Nelson council agreed at its Sept. 7 meeting to collaborate with Small Housing BC to explore how to make infill housing more affordable in the city.
Infill housing refers to new housing interspersed among already-existing urban housing units or other buildings.
The project would use a model that Small Housing BC calls permanently affordable housing, which creates additional homes in single-family detached houses by renovating the original home into several suites and strata-titling each new unit.
One new unit in each home would be designated as permanently affordable, to be offered at a below-market price in perpetuity. That restricted sale price would be protected by a covenant on title. The other units would be sold at market price.
The market priced units would also be relatively affordable to new home buyers because of their small size.
If the city eventually takes up the program, it would only be used by homeowners who want to use it.
Jake Fry of Small Housing BC, present at the online council meeting, said the permanently affordable units would be subsidized by BC Housing in collaboration with VanCity and that the below-market price would be geared to the mean income in Nelson.
“This is not a grad student’s project.” Fry said. “We are working with seasoned professionals and have run financial models and we know this community is viable for this, given land values and sales values.”
Nelson’s laneway housing regulations were developed in collaboration with Small Housing BC, which is a Vancouver-based non-profit organization that conducts research, education and advocacy to promote the development of small housing forms in the province.
Nelson council did not agree to take on this housing program, just to take part in a structured exploration of this idea along with several other B.C. communities, co-ordinated by Small Housing B.C.
Council signed up for six months to one year of information-gathering, workshops, research, locally tailored recommendations, and action planning, some of this jointly with other B.C. communities.
At this point, the project does not involve any actual construction work, although it could lead to bylaws that would allow that. Any recommendations on bylaw or regulatory changes emerging from the project would come back to council for discussion and approval.
The cost to Nelson for entering into this preliminary work with Small Housing BC will be a fee of $7,500 plus 14 hours of meetings and workshops for planning staff, plus additional staff time for preparation and follow-up, all during the next six months to one year. Fry said most of the work would be done by Small Housing BC’s staff.
Councillor Janice Morrison said she was daunted by the regulatory and zoning changes that might be involved in developing this sort of housing. City manager Kevin Cormack responded that her questions were exactly the ones that would be answered in the educational and workshop sessions in this project. Fry added the project would work with and adapt to Nelson’s existing zoning and community plan.
Mayor John Dooley and Councillor Cal Renwick said they often hear from their planning staff that they are too busy and asked why council would want to give them more work that was not essential.
Renwick wondered why anyone would buy a restricted sale unit without the opportunity to sell it later at market price.
Dooley said this decision was too rushed and he didn’t want to do anything that might discourage people from developing housing in Nelson by creating doubt or confusion about the city’s policies.
“We are going down a dark hole here that has buried a lot of communities trying to manage affordability,” he said.
Councillor Rik Logtenberg said the project would be good staff training for an important issue in the city, and it might help young people get into the housing market. Councillor Jesse Woodward said he likes the idea because Nelson cannot depend on the market alone to create affordable housing.
Councillor Keith Page said this would be one more way of “chipping away at providing housing for the whole community.” Councillor Nicole Charlwood said she likes the initiative and suggested it should include supportive financing for low-income home buyers.