sources.

The land use and planning committee endorsed the staff report and directed staff to provide additional feedback to the applicant on issues such as massing, parking, ways the city can assist with the project’s affordability (such as off-site works) and the inclusion of a pedestrian and cyclists connection between Sixth and Fifth streets.

Cote said it is a “worthwhile and interesting project” for the city to consider and may provide an opportunity for the city to help build the greenway envisioned in this area. He suggested the city may be able to buy a piece of property at market value, which would provide some financial support for the project and also address a “clear, specific and immediate city need” for completion of a cycling connection to the high school.

The committee directed staff to have preliminary discussions about the potential purchase of land needed for the city’s greenway/cycling connection and to report back to council.