The burden of social responsibility

The Urban Development Institute - the principal lobby group for the province's real estate developers - says it's committed to promoting affordable housing. But promoting isn't the same thing as paying for that housing. And, based on a recent email from the group's Victoria chapter, you might think some institute members...er...resent footing the bill for such initiatives.

"Why Should Developers Pay For Affordable Housing?" asks the email, which promotes an upcoming luncheon about the subject. "We quickly checked the Ten Commandments, and still there is no heavenly requirement that developers either include affordable housing in their projects or provide cash in lieu."

"But you wouldn't know it if you studied the 'house rules' of most municipalities, where affordability policies abound" - policies that require new developments to have "an affordable component or a significant financial contribution to housing affordability funds."

"In fairness, shouldn't we at least be tagging every home purchase in the region for a contribution? Why some, and not others? Why not add a taxi fare surcharge for a housing fund? Or something on property taxes? Or the water bill?"

So does this represent the Urban Development Institute's official position on affordable housing? "I think this was really meant to stimulate discussion and debate and deal with all these sort of undercurrent issues and bring them forward," responded institute executive director Maureen Enser. "Sometimes you have to be a little controversial in your title to get people to come out."

"It's not that the development industry doesn't want to have any part in the provision of affordable housing. But, rather, we recognize the limitations of our role," continued Ms. Enser. "The issue about affordable housing isn't an issue that faces just the builders of new housing. It's a societal issue. And we will play an important role in the resolution. But we should not be the only solution." The following is a complete copy of the aforementioned email.

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UDI Victoria Welcomes You to UDI Victoria March, 2007 Luncheon

Sponsored by

Why Should Developers Pay For Affordable Housing?

We quickly checked the Ten Commandments, and still there is no heavenly requirement that developers either include affordable housing in their projects or provide cash in lieu.

But you wouldn't know it if you studied the ‘house rules' of most municipalities, where affordability policies abound. It has become standard practice for municipalities to expect - and demand - that new development provide an affordable component or a significant financial contribution to housing affordability funds of one kind or another.

And developers, by and large, have taken it on as a cost of doing business.

But, wait a minute…what about legitimacy? If communities asked new development to underwrite municipal election costs, or a new fleet of garbage trucks, people would say: "That's absurd. That's a community-wide expense, and should be paid out of taxes.”

Oh, and what's affordable housing?

There are interesting questions hiding within this subject, questions about social responsibilities, questions about who should really pay for community goods. If a developer pays into a housing affordability fund, or discounts some of the housing (a project expense), aren't we really asking a particular group of homebuyers to pay a surcharge? In fairness, shouldn't we at least be tagging every home purchase in the region for a contribution? Why some, and not others? Why not add a taxi fare surcharge for a housing fund? Or something on property taxes? Or the water bill?

We have asked Dean Fortin, Victoria City Councillor, and Mohan Jawl, Lawyer and Principal of Jawl Developments, to offer their viewpoints on this intriguing topic.

If you are a developer or development affiliate, architect, planner, urbanist, housing advocate, or citizen-activist interested in housing affordability in our region, you will want to reserve now for this important presentation.

Noon, Wednesday, Mar. 21, 2007
Embassy Inn Dining Room 520 Menzies Street

UDI Members $25/Non-Members $35 (cash or card at the door)

2 Comments

It seems that the general attitude here in Victoria is that the evil running dog capitalist developers should foot the bill for everything from road improvements to public art and affordable housing. The paradox is that by trying to exact all kinds of amenity contributions from developers the price point at which the developers have to market their units spirals ever upward.

Victoria's "winning" formula: restrict the supply of housing through height and density restrictions, tax the snot out of the developers for amenities, then complain about homes being too expensive.

It's time for neighbourhood associations to dust off their copies of "Principles of Economics".

"Principles of Economics" - isn't that an oxymoron?

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