Tuesday, June 23, 2009

SEFC Social Housing: Hey Meggs, Let's get real!

From a recent Vancouver Sun Story by Jeff Lee on the SEFC Social Housing cost overuns...

"However, Anton said she favours selling the units at market prices and putting the proceeds towards building more affordable housing elsewhere.

Her idea was roundly condemned by other councillors, including Woodsworth and Geoff Meggs, who said it would turn the village into a "gated neighborhood" where only the rich could live."

What utter nonsense!

The reality is, the cost of the social housing units, now estimated at approximately $600,000 each (including land), is far beyond what was initially expected. It is estimated that to make these units affordable to core needy households could cost another $55 million in subsidies, or more.

As a former Program Manager of social housing for CMHC, and a consultant to the BC Government when it established its Social Housing proposal call program, I am a supporter of integrated communities with a mix of market and non-market housing. However, given these costs, and the very real potential for significant losses on the land sale to Millennium, and losses and cost over-runs on the balance of the SEFC development including the public amenities, I think the responsible thing would be to sell these units as "fettered ownership housing" to families who cannot afford the market units.

The units could be sold with resale controls to prevent windfall gains, and other restrictions...ie, can only be purchased by 'end-users', not investors, and generally not be rented out; priority would be given to families with children; the city would have the right to buy back units and re-sell over time. Similar programs have been put in place very successfully at UniverCity (Verdant) and in Whistler (employee housing).

While this would not result in the 80/20 split of high/low income residents, it would result in a healthy mix of mid and higher income households, and the desired mix of families with children and other households.

So please Councillors Meggs and Woodsworth. Please stop the rhetoric and reconsider how best to spend the taxpayers money. And yes, Vision Vancouver and COPE can now start planning some non-market lower income housing ON ADJACENT SEFC sites, to ensure the broader socio-economic mix in the community. If you start now, you might even have some units finished by the next election. And I know you will ensure they will never go over budget!

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