Home is where smart growth lives.
Good, affordable housing is the foundation of communities and an essential part of smart growth. With a stable place to call home, people can build healthy families and communities.
Housing is considered affordable when a household can spend less than 30% of their income on accommodation. In some BC communities, housing is becoming the most expensive in Canada.
Affordable housing is an issue for many people, like teachers and fire-fighters, moderate- and low-income families, young and old, retirees and students.
When people can afford the type of housing they want near their work or school, they can spend less time commuting and more time with their families or in the community. Having an affordable home provides stability for families, helping children to achieve more in school.
Choices in housing are critical. In addition to single-family homes, a smart growth community includes a mix of townhouses, apartments, “granny flats” and more. These options use less land and resources, so they are less expensive.
Choices also allow people to find the kind of housing they need within the communities they know and love, even as their needs change over time:
- A bachelor apartment or basement suite may be perfect for a student.
- A young family with children might want access to a yard.
- Empty nesters might choose a smaller, low-maintenance home or apartment.
- Elderly people need senior-friendly housing near their family, doctor and friends.
All these types of housing can be rental or owned. Community members may also need crisis shelters, housing for low-income singles, and supported or second stage housing.
There are many tools to create affordable housing, including better land-use policies and government supported housing.
Land-use PoliciesSmart growth planning allows us to create new housing choices that are more affordable. We need to:
- make better use of existing land and buildings (for example, by filling in vacant lots and allowing homes to be built over stores)
- allow a mix of home types in every neighbourhood, like secondary suites, granny flats, and single- and multi-family dwellings
- provide a mix of homes with commercial in the same neighbourhood
- carefully add new homes in existing neighbourhoods, such as units in the basement or above the garage (to increase rental supply and provide extra income to help with the mortgage)
- provide easy access to jobs and transportation choices, so households can save on transportation costs
Government Supported HousingGovernment supported (usually called “non-market” or “social”) housing fills needs that for-profit or market development does not. This is only one kind of affordable housing.
Non-market housing is usually built with some type of financial support from government. Rent supplements may also be useful, but they do not result in more rental units. Supplements cannot help when vacancy rates are low or housing is poor quality.
An active community voice is essential to support affordable housing (and other smart growth efforts). Local governments are responsible for zoning and land-use decisions, so citizens need to speak up at the local level.
You can also support not-for-profit projects - let your council know that a healthy community needs non-profit housing. Speak up in favour of specific developments when they come before council.
Find out if your municipality has:
- a definition of affordable housing
- a strong policy statement on affordable, rental and special needs housing in the Official Community Plan
- a housing strategy
- a housing task force to address local housing needs
- land that could be used for non-profit housing
- a policy to retain existing affordable housing
Also find out:
- Who is doing related work? For example, a church group could be planning to build housing. Find out how you might support each other.
- Who is doing seemingly unrelated work that ties to smart growth? People promoting transportation choices could also support residential infill. This creates new, more affordable units, and the new population can support transit and walkability.
- Who in your local government is in charge of housing, social planning or heritage planning? Meet with them. They can help you learn what is currently happening in the community.
- Who are some key local allies? Let them know why a development or zoning change could benefit them. For example, tell the chamber of commerce that allowing apartments over stores provides built-in local customers and "eyes on the street” to increase safety.
Resources and Case Studies
Smart Growth BC Affordable Housing PolicyThe Smart Growth BC Affordable Housing Policy examines the many ways that land use has an impact on housing affordability, and provides a number of actions that can be taken by government, citizens, and financial institutions to address the issues.
Whistler Housing AuthorityThe Whistler Housing Authority perform the combined functions of two other agencies: the W.V.Housing Corporation, a municipal corporation that is legally responsible for employee restricted housing developments, and the Whistler Valley Housing Society (WVHS), a volunteer, non-profit society formed under the Societies Act as a legal entity qualified for acquiring CMHC financing.
Affordable Housing Project in Richmond, BC
A new Downtown Richmond condominium development includes non-market housing and childcare as key elements of a "complete community" in the form of an urban village. This project demonstrates that partnerships between developers, local government and community organizations can lead to innovative solutions for the housing affordability challenge. Read more...