The City needs to bring its “A” game if more affordable non-market housing is to be built in Nelson, according to one councillor.

Keith Page said the City of Nelson has accomplished a bit in encouraging and fostering affordable housing construction in the city — including requiring a contribution to the affordable housing fund on new, multi-unit builds.

“I agree that we have made improvements, but what I don’t agree with is there isn’t a role to play in doing more,” he said.

Page supported the recently released final phase recommendations of the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership’s (NAEDP) Greater Nelson Non-Market Housing Entity Study, but said the City needed to do a deeper dive.

The study’s recommendations have been referred to a future council business meeting to discuss, including the formation of a business plan for a City-led housing corporation.

But Page said there will now be a gap since the last projects for middle class population of the city have been delivered to when new ones will start up.

“Now we have a number of years before we see (a new) project, if it is successful, be delivered,” he said, calling for annual monetary contributions to an affordable housing pre-development fund. “So we need to be making regular contributions to this problem over decades to get to a position where this community is functioning more for the middle class.”

The City is currently making some contributions to the affordability fund through collections from development, but at the current rate, it could support one project every 10 years, Page pointed out.

“So I think that is why we have some recommendations before us that we should look at as to how we fund this in a sustainable way for ourselves and future generations,” he said.

Sandy Mackay from M’akola Development Services and Tom Thomson from the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce — on behalf of the NAEDP — presented an update on the study to City council, including a review of the recommendations, resources created and decision points for the City.

The study recommended the City support non-profits in the community to build their non-market, affordable housing development capacity and housing portfolios, including directing City staff to identify municipal land that was suitable for non-market, affordable housing and develop a land disposal process and strategy. 

Mackay said City staff could also explore financial options to establish a pre-development fund (PDF) to assist non-profit operators with the planning and pre-development costs of building new affordable housing. 

But the idea for the City to be a larger player in the development of housing could come at a financial cost, said Coun. Jesse Woodward.

“Are you saying we need to develop budget line items for these ahead of the actual process?” he asked.

“If you do choose to fund pre-development, I think the mechanism is something I would lean on staff to help craft,” said MacKay during the in-council presentation.

Other communities have done this exact thing, like Penticton — that established a pre-development fund program — that created a grant fund that allowed non-profits in the community to access, via an application process.

Mackay said it was important to work with the non-profit housing sector.

“In Nelson you have a very strong non-profit housing ecosystem that not every community has,” he pointed out. “You should be very proud of the work they have done and you should lean heavily on them, and support them however you can.”
If the City was considering setting up a corporation or authority to build non-market housing, it was difficult and time consuming to set up, Mackay explained.

“It’s not always the best option if there is already housing non-profits operating in the community,” he said, adding it was better to support them by either providing suitable land for development, or pre-development funding.

The development corporation for building housing should be explored only if the project capacity for the non-profits shifts, Mackay said.

“The fastest, cheapest and easiest way to new, affordable housing in the community is partnering with current non-profit ecosystems and supporting them through land and development funding,” he said.

Coun. Leslie Payne was disappointed the recommendation was for not establishing a corporation.

“I am concerned when I hear that putting our business plan for the housing corporation is on the back burner,” she said. “Because, with the amount of time it takes to put that into place, we won’t be having further projects that I can see, unless some other organizations come forward in the funnel … to be continuing to meet the needs you identified in the housing needs assessment.

“So, I would like to think we could move forward on these somewhat concurrently as we are building out these projects.”

By Timothy Schafer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 03, 2024 at 14:09

This item reprinted with permission from   The Nelson Daily   Nelson, British Columbia
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