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Maple Ridge hosts experts to address affordable housing issue

Summit hears senior government’s new initiatives and investments
Maple Ridge Mayor Dan Ruimy, Ron Rapp of the Homebuilders Association of Vancouver, Rick Illich of Townline Homes, and housing minister Ravi Kahlon. (Neil Corbett/The News)

A message that was clear from Maple Ridge’s Housing Affordability Summit on Tuesday – the issue is a crisis, and senior government is treating it with that sort of urgency.

Maple Ridge Mayor Dan Ruimy said he had recent meetings with both federal and provincial officials that confirm to him senior government is taking action.

“They’re seized with this – they understand there is a crisis on hand,” said Ruimy.

So does Ruimy and his council. They are running a city where the benchmark price of a house is now $1.2 million, and two-bedroom apartments rent for well over $2,000 per month.

Demand is only increasing, in a fast-growing city, where a housing shortage appears likely to get worse. There are 2,000 to 3,000 new residents every year coming to the city, which has a growth rate double the national average, Ruimy points out. He said there could be as many as 25,000 to 30,000 new residents over the next 10 years.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge’s exploding population nears 100,000

That’s the reason for the Housing Affordability Summit on May 30.

The city brought provincial Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon as the keynote speaker, and experts from around the province, both in government, from the housing industry, and from industry associations.

Ruimy said the event was a success in that it started a important conversations, and signalled to senior governments that the city wants to look for solutions, and is looking for partnerships.

“They’re going to want to work with people who want to work with them,” said Ruimy. “I’ll collaborate with whoever I can.”

Among the initiatives Kahlon announced was coming legislation that will allow for up to four units to be built on single-family lots.

In a panel discussion there was a lot of talk about resident push-back and nimbyism, but the panel members didn’t oppose the plan.

“The idea of four units on a single-family lot, a few years ago I would have put up a wall. Now I’m going ‘Of course.’” said Rick Illich of Townline Homes.

He said it will allow people to share land with family members, and for people to age in place.

“The only thing in life that’s constant is change, and we just have to get used to change,” said Illich.

Ron Rapp CEO of Homebuilders Association of Vancouver noted 75-80 per cent of land area in urban areas is currently designated for single family homes. He noted lots are huge in some areas, such as the South Slope neighbourhood of Coquitlam, where single family lots are 19,000 to 20,000 square feet. Built in the 1970s, they are ready to be re-developed.

“To tear that existing home down and then build up a 3,500, 4,000 square foot unit that houses one single family homes is probably not the way to go.”

They spoke about Nimbyism, in a limited land base.

“In my community I’ve got a project that went up a couple of blocks away five single family homes came down and was replaced by a four-storey apartment building, and a young junior planner had her life threatened at the information session,” said Jill Atkey, the CEO of BC Not for Profit Housing Association.

Atkey talked about the government’s role in housing, and how the federal government stopped incentivizing purpose-built rental housing in the early 1980s, and they disappeared for 40 years.

“Similarly, for non-profit and co-op housing, in the peak years of those programs in the 1970s and 80s almost one in every five homes built in this country was a non-profit or co-op home, and that came to a crashing halt in 1993.”

Kahlon said the provincial government is now promoting the BC Builds concept, as government creating more units.

“We believe the province can’t say ‘We’ll leave it to the private sector.’ We can’t say that ‘Somehow this problem will just fix itself if we just kind get out of the way.’ That’s is just false,” said the minister.

He said the province will be building housing for low and middle-income earners, and will look at lands owned by the federal government, province, municipalities and school board lands for housing.

Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley talked about his city’s approach to housing. When a developer is building a site, they asked for 20 per cent of it to be 20 per cent to be built as affordable rentals. In exchange, developers are allowed extra density.

On the federal front, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is launching the Housing Accelerator Fund this summer. It will offer incentive funding to local governments, for initiatives aimed and increasing the housing supply. There is a $4 billion fund for the next three years, and the goal is to create an additional 100,000 housing units that would have been build without it.

CMHC spokesperson Lance Jakubec outlined ways a municipality building 500 units with HAF incentives could get $16 million in federal funding. The first agreements with cities will be made this winter, and advances of funds made, he said.

Asked about coming changes, like four units being built on single family lots, and city hall staff approving developments that used to go to council, Ruimy said they deserve consideration given the state of housing markets.

“We’re all in unknown territory, so we have to try different things, and try new initiatives,” he said.

READ ALSO: Kelowna’s tent city garners national attention after Poilievre tweet

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Mayor Dan Ruimy speaks at the housing summit, with fellow panelists Ron Rapp of the Homebuilders Association of Vancouver, Rick Illich of Townline Homes, and housing minister Ravi Kahlon. (Neil Corbett/The News)

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

Neil Corbett has been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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