City of New Westminster leads on affordable housing

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Mayor Cote hopes other municipalities follow suit

By Mercedes Deutscher, News Editor

The City of New Westminster is recognizing the growing population in the Lower Mainland, and has created new incentives to build rental units.

In Metro Vancouver, condos and apartments are often built with the intention of selling each of the individual units to prospective home owners. While this provides a cheaper option for those looking to own property, it makes for difficult residency searches for those only looking to rent.

New Westminster has gradually been offering more incentives to build rental units in the city since 2013. Such incentives include allowing higher density buildings to be built, lowering the costs of permit fees, and easing requirements for parking lots.

However, the city also made strides towards helping families who use rental housing by creating a by-law in June 2015 that required 10 per cent of all rental housing built in the city to have 3 or more bedrooms. The by-law is slated to come into effect this year.

“We’re finding the majority of growth in our city is multi-family units, and what we’ve seen recently is most of the new units are very small and are one bedroom and studio apartments,” Cote told CBC.

Most of the increasing number of rental units are multi-unit properties, such as duplexes, four plexes, and apartments. This provides for better use of space in the city. Even Cote opted for living in a condo with his family, as opposed to a single-family home.

That being said, there will still be plenty of options left for those seeking smaller residences, with a larger selection of one and two bedroom residences, ideal for students and those working without children, becoming available for rent.

“New Westminster is probably one of the most affordable communities in all of Metro Vancouver, given the challenges that we’re facing, which [are] the same challenges as most other cities,” said Cote to CBC’s Early Edition.

New Westminster is being praised by Tony Roy, the CEO for the BC Non Profit Housing Association.

“Where is the incentive to say, ‘I’m going to build something that’s permanently going to be rental, and it’s going to be suitable for family, and it’s going to be long term,” Roy said to CBC in response to Cote’s initiatives. “There’s really no incentive to do that, but it’s what the market needs.”

Roy encouraged neighbouring municipalities, Vancouver in particular, to observe New Westminster’s model of rental housing.

“All municipalities in Metro Vancouver need to start looking at what policies are working, because the status quo is not leading to the development of new rental housing, and if anything, we’re actually seeing some of our best sources of affordable housing in the region start to disappear,” Cote agreed, via CBC.