page contents Vote Dylan Bressey, candidate for Grande Prairie City Council. Election 2017. page contents

Multi-Family Housing

We have all heard or experienced stories of being unable to find a place to live, or of living next door to a house with six people and a dozen vehicles. In part, these challenges are related to what type of housing is available. Recently, Council changed bylaws surrounding the development of multi-family housing. This is an issue that needs to be revisited, especially if we are heading into a time of growth.

THE SHORT VERSION

Multi-family dwellings are vital. They provide a diversity of housing options and are an important taxation source. Until January, new developments were required to have 25% multi-family units. This bylaw was problematic because there wasn’t demand for multi-family units in all neighbourhoods, and the 25% target was arbitrary. Council removed the requirement on hitting a target in new developments, instead opting to have a target of 25% multi-family units city wide. This was a step in the right direction, but the conversation needs to continue. Is a target the best way to influence housing stock, and if so is 25% the right target? Council should acquire more information and update the bylaw accordingly.

THE LONG VERSION

Importance of Multi-Family Housing

A multi-family house is any building that has more than one dwelling unit. Examples include duplexes, townhouses, condominiums, and apartments. 

Multi-family housing units are important. They provide cheaper housing to those that cannot afford detached houses. They allow people to have private dwelling space rather than sharing living arrangements with roommates. They cut down on houses with multiple roommates and multiple cars parked on the street.

Multi-family units also increase urban density. Increased density has some environmental and social benefits. It also benefits the city’s bottom line. Due to their density, multi-family units are more efficient to service than detached homes. This gives their property taxes more bang. These types of units are a key part of any city, and Council needs to assure we have a proper level of them available.

Recent Changes to Multi-Family Development Bylaws

In January, Council changed a bylaw that deals with multi-family housing.

The old bylaw demanded that multi-family housing account for 25% of the units in new developments. Council axed this, instead setting a 25% city wide target for multi-family units. Why did they do this?

Developers were finding that there was not enough market demand to build units on all the land that was designated as multi-family. In new developments, land set aside for multi-family housing was being left undeveloped.

Undeveloped land is problematic. It costs the developer money in taxes and maintenance, which drives up the prices of their other homes. It isn’t valued as highly as developed land, which means the city collects less tax revenue. And neighbours are left to live next to an unattractive lot.

This undeveloped land was created by the old bylaw requirements. The bylaw was problematic for two reasons:

First, it pushed for multi-family units to be built in every new neighbourhood. This did not always make sense. Those moving into multi-family units often want to be close to commercial districts. They also may not be able to afford a vehicle, meaning they need to be close to transit. New neighbourhoods on the outskirts of town do not tend to provide for these needs. The old bylaw required multi-family units be built where they might not be in demand.

The second problem with the bylaw was that the 25% target is arbitrary. There is no evidence based reasoning behind it. It may be too high, which would explain why developers weren’t finding demand for new units. There is also a possibility that it is too low.

My View on the Bylaw Changes

We need to ensure that the city has a diverse housing stock. But we also need to see units get built where and when there is market demand for them.

I support Council’s change to the rules surrounding multi-family units. The new rule is better than the old one. But it still needs to be revisited.

Multi-family housing should be built where it makes sense, not just in any new development. So I support the part of the bylaw which considers multi-family housing city wide rather than on a development-by-development basis. What type of multi-family housing gets built should vary by neighbourhood, but the total number of units should be a city wide consideration.

The 25% target is where I get concerned. When I watched Council debate this topic, it was obvious that no one knew why this specific number was chosen. It also was not clear how close we currently are to the 25% multi-family unit target, or how in demand new multi-family housing in appropriate locations would be. I do not like that we have a city-wide target with little justification for it.

What I Want to Do

If elected, this is an issue that will be on my radar. Developers are an important part of our economy. I want to make sure that they and the people they employ are able to fully develop their land. I also don’t think people want to live next to empty lots. This means that developers should not be forced to build units which have no market demand.

At the same time, having a variety of housing options available is important for citizens. City tax revenues (which benefit from multi-family units) also need consideration. I am comfortable with Council playing a role in regulating housing stock. However, it needs to undertake this role carefully and with evidence based reasoning.

We need to be smart about our development, but no rule can replace the hard work of proper consultation and planning. Our citizen’s needs are also constantly evolving. I am not convinced that a target percentage of multi-family units is the way to go. And if a target is needed, I have seen no evidence that 25% is the right number.

However, I don’t have enough information to make specific suggestions about multi-family housing in Grande Prairie. Watching Council debate this topic, it was clear to me that no one has enough information.

I would like to see Council order administration to prepare a report on the state of multi-family housing in Grande Prairie. This report should include what percentage of our current units are multi-family, any evidence available about the current demand for multi-family housing, how other municipalities in our province are ensuring proper ratios in their housing stock, and what results those municipalities are finding from their policies. I would like to see Council use this information to create an evidence based bylaw guiding the future development of multi-family units. We took a move in the right direction in regard to regulating multi-family housing. But this is an area which Council still needs to do work on.

I’d love to hear from you. How are we doing for multi-family housing? Do we have enough or too much? What needs to be done to ensure proper housing for everyone? Comment on this post, give me a call or email, or post this on Facebook and tag me.

-Dylan