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Coquitlam eyes cheaper below-market rents, lock-off units near SkyTrain

The planned changes to Coquitlam’s zoning bylaw come as renters around B.C. scramble to find affordable homes and as municipalities struggle to meet housing targets.
SkyTrain Coquitlam
Coquitlam is looking for options that could bring in lower rents for potential tenants living along the SkyTrain route.

Coquitlam is looking to ease the city's housing crunch by dropping the rent for tenants in new below-market housing suites.

It's also proposing to add a cheaper type of housing for renters along the Millennium Line: lock-off units.

The planned changes to Coquitlam's zoning bylaw, which will go to a public hearing on Sept. 11, come as renters around B.C. scramble to find affordable homes and as municipalities struggle to meet housing targets set by Metro Vancouver and the province.

What Coquitlam planning staff are recommending — and which council gave first reading to on July 31, with Coun. Robert Mazzarolo opposing — is two-fold:

  • have renters in below-market units in new purpose-built rental buildings pay 25 below the market instead of the current 20 per cent
  • expand where lock-off units can be built to include zones near the SkyTrain stations

But the proposed text changes to the city's Housing Affordability Strategy were met with mixed reviews and requests for more clarification before next month's public hearing.

Coun. Matt Djonlic said the deepening of subsidies on Coquitlam's below-market rental housing "is worth celebrating."

"This is going to represent hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially for people in subsidized housing. It's going to mean a lot to them."

If approved, the bylaw would align with the city's Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with BC Housing, which specifies the level of affordability as 25 per cent below-market.

It would also have an immediate effect on developers with in-stream applications that haven't advanced to the public hearing stage and/or received a bylaw reading, noted Andrew Merrill, Coquitlam's general manager of planning and development, in his July 24 report to council.

Having the subsidy rise from 20 to 25 per cent may be a "small change, but it could mean very much to a lot of our residents or future residents," Mazzarolo said.

Still, he was critical of adding more lock-off units to the city’s housing stock.

Lock-off units are an accessory home that's contained in a strata-titled dwelling and can be locked off from the main residence.

Currently, there are three lock-off housing projects in Coquitlam located in these permitted zones: RM-4, RM-5, RM-6, C-5, C-7 and CD zones.

City staff say lock-off units should also be allowed around the Millennium Line in RT-2 (townhouse residential); RM-2 (three-storey medium-density apartment residential); and RM-3 zones (multi-storey medium-density apartment residential).

Mazzarolo suggested lock-off units "do the opposite" of making housing affordable in the city.

"When you create a separate unit from the main unit, you're going to be increasing the price of that property," he said.

He also spoke against chopping up family-sized homes when many condos are being constructed along the SkyTrain line.

But Coun. Trish Mandewo said lock-off units are a good way for single people or a couple to find an affordable home — and the extra money can be a mortgage helper for the homeowner.

Djonlic also flagged that lock-off units could be used for short-term rentals; however, Merrill clarified that AirBnBs are not allowed in Coquitlam — only licensed bed and breakfast accommodations.

Coun. Craig Hodge said the aim is to create more rental housing options close to transit.

He asked staff to provide at the public hearing a list of other Metro Vancouver municipalities that allow lock-off units, and show their results.

Meanwhile, city staff continue to tweak the Housing Affordability Strategy. Merrill said that next up for council consideration includes:

  • simplification of the density bonus program
  • review of three-bedroom units as a Priority Unit Type (PUT)
  • clarity on development expectations for balanced mix of housing types
  • expansion of the rental incentives program

To have your say at the Sept. 11 public hearing, you can register through the City of Coquitlam's website.