Housing crunch for Coquitlam

The building at 655 North Rd. is slated for a redevelopment by BlueSky Properties. - tri-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO
The building at 655 North Rd. is slated for a redevelopment by BlueSky Properties.
— image credit: tri-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

Does it cost too much to live in Coquitlam?

According to a new city report, many residents — both owners and renters — are struggling to make ends meet.

And the future doesn't look much brighter, with rents and mortgages expected to soar as the population booms, especially in areas around the Evergreen Line.

In Coquitlam, a quarter of households — more than 11,420 of the city's 41,245 homes — spend more than 30% of their income on housing and 9% — more than 3,500 households — allocate more than half of their earnings on accommodation.

The numbers for eroding affordability continue to be staggering: In 1991, the median household income was around $49,500, compared with $60,880 today — a difference of 23%. But while the average dwelling cost around $200,000 then, the price today for a home exceeds $600,000 — a jump of 200% (the average rent has risen 89%).

On Monday, city staff unveiled the long-awaited draft Housing Affordability Strategy (HAS) framework, which attempts to address the gap, said community planning manager Carl Johannsen.

In it, staff propose a vision that includes four key objectives, 13 policy directions and 46 actions to help ease the burden. Among the recommendations, which city council has yet to approve, are:

• change land-use plans and zoning bylaws to expand the range of housing types;

• spend the city's affordable housing reserve fund — currently at $1.67 million — to build new housing projects with senior levels of government, non-profit groups and private partners;

• and offer incentives to developers to build market rental suites.

Sandy Burpee, chair of the Tri-Cities' Homelessness and Housing Task Group, who was at the council-in-committee meeting to hear the presentation, called the framework "a good start."

And it is timely, he said, given the rapid redevelopment happening along North Road to get ready for the Evergreen Line opening in the summer of 2016.

This month, council heard from two delegations asking for the city's help for Burquitlam residents being displaced by BlueSky Properties' plan for 788 units at North Road and Foster Avenue. Many renters will be forced out of the city as they can't afford the higher rents, said Dennis McDonald of the Medallion-Cedar Grove Tenants' Committee and Steve Bailey of the Tri-Cities Ministerial Association.

(BlueSky has offered the current tenants on its property a waiver of the last two months' rent to assist in relocation efforts; a reduction in the purchase price for a new apartment unit in the proposed development; and priority for the available rental units in the building at 655 North Rd.)

Burpee said the HAS framework isn't much different than rental housing strategies that were part of the city's Transit-Oriented Development Strategy (TDS) that was implemented in 2012.

Now, he said, the challenge will be in implementation. "It will likely require a champion to pursue the advocacy and partnership," Burpee said.

Jim McIntyre, Coquitlam's general manager for planning and development, said the topic of housing affordability is "a very contentious and divisive area" but he believes the new framework will offer a balance between the city's wants and needs.

"This is a problem we can't solve on our own," Coun. Craig Hodge said, noting the city has to look at measures being done in the neighbouring cities of Port Coquitlam and Port Moody, where the Evergreen Line will also run.

Meanwhile, the draft HAS framework was released the same day city council approved a highrise and affordable townhomes for the YWCA, at 520 Como Lake Ave., close the Burquitlam Evergreen Line station.

Beedie Living plans to tie its 26-storey highrise to the adjoining Como Lake Gardens site to add seven new townhomes for single moms and their kids. The development will add $2.74 million in density bonuses, which the city will funnel into its affordable housing reserve fund.


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