Letter: Affordable Housing at $1200 a month

Tuesday, January 16 2018

In the middle of the Housing Review public hearing in November a representative of the Housing Society requested that the LTC change the definition of “affordable housing” in the OCP. This came out of nowhere and didn’t relate to the Bylaws under consideration but regardless the LTC added this to Phase one of the Housing Options Review.

Phase one was intended to consider changes to provide “attainable” housing. Affordable housing would be addressed in Phase two. How we define “affordable” is crucial to the issue so why consider changing the definition at the request of one individual or organization before Phase two has even started? 

The current definition of affordable is 30% of 60% of the median income. The current median income is $48,000 a year and 60% of that is $28,800.  By this definition affordable housing should cost no more than 30% of $28,800 or $720 a month. The housing society wants that changed to 30% of the entire median income of $48,000. That means an affordable rental would be $1200 a month. Since when is $1200 a month an affordable rental for low income Gabriolans? 

An often heard rationale for creating affordable housing is that island businesses can’t retain staff because there are no affordable rentals. Most service employees are only making the minimum wage of $11.85 an hour. Even with a $15 an hour wage an employee working a 40 hour week grosses approx. $2600 a month, 30% of which is $780 a month. This is a lot closer to the current definition of $720 a month than the $1200 a month the Housing Society prefers.

As far as I know the Housing Society hasn’t raised any funds through grants or received land through donation. To me it looks like the idea is to provide housing by allowing more density than our zoning bylaw permits in return for some affordable units in a multi-unit development. The Local Government Act allows increases in density if in return the owner provides affordable housing “as defined in the bylaws.” Our bylaw defines this as $720 a month. Apparently the developer(s) the Housing Society has spoken with is not interested in providing rental housing at this rate so a change to the bylaw becomes necessary. 

I don’t doubt that with development costs it might not be attractive to build housing that is genuinely affordable for low income residents. However, if we define $1200 a month as an affordable unit we will be providing middle-class housing for those who make $48,000 a year and not for low-income workers. 

These developments are predominantly market based with the affordable units comprising a small portion of the total. One wonders what the majority of the units would be priced at if $1200 a month is considered affordable.  

It is an inescapable fact that the only affordable housing is subsidized housing. This is obvious if one investigates affordable housing developments elsewhere. It’s not unusual for a third of development costs to be subsidized by government. 

If Phase one of the Housing Review was to provide “attainable” housing and Phase two is to look at “affordable” housing the LTC should not consider any change to the definition of “affordable housing” until Phase two. Any change now as a part of Phase one would completely prejudice the process. 

I hope that others will join me in requesting that the definition of “affordable housing” not be changed to $1200 a month. You can send an email to the LTC at this email address: gabriolaislandlocaltrustcommittee@islandstrust.bc.ca 

~ Gisele Rudischer