Abbotsford council adopted a new affordable housing strategy in May.

Abbotsford council adopted a new affordable housing strategy in May.

New Abbotsford housing strategy eyes cash from developers

Newly adopted affordable housing strategy would create new fund to support projects

Abbotsford’s municipal government can’t itself build enough new homes to ensure that residents can afford to live in suitable housing, but it now has a plan for how it can try to get others to fix the local housing crunch.

In late May, it adopted a long-awaited new affordable housing strategy, which sets a list of things that the city can do to try to ensure residents of all incomes can access affordable shelter. Work on the strategy began more than two years ago, and the plan itself won’t itself change anything. But within a month, council may see staff’s plan for how the city can better ensure that new development actually results in more affordable housing for residents.

Consultant Matt Thompson told council last month that the housing market hasn’t been able to “deliver the diversity of housing that our communities really need.”

And he noted that housing affordability isn’t just an issue affecting Abbotsford’s poorest residents.

“Increasingly, we are seeing pressure put on moderate to middle income households in the housing market,” he said.

The city’s new strategy suggest ways the city can ensure new developments actually help ease the housing crunch.

Staff say two new measures will soon come to council on that front. One, a “density bonusing” program, would allow developers to build denser projects in return for either the inclusion of affordable housing units, or the provision of money for other affordable housing projects.

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Council will also soon see details on a new “Community Amenity Contribution” program for housing. Developers must already provide money for things like park and road infrastructure improvements in and around their projects, depending on the situation. The new strategy suggests that the city’s CAC program will soon include provisions whereby at least some developers will be asked to ante up with either affordable homes, or money for an Affordable Housing Reserve. Money from that reserve would then go to help finance affordable housing projects. (The strategy suggests those projects would likely be built by others and the city would contribute a portion, but not all, of the funding required.)

Beyond those changes, the strategy also says that even if it won’t build social housing itself, the city must take a key role in bringing together governments and non-profits that can do so. Council was also told that if the city can find land for a proposed project, that can dramatically increase the likelihood that senior levels of government will fund it.

“Housing is not the responsibility of local government alone, but local government has a key role to play in the delivery of new housing across the housing continuum.”

Coun. Kelly Chahal said the strategy was urgently needed, but that its list of all the work to be done was “daunting.”

And Thompson and others noted that some changes will involve carefully balancing interests of the city’s residents and developers, so as not to deter builders from constructing new housing.

“It needs to work for them,” Coun. Sandy Blue said.

Thompson said it’s not an impossible task, though.

“If you can strike that balance right, and I think lots of municipalities do it, then you can really drive the development sector to being an important leader and player in the affordable housing sector.”

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