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Squamish-Lillooet Regional District floating new affordable housing measures

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) and its board of directors are looking to make a few key policy changes to increase the availability of affordable housing throughout the region.
Housing under construction with Mount Currie in the Background by Robert WIsla
Housing under construction in the Pemberton Valley

The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) and its board of directors are looking to make a few key policy changes to increase the availability of affordable housing throughout the region.

At the June 8 Electoral Area Directors meeting, the SLRD board directed staff to move forward with drafting amendments to the Official Community Plans (OCP) for Electoral Areas B, C, and D that would add new wording around affordable housing.

The amendments would also include new design guidelines for affordable and multi-family housing that will give direction for future building in the rural areas of the regional district.

The proposed amendments are a result of a Housing Needs and Demand Study conducted in 2020. The study determined that the housing supply is not keeping up with population growth in the electoral areas, and that there is competition between local residents wanting to buy homes and non-residents looking for investment and vacation homes.

The current housing available in the rural electoral areas of the regional district is primarily single-family dwellings. As the population of the SLRD grows, it is anticipated that more affordable home ownership and rental developments will eventually take place in the regional district, and include townhouses or apartments.

The amendments are focused toward developers, and lay out a general framework of design practices to make sure that livability remains high as more dense housing is built throughout the regional district.

The amendments will update the definition of affordable housing, bringing it in line with how the Whistler Housing Authority and the province define affordable housing, which is rental or ownership housing priced so that monthly payments are 30 per cent or less of gross household income.

Five specific policies would be added to the OCPs of the electoral areas to address affordable housing. These include making affordable housing a top priority for Community Amenity Contributions; requiring multi-family developments to designate 15 per cent of units as affordable housing, or provide land for affordable housing; keep housing affordable in perpetuity using purpose-built rentals, cooperative housing, title restrictions, covenants, and rental and resale price controls; and expedited permitting processes, waivers and fee reductions for affordable housing projects.

The fifth policy would focus affordable housing in designated growth areas.

The SLRD is also proposing new design guidelines to ensure livability in multi-family homes in Areas C and D.

Under the new guidelines, a maximum of 20 per cent of affordable units in new multi-family builds will be studio apartments, with the remaining 80 per cent being a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

The minimum unit size would be set at 56 square metres for one-bedroom townhomes and 49 square metres for one-bedroom studio apartments.

“I’m really pleased to see the unit sizes as small as they are. When we talk about affordable housing, we have to recognize the construction costs, and we have to scale down the expectations. If you want affordable houses, you can’t have a 5,000-sq-ft house. We need to be serious about restricting the size, and I’m pleased to see that,” said Area D Director Tony Rainbow.

“I think we’ve been spoiled in North America for years. We have so much space, we’ve never really thought about the size of homes and how big homes should be. If you look in Europe, there are much smaller homes than you’ll find in Vancouver and some North American cities.”

In addition to the recommended bylaw amendments, some specific policy recommendations were made for each of the electoral areas.

In Area C, the area-specific recommendations included recognizing mobile home parks as valuable contributors to the affordable housing base, and allowing them to be considered in rural residential areas if the developments follow additional conditions; and encouraging the development of more multi-family housing in D’Arcy and Mount Currie through the BC Housing Affordable Home Ownership Program.

There’s also a net-zero loss of affordable housing policy, where the regional district shall make sure that with any developments that result in a loss of affordable housing, “the proponent will provide compensation for the loss of these units,” according to an SLRD staff report.

“This may include a relocation allowance, assistance with relocation, replacing affordable housing on-site, or other innovative approaches.”

The proposed amendments will be considered at the June 29 SLRD board meeting.