Jonathan Coté elected mayor of New Westminster

Jonathan Coté is the mayor of New Westminster.

Affordable housing is a challenge in many Lower Mainland communities, but the mayor of New Westminster says that "aggressive" policies have helped his city protect existing rental stock and encourage the development of new rental units.

"New Westminster is probably one of the most affordable communities in all of Metro Vancouver, given the challenges that we're facing, which [are] the same challenges as most other cities " Jonathan Coté told host Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition.

Coté said all communities need to work to ensure that sources of affordable housing don't disappear.

Protecting existing rental stock

"There's got to be a recognition that existing rental stock in Metro Vancouver is probably the most important affordable housing units in the entire region," he said.

Coté said the city tries to protect its older housing stock by not supporting rezoning requests for demolition unless the developer presents a plan to replace rental units or contribute significantly to the affordable housing reserve fund.

"It's gotten out in the development community that, if you're looking to develop a condo project, buying a rental building in New Westminster is probably not your easiest path to do that."

In order to encourage the creation of new rental units, the city offers a number of incentives such as allowing extra density, reducing building permit fees and eliminating the parking requirement.

New Westminster

The City of New Westminster has a number of policies to create new rental housing stock and protect existing units. (Tourism New Westminster)

To ensure that housing units suitable for families are built, the city also has a policy where 10 per cent of all new units built have to have three or more bedrooms.

Coté said many of these policies came into place in 2013, when the city saw that the "economics for rental housing were broken."

"We hadn't seen a development of a single rental housing unit in probably 20 or 30 years — quite like what you're seeing in most other municipalities in Metro Vancouver."

An example for other municipalities

He said they have seen some success already with their policies.

"Just last year, in 2015. almost half of all the new apartment units built in the City of New Westminster were rental apartments."

Tony Roy, the CEO of the B.C. Non Profit Housing Association, speaking to The Early Edition earlier this week, said the City of Vancouver should look to New Westminster as a model for incentivizing affordable rental housing.

"You can make so much money right now putting up a condo that's a studio or a one-bedroom, and flipping it really quickly," he said.

"Where is the incentive to say, 'I'm going to build something that's permanently going to be rental, and it's going to be suitable for family and it's going to be long term. There's really no incentive to do that, but it's what the market needs."

Coté said housing is an issue that extends beyond just the two cities, and each has to tackle the problem in the way that best fits each individual community.

"All municipalities in Metro Vancouver need to start looking at what policies are working, because the status quo is not leading to the development of new rental housing, and if anything, we're actually seeing some of our best sources of affordable housing in the region start to disappear", he said.

"Even in New Westminster [where we've] been incredibly aggressive to try and do catch-up — and we're starting to see some success — we still anticipate that demand is going to exceed supply for a number of years until our policy work is able to catch up."


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: New Westminster encourages affordable rental housing