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Powell River developer pays into affordable housing fund

City expects voluntary donation per unit built
Nootka Street
FUNDING FORWARD: The developer of a new Powell River subdivision under construction on Nootka Street donated $7,000 to an affordable housing fund. David Brindle photo

One year ago, Darren Marquis Construction became the first builder to pay a contribution to the newly created City of Powell River affordable housing fund.

Marquis said the fund is a good idea and a necessity.

“It just needs to be handled in a means that works for everybody,” said Marquis, whose Westview development is now under construction above Oceanview Education Centre on Nootka Street.

In every zoning bylaw the city’s planning department now brings before city council, residential developers are requested to make a voluntary community amenity contribution to the affordable housing reserve fund. Marquis said his was $7,000.

The fund currently holds $7,500 in total, according to city senior planner Jason Gow.

To date, the contribution required of developers is approximately $500 per unit or lot, which is half of what Ladysmith requires from developers for its fund, according to Gow. Other communities range from $5,000 to $10,000 per unit.

“We would never go to that because that's offensive,” said Gow.

Contribution to the affordable housing fund is not, as some residents believe, extortion or a condition of rezoning, he added.

Marquis said it is important that a voluntary donation be treated as such, but in the case of his development it was a condition of rezoning, so a donation to the affordable housing fund was made.

Nanaimo has an established housing legacy reserve, which is allotted $165,000 in the budget every year. The current balance is about $2.7 million, according to Nanaimo city planner Karin Kronstal.

“The idea is modelled after City of Nanaimo,” said Gow. “They have essentially established a statutory reserve that is collected at the time of rezoning and is used to fund affordable housing initiatives.”

Nanaimo has broad terms of references for its fund, including strategically acquiring property for future development of affordable housing.

Currently, Powell River’s reserve is collecting money with no statutes, according to Gow.

“We don't have terms of reference so at some point we're going to have to deliver that and stipulate how the money is going to be spent,” said Gow.

Recommendations for rules on what money from the fund would be spent on might come from the city’s affordable housing committee, said city councillor Maggie Hathaway, who holds the housing portfolio on council. Her committee is considering a number of housing ideas that could be brought before council.

“We want to do a housing authority study and we're looking for funding for that,” said Hathaway.

Until terms of reference are established by council, it has the discretion to ask for contributions to any community amenity, including an affordable housing fund.

“It's going to be a long time coming,” said Marquis, “before there's anything substantial in that account where it's going to make any difference.”