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Higher density no solution to affordable housing, says UBC professor

Better to make up-zoning conditional on affordability

North Cowichan is fooling itself if it thinks increased density is going to make housing more affordable, according to a University of BC professor.

Patrick Condon told council on Tuesday that the urban experience elsewhere in North America, including Vancouver, is that when land is rezoned for higher density, developers reap the benefit as the value of the land increases — while home buyers continue to face high costs. “The real beneficiary is the land speculator or the land owner…and it doesn’t end up benefiting the eventual purchaser.”

Condon, an urban-design expert in the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, said that “adding new housing supply to a community and expecting prices to drop is like trying to hold back the tide.” While adding new housing “can sometimes moderate the degree of incline in property values” for a while, it’s influence is much less than the “overarching and general increase” in land values, he said.

“While it might be good for many reasons to add density to try to reduce sprawl, to keep your infrastructure capital budgets in line, and to make walkable communities…if you’re doing that in the expectation of reducing prices by adding that density I’m afraid you will be disappointed."

There is a better way to promote affordable housing, Condon said, and municipal governments are well-positioned to make a difference.

Make it a condition of rezoning to higher density that developers provide affordable housing for people with an average income or below. A formula could be reached by which developers still make a profit, albeit a more modest one.

“By insisting on affordability, it has the effect of eliminating or drastically reducing the inflationary effects which would otherwise be the case of simply just allowing additional density in the hopes that that would improve affordability,” he said.

Councillor Tek Manhas disagreed: “Realtors have always told me, currently there’s not enough supply and that’s why the price is up and I believe that.”

Condon’s presentation is especially timely for North Cowichan. Bell McKinnon is the proposed site of a new hospital and thousands of new residential units and has been the subject of considerable council debate.

North Cowichan residents are encouraged to participate now in development of a new Official Community Plan:

— Larry Pynn, Nov. 11, 2021


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