In 2015, the City of Coquitlam devised and adopted a strategy to bring more affordable housing to the municipality.
In this article we look at that strategy, how it’s working, and what it might need to work better.
Until late in 2015, housing strategies in Coquitlam generally focused on subsidized housing like emergency shelters and transitional housing. But, with the recognition that an increasing number of residents were struggling to find housing they could afford, the city changed direction, passing the housing affordability strategy.
In a nutshell
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The essence of the strategy is allowing higher density developments – particularly around SkyTrain – to encourage a wider variety of housing with a special focus on purpose-built rental. The strategy also includes preserving existing rentals and accelerating projects by working with a range of partners and sometimes utilizing city-owned land.
How it’s working
As of December 31, 2021, Coquitlam’s incentives had led to about 10,206 market rental units and 2,053 below or non-market rentals at some stage of the development process.
The carrot or the stick
It was essential that Coquitlam change course, according to Coun. Craig Hodge, who noted that at one point the city had gone about a decade without building any new rentals.
“We’re not bringing in what some developers see as punitive measures, we’re doing this through incentives,” Hodge said.
The city is now replacing old rental units with new ones at approximately a 2-1 ratio, according to city staff.
Despite the city’s efforts, affordability remains a challenge, said Coun. Chris Wilson.
“It’s amazing the number of market rental units we’re getting but . . . a lot of people can’t afford the market rental,” Wilson said. “It’s really, really important that we put a lot of effort on more below-market than we’re currently getting. . . . I hope the higher levels of government also start supporting that a lot more than they seem to be at the moment.”
In 2021, Coquitlam put $4.2 million toward 212 units split between two projects, one at 3100 Ozada Street and the other at Clarke and Como Lake.
Over the last five years, Coquitlam has put more than $14 million worth of incentives toward 589 new non-market and below market rental units.
Part of the city’s strategy also involves leveraging the city’s affordable housing reserve fund. Basically, Coquitlam offers to put cash on the table in the hope of persuading the provincial and federal governments to dig into their pockets. However, getting money from the province can be a challenge.
To meaningfully address the affordability crisis, Coquitlam needs more support from senior levels of government, according to Coun. Brent Asmundson.
“I challenge the provincial government and the federal government,” Asmundson said. “Rather than putting out a certain amount of money – if they are serious about the housing shortage – simply fund the applications before them so we can move forward and get this built,” he said.
During a recent round of housing applications, “a number of Coquitlam projects applied but were all unsuccessful,” according to a city staff report. “This was due to the limited availability of funds . . as well as an effort to distribute the funding geographically.”
Coquitlam has more projects than the provincial government will fund, Asmundson emphasized.
“We have the projects . . . we need you to help fund them,” he said. “The province and the feds need to come up big time.”
There are constraints on what the government can accomplish, according to Mayor Richard Stewart.
“Government can build 3,000 units a year or so. Ninety-five percent of the housing that will be built in the next 10 years will not be built by government. It will be built by the private sector,” he said. “Being able to guide it a little bit using incentives has proven to be quite successful.”
On to Ottawa
Several Coquitlam projects got a boost from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The city received CMHC financing for 3100 Ozada, a project at North Road and Whiting Way as well as a major Burquitlam project.
The Burquitlam development also involved money from the municipality and the province, noted Coun. Dennis Marsden.
“It’s nice that the feds provided financing for the project,” he said. “They’re the only partner in this that is getting their money back.”
Marsden asked the federal government to contribute “permanent dollars” for affordable housing.
“We need to make sure that we’ve got a suite of housing and options available, so people don’t reach the point of homelessness,” Marsden said.
The city might benefit by working with non-profit housing organizations like Brightside Community Homes Foundation, suggested Coun. Trish Mandewo.
“Those are the organizations that I believe are also getting the federal money,” she said.
Rather than highrises, those organizations tend to focus on smaller developments which can be built relatively quickly, Mandewo added.
The city’s homeless population
Last summer, Coquitlam got $306,000 through the Union of B.C. Municipalities to help meet the needs of the city’s homeless population. The city put $270,000 through Hope for Freedom Society and the Phoenix Society, which used that money to hire more workers. Between the two organizations, they’re working with about 138 people per month.