Good advice.

Good advice.

Vacant Lands and Changing Demands: How Port Moody’s Policies May be Hindering their Quest to Solve Affordable Housing

DBM Law Blog

Has Port Moody done enough to address the challenge of housing affordability? In recent years it seems that despite various property development projects being discussed, there is no clear sign that many of these projects will come to fruition. While the City has adopted policies designed to create affordable housing, in reality, these policies have only hindered the City’s goals. Port Moody may have become its own worst enemy in addressing the housing crisis.    

For context, in 2014, the City of Port Moody introduced Bylaw No. 2955, which adopted an Official Community Plan (“OCP”) for Port Moody. The OCP provides information on the city’s “long-term vision for the future” and states the “objectives and policies to guide decisions on planning and land use management….” Like the rest of Metro Vancouver, Port Moody has seen significant population growth and recognized this in the OCP by noting that Port Moody’s population increased by 36.3% between 2001 and 2011, thus making it one of the Lower Mainland’s fastest-growing municipalities.  

Along with the population, there has come an increase in housing prices. The following statistics provide a snapshot of how extreme the Metro Vancouver real estate and housing crisis has become. For a detached Metro Vancouver home, the benchmark price was $2,139,200.00 in April 2022. Only two years earlier, that price was $1,462,100.00. The National Bank of Canada’s “Housing Affordability Monitor” report provided that the average household annual income required to afford a non-condo home in Vancouver is $285,078.00, while the average household annual income required to afford a condo in Vancouver is $142,357.00. Meanwhile, the median household income in Vancouver is $65,327.00. Port Moody acknowledged the issue of housing affordability in the OCP by stating, “Housing affordability continues to be one of the key challenges facing municipalities in Metro Vancouver as housing prices climb throughout the region.”

While Metro Vancouver continued to grow over the past few decades, Port Moody found itself divided between supporters of growth and development and people who wished to see Port Moody’s small town community and ‘heritage-esque’ impression maintained. Although there are also people who seek a balance of both, this divide has shaped the City’s decision-making regarding the rate of development. City Council is seen as reflecting the divide on this issue as housing affordability is a significant topic that City Council continuously discusses. As Specified in the City’s Affordable Housing Strategy for Port Moody (the “Strategy”), housing is defined as affordable when the housing costs do not exceed 30% of a household’s gross income. Additionally, affordable housing has been used as a means to balance the pro versus anti-development sides. One of the OCP’s goals is to create a “complete community within Port Moody” and the Strategy provides that affordable housing is one method to assist in building this complete community. Consequently, building a “complete community” is one way to prevent rapid development.

Currently, there are various development proposals in Port Moody, but the main locations that have been subject to discussion in recent years include Coronation Park, Woodland Park, Moody Centre, the Old Barnet site, and the Flavelle Sawmills. One site that is typical of the debate surrounding development projects is Coronation Park. In 2020, the development company, Wesgroup Properties, submitted an application for developing the Coronation Park location. The 2020 application included a density of 4.53-floor area ratio, with building heights ranging from 37 to 40 storeys. On several occasions, City Council sent the proposal back to Wesgroup after requesting modifications to the proposal. On April 26, 2022, City Council finally approved an amendment to the OCP to increase density at the Coronation Park site after Wesgroup’s latest proposal reduced building heights and density.  

Despite the breakthrough, a new policy passed by City Council a week prior introduced new issues. Council approved an Inclusionary Zoning Policy on April 19, 2022, which requires at least 15% below-market rental units or at least 6% non-market rental units for development projects that have a residential density of more than a 2.0-floor area ratio. The policy is just the latest example of the City Council altering its demands, something that continues to frustrate developers. Some City Council members want the new policy applied to Coronation Park while Wesgroup argued that the new policy should be grandfathered in and should not apply to the site.  

Proponents of the development insist continual delays make the project more expensive due to rising labour and material costs, resulting in more expensive housing units. There is also uncertainty created for the neighbourhood as many existing residents have conditional agreements in place to sell their properties to Wesgroup. Meanwhile, opponents of the current proposal for Coronation Park point out that while the housing market may slow down, municipalities still need to carefully plan their land use, and factors such as inclusionary zoning and transportation must be addressed. The OCP identifies inclusionary zoning as one method the City can rely on to create affordable housing.

The City’s insistence on simultaneously lowering density while increasing the number of affordable housing units in future development sites has also been confronted by the Provincial Government. Regarding the proposed transit-oriented development surrounding Moody Centre Station, City Council is consulting with the public on various land use scenarios, which include the reduction of housing density. The proposed development of the 23-acre area will need City Council’s approval to change the OCP for the development to begin. The Provincial Government sent a letter to Port Moody’s mayor expressing concerns about any potential changes to the OCP to reduce housing densities around Moody Centre Station and how these changes may conflict with land use around rapid transit.

According to our Coquitlam lawyers, it seems that while the City likes to present itself as one that advocates for affordable housing, it cannot stay out of its own way with respect to facilitating development projects. Continuous alterations to proposals and stringent policies surrounding affordable housing quotas have not only drawn the ire of local residents and developers, but also the Provincial Government. As stated by councillor Diana Dilworth, the incessant ‘changing of the goalposts’ only creates extensive delays to development projects within Port Moody, thus providing no solution to housing issues in the near future. Some projects are even left in limbo, with vast empty lots filled with overgrown vegetation providing a reminder that the only thing worse than unaffordable housing, is no housing at all. 

If you have any questions about Port Moody’s Policies, get in touch with our team of Coquitlam lawyers. We are here to support you and help you make the best decisions. 

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