An information board set up at an affordable housing public engagement event earlier this year. NEWS BULLETIN file photo

An information board set up at an affordable housing public engagement event earlier this year. NEWS BULLETIN file photo

Nanaimo’s affordable housing strategy addresses struggles that renters face

City council unanimously endorses document

Nanaimo city council will leave the next council with some direction on affordable housing.

Councillors, at their meeting Monday, unanimously endorsed a just-released Nanaimo affordable housing strategy.

The document was the result of a year-long project that included the efforts of a steering committee, the city’s community vitality and planning and development committees and the input of 1,500 members of the public, said Karin Kronstal, city planner.

“The impetus for this document was really quite a lot of change in Nanaimo over the last few years, particularly in terms of real estate prices [and] rents,” said Noha Sedky, community planner with CitySpaces Consulting. “I feel strongly that this document is well-rounded and will provide a strong road map.”

She said there’s an understanding that when it comes to affordable housing, senior levels of government have roles, as do non-profit groups and the private sector.

“So this is a strategy that recognizes what the City of Nanaimo is able to do within its legal bounds, within its jurisdiction,” said Sedky.

She said the strategy’s No. 1 priority is to increase the supply of rental housing because she said renters are “struggling the most” in Nanaimo.

“It’s difficult to say that there’s one [priority] action, this is why we look at this as holistically as possible and try and address the issue in several different ways,” she said.

The strategy’s other objectives are to support infill and densification, diversify the types of housing in all neighbourhoods, support low-income and special needs housing, and strengthen partnerships.

One of the short-term actions suggested is for the city to develop policies around new market rental housing, looking at tax exemptions and tax breaks for developers who build apartment complexes, as well as density bonuses and relaxations of parking requirements.

The strategy suggests updating the community amenity contribution policy, ensuring developers are paying into the city’s housing legacy reserve fund. Developer contributions may be waived or reduced for those building affordable rental units.

Other ideas in the strategy include allowing secondary suites in duplexes and townhouses, updating height limits to allow for stacked townhouses, supporting development of micro-suites, and easing rules to make it easier to construct coach houses.

The strategy also suggests a review of the city’s approach to land acquisition, prioritizing property suitable for affordable housing.

RELATED: Nanaimo’s affordable housing strategy now up for discussion

Councillors mentioned several action items they liked, and also had general praise for the document.

“You didn’t shy away, no one … shied away from what’s happening in Nanaimo,” said Coun. Diane Brennan. “The one thing that kind of jumped out at me was the statement that was put bluntly: Nanaimo faces pressures that threaten the integrity and sustainability of the current service system if not addressed.”

Coun. Gord Fuller said the strategy gives the city a lot of good ideas, a lot of ways to move forward and a lot of policies that can be changed.

“Not every type of housing is going to fit everybody’s needs, but everybody has a need for housing, and there will be a lot more choices,” he said.

City council also unanimously endorsed on Monday an action plan to end homelessness, which had been previously released but is being considered a complementary plan to the affordable housing strategy.

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