Comment: A 1.5% solution for more inclusive communities

Re: “Victoria’s densification process raises concerns,” comment, June 30.

 

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The commentary by Michael Bloomfield cites common “not in my backyard” arguments for restricting affordable infill in residential neighbourhoods. I can certainly understand these concerns. Neighbourhood change can be difficult, but there are good reasons to say “yes in my backyard” to create more inclusive communities.

Our region attracts both higher- and lower-income families; if we fail to build more affordable housing, our region will become increasingly expensive and exclusive. The table shows typical prices, mortgage payments and minimum incomes required to purchase various housing types in Victoria’s core communities. Single-detached homes are far more costly and require far higher incomes than condominiums and townhomes.

 

Typical Housing Prices, Mortgage Payments and Income Requirements Condominium Townhouse Single-Detached
Benchmark sale prices* $486,100 $594,300 $889,600
Monthly mortgage or rent required** $2,199 $2,689 $4,025
Minimum income required*** $88,000 $108,000 $161,000
* July 2018 Housing Trends and Affordability Report
** Assumes 20% down payment, 3.24% interest, 20-year mortgage.
*** Assumes 30% maximum income devoted to mortgage payments.
     

 

 

 

 

 

 

When somebody says: “I only want detached houses in my neighbourhood,” they are essentially saying: “I only want households earning more than $160,000 in my neighbourhood.” Of course, the benchmark prices reflect averages; some houses are cheaper.

However, because townhomes and condominiums are more land-efficient, they are almost always more affordable than comparable detached houses. Allowing more compact housing types creates more inclusive communities.

This is not to suggest that everybody should live in highrise apartments. The greatest need is for moderate-density housing in walkable urban neighbourhoods, what housing experts call the Missing Middle (missingmiddlehousing.com), as illustrated here.

This is not a debate between rich and poor. In our region, many middle-income households are burdened by unaffordable housing, which makes it difficult for businesses to attract talent, reducing our economic competitiveness. Over most people’s lifetime, their housing needs change: Many infill opponents might eventually want more compact housing options in their neighbourhoods, when they want to downsize, or to allow their children to live nearby.

Victoria’s population currently grows about 1.5 per cent annually. To become more affordable and diverse, we must increase our housing supply by more than that rate, adding at least 1,000 units annually. There are about 4,000 new housing units in various stages of development, but these are mostly downtown highrises, which are costly to build and unsuitable for many households, particularly families with children. The greatest unmet need is for middle-priced, compact housing in walkable neighbourhoods.

A reasonable target is for residential neighbourhoods to increase their housing supply by at least 1.5 per cent annually. Most of this new housing should be moderately priced ($385,000 to $600,000), so they are initially affordable to middle-income households, and become affordable to lower-income households over time as they depreciate. The results are modest. As indicated in the table, each neighbourhood would add 25 to 125 new units per year.

This table indicates the additional housing units needed in Victoria’s neighbourhoods to accommodate population growth and increase affordability.
Victoria Neighbourhood Housing Growth Targets    
Neighbourhood   

Households

(2011 Census)

1.5% Annual Growth
Burnside Gorge 2,795        40
Fairfield/Gonzales 8,490        125
Fernwood 4,840        75
Hillside/Quadra 3,685        55
James Bay    6,695 100
North and South Jubilee 2,945 45
North Park 2,120 30
Oaklands 3,115 45
Rockland 1,830 25
Totals 36,515 540

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compared with unaffordable housing or sprawled development, affordable infill provides many benefits, including indirect benefits to expensive housing residents. It creates more diverse and inclusive neighbourhoods, supports local economic development, preserves open space and, because residents tend to drive less than they would if located in sprawled areas, it reduces total traffic congestion, accidents and pollution emissions.

 

Todd Litman is an urban planning consultant and a member of Cities for Everyone (citiesforeveryone.org), an independent community organization that supports more affordable housing and transportation to provide security, mobility and opportunity for people with all incomes and abilities.

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