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Langley Township backs first ever housing action plan

Housing for seniors, such as Harrison Pointe which was under construction in 2009, will be in more demand as Langley Township grows, according to a Housing Action Plan adopted Feb. 4 by council. - Langley Times file photo
Housing for seniors, such as Harrison Pointe which was under construction in 2009, will be in more demand as Langley Township grows, according to a Housing Action Plan adopted Feb. 4 by council.
— image credit: Langley Times file photo

The Township of Langley needs to build much more rental and affordable housing, according to the first ever housing action plan developed for the community.

The plan, nearly five years in the making, was approved by council on Monday, Feb. 4, following a presentation by consultant Linda Allen, who warned the fast-growing Township needs to make sure that lower-income people, seniors, students and people with disabilities are not excluded.

“We’ve heard over and over again that there really aren’t enough rental options in the community,” Allen said. “Unquestionably, there will be increasing demand for rental accommodation.”

Projections show the Township population will almost double by 2041, and the number of people 65 and over will more than double during the same period, Allen said.

The study estimates 50,000 more dwellings will need to be built to accommodate that growth.

The study found there is a lack of affordable home options for people with special needs, defined as “youth at risk of becoming homeless, low fixed income seniors and mental health clients.”

Less than one per cent of Township housing is subsidized seniors’ or family housing, compared with nine per cent in the City of Langley and five per cent in Coquitlam.

On the plus side, the plan notes the Township has developed a good mix of market-rate housing and the average price of a Township house is roughly 30 per cent lower than Vancouver, according to the report.

Despite that, many Langley residents find it challenging to obtain housing within their budget, the report to council states.

It uses the example of a medium-income couple who was making an average of $92,000 a year in 2010 and who, if they had few debts and a “solid down payment” would qualify for a maximum mortgage of $434,000.

Most detached single family houses in Langley cost more “and the Township does not have a large supply of townhouses and condominium apartments which would be affordable to median income family household,” the report states.

Single-parent families, who had a median income of $43,227 in 2010, have even fewer options, while the median income for a single person, $31,977 in 2010, made them renters who could afford to pay, at most, $850 a month.

The plan sets out short, medium and long-term goals to close the housing gap, including incentive programs to get private developers to build lower-cost housing.

It also suggests setting targets that would require 30 to 50 per cent medium-to-high density housing in new neighbourhoods, building on leased land and providing grants or fee reductions to developers, allowing rental apartments above commercial projects, reducing parking requirements for rental housing “as transit improves” and cutting property taxes for up to 10 years in some cases.

The report notes that other Metro Vancouver communities like Maple Ridge, Surrey, Abbotsford and Coquitlam provide municipally-owned land for affordable housing.

The plan also calls for measures to limit the redevelopment of the Township supply of mobile home parks by making it harder for developers to bulldoze the parks, and insisting that the replacement housing developments include a minimum percentage of affordable rental units.

Mobile home parks are a unique Langley issue according to Allen, who said the Township has 35 to 40 per cent of all manufactured homes in the region.

Among other things, the housing action plan proposes creation of an affordable housing reserve fund, new standards for secondary suites and carrying out an inventory of the current rental housing stock

The report drew a cautious endorsement from the Vancouver-based Pacific branch of the Urban Development Institute (UDI), the national non-profit association that represents developers, property managers, financial lenders, lawyers, engineers, planners, architects, appraisers, and real estate professionals, as well as various government agencies.

In a letter to Paul Crawford, the manager of the Township’s long-range planning department, UDI president and CEO Anne McMullin said using density bonusing (where a developer is allowed to construct bigger than normal buildings if they include more affordable housing) has met with “mixed results” in other communities.

McMullin also expressed concern about using a “community amenity policy “ that would see charges levied on new housing projects to help pay for affordable housing.

That could slow development, McMullin wrote, adding the UDI “would like to see that the additional financial burden of a societal problem (housing affordability) is not placed entirely onto new home buyers, especially when the affordable housing units are to the advantage of the entire community.”

McMullin also expressed doubt about a proposal to promote secondary suites in new single family homes, saying the results have been “varied” in other communities that went that route.

The plan was amended after the letter arrived to include a promise that stakeholder groups like the UDI will be consulted before any changes to existing regulations are made.

Council voted unanimously to adopt the recommendations of the plan.

The next steps will include an overhaul of Township bylaws to include a definition of affordable housing, reviewing existing community and neighbourhood plans and setting up a system to track housing trends and prices.

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