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Letter: Halting New West HRAs is a 'blow' to affordable housing

City has put agreements on hold
Laneway houses are gaining in popularity. (via supplied)


Re: New West halts new heritage revitalization agreement applications in Queen’s Park, Record News

Anyone who reads this newspaper knows the New Westminster city council recently put a pause on new heritage revitalization agreements (HRAs) in Queen’s Park. This is a puzzling development for many throughout the city. It is a blow to people who are advocates for more affordable housing and, surprisingly, it is also a blow to heritage preservation in New West.

The stated reason for the halt to new HRAs in Queen’s Park is that HRAs are just a means for speculators to make a profit by increasing the density of a lot zoned for single family. After all, 600 heritage homes in Queen’s Park are already protected by the Queen’s Park Heritage Conservation Area. Isn’t the one sweeping bylaw that is the QPHCA the same as an HRA?

The QPHCA does protect heritage homes but how secure is this approach to protecting our old assets in this city? 

The QPHCA was controversial when it was put in. It still is. Many property owners in Queen’s Park fought against the bylaw. All that is required to reverse this bylaw is political will and a new council. The QPHCA is a fragile, single barrier of protection for heritage. As in a pandemic, multiple layers of protection provide the highest level of surety. Heritage needs both the QPHCA and the HRAs.

The second puzzling objection to HRAs, is this remark about added density, like this is a bad thing. This is and always has been the big incentive for cities to do HRAs. In Queen’s Park, the added density is very minimal. We are not talking about highrises, townhouses or big developments.

What is being proposed, lot by lot, has always been minor - a larger-than-normal laneway house, a garden suite or a third-floor suite - changing the lot density from a single family to two or three families. How can we support the continuation of heritage in this city if heritage itself can’t adapt to the present need for more housing? Queen’s Park needs to be part of the solution, not part of the problem if it is to survive.

It is a privilege to own a property in Queen’s Park. It won’t diminish the neighbourhood to have renters in the basement of a neighbour. Or an aging matriarch in a coach home. Or ownership stratification of a large heritage house and lot.

HRAs are not perfect, but they are another layer of protection for heritage in our city. It makes no sense for heritage advocates to halt HRAs in Queen’s Park. HRAs allow the neighbourhood to gently densify, so that our kids and grandkids can afford to live here too.

Nancy Shaw, New Westminster