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Port Moody council cautious on new initiative to build more middle-income affordable housing

The BC Builds program is designed to get homes built in 12 to 18 months rather than three to five years.
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BC Builds will help get more affordable housing built for middle-income people, says its executive lead Lisa Helps.

A day after the BC Builds’ Homes for People program was rebuffed by Coquitlam council, its executive lead received a warmer welcome in Port Moody.

But councillors were still non-committal to the initiative through BC Housing that is meant to provide more homes for middle-income people, like nurses, teachers, transit operators and small business owners, after a presentation Tuesday, April 16.

The program, launched two months ago, is designed to channel $2 billion in federal funding to help reduce the cost of building homes by using public land, provide forgivable loans to homeowners to construct and rent secondary suites and attach affordable housing to existing and new public infrastructure like community centres, fire halls and libraries.

Lisa Helps, who’s also the former mayor of Victoria, told councillors the program brings together local government, landowners and developers to speed the approval and construction of the new homes, reducing the time it takes until people can actually move in to 12 to 18 months from three to five years.

Helps said building for middle income people also reduces the pressure on the supply of low-income housing as more of those units will be left for residents who really need them.

“It’s a long-term investment in the housing sector,” said Helps, who compared the initiative to the early days of co-op housing that provided affordable housing options to a range of occupants.

Coun. Kyla Knowles welcomed the program.

“It’s always good to have extra tools,” she said.

But Coun. Diana Dilworth expressed reservations about the additional workload the program could foist on already overburdened planning staff. She said the influx of housing also comes with a need to provide more public infrastructure, which has a cost.

Coun. Haven Lurbiecki acknowledged the program might be a boon for communities with an abundance of available public land, but Port Moody has a dearth of such properties.

And, she added, “not every piece of public land is going to be suitable for housing.”

Helps, who’s making her pitch to councils around B.C., said it’s in everyone’s interest to find creative ways to address the growing need for affordable housing across the province.

“The cost of housing is out of whack with the amount of money people earn,” she said. “BC Builds is meant to intervene in this space.”