After 10 years in the mayor’s chair, Richard Stewart is asking Coquitlam voters to support him one last time.
A fourth term is necessary, he said, to complete some of the initiatives launched during his tenure, particularly on the affordable housing front. The city’s Housing Choices program and Affordable Housing Strategy are starting to see results, he said, and he wants to be present for any policy adjustments that may be necessary.
“We are halfway through the housing policy changes that… I wanted to implement,” he said during an interview with The Tri-City News. “We have put in place a lot of them and now we are tweaking them to see the results and actually achieve the things we set out to achieve.”
Stewart’s opponent, Adel Gamar, has criticized him for being at the helm while housing prices in the city have skyrocketed over the last decade.
But Stewart said rising property values are a regional issue and Coquitlam has been able to avoid some of the pitfalls seen in other parts of the Lower Mainland by encouraging increases in housing supply.
He acknowledged that in the future, not everyone is going to be able to own a detached home. But he noted the rapid pace of higher-density development is necessary to meet housing demand and ensure residents and their children can continue to live in Coquitlam.
“Obviously, we have to find a more efficient use of the land to lower the land component of housing costs,” he said. “That can only be achieved by reducing the footprint [of housing].”
While there has been pushback from residents around the pace of development, Stewart said most people in the community understand that changes in housing forms are required, particularly with the arrival of the Evergreen Extension.
He added that during consultations for the Burquitlam-Lougheed Neighbourhood Plan, some residents were even pushing for higher densities in their area.
“The next generation is looking at different housing forms right across Canada,” he said, later adding: “Ultimately, we can no longer have a quarter-acre lot for every family. There is simply no more land in the Lower Mainland without moving up the mountains and we don’t want to do that anymore.”
But if families are going to be expected to live in high-density developments, larger housing units will be necessary, a fact Stewart acknowledges the city has been slow to grasp.
One policy change he said he is looking at would see the square footage from third bedrooms excluded in floor-space ratio calculations, essentially allowing developers to build additional bedrooms without increasing their land costs.
The incentive is similar to what the city has done to increase its stock of rental housing, he noted. As part of the Affordable Housing Strategy, builders that have hit the maximum number of units allowed for their parcel of land are permitted to increase the density, provided the additional units are purpose-built rentals.
Stewart said the program has been successful at boosting the rental housing stock in the city.
“We now have something like 4,000 units of rental in-stream,” he said. “Ten years ago we didn’t have any.”
Stewart also pushed back on charges the city has not been successful at leveraging the development industry for community amenities.
He pointed to an agreement struck with Wesbild that will see four lots next to the future Sheffield elementary school on Burke Mountain dedicated for a purpose-built daycare. He added that Concert Properties in Burquitlam, which has already agreed to build a YMCA facility, is being pushed to include daycare space in its development.
While childcare is a provincial responsibility, Stewart said the city can help facilitate opportunities to increase daycare spaces in the community.
“This is not a municipal function but there is a lot we can do to be a catalyst,” he said.
Another reason Stewart said he is vying for a fourth term has to do with changes taking place at the regional level. He noted that a majority of Metro Vancouver directors will be retiring and he said officials who are re-elected will be required to ensure continuity at the board.
Should he receive another mandate from the voters, Stewart predicts big economic changes ahead for Coquitlam and the region as a whole in the upcoming municipal term.
“By this time in two years, three years, I suspect we will see a completely different market on the housing side,” he said. “I hope we will be able to look back with satisfaction at what Coquitlam’s role has been.”