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Housing options in development

A recent report revealing that Terrace has a zero vacancy rate for apartments and townhouses could yield unexpected benefits.

That's because developers who have been considering investing in Terrace now have hard evidence that more apartment and other rentals are needed, which in turn could prompt them to build sooner rather than later.

In early December, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) released its latest bi-annual rental report, which shows Terrace has a zero vacancy rate for apartments and townhouses, placing it all alone in that category among communities with a population over 10,000.

But that could change over the next few years, says David Block, director of development services for the City of Terrace.

He says there have been a number of developers looking at building condominiums in Terrace and that the CMHC report might be the push they need to act now, instead of waiting for liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects to be confirmed.

“There are a lot of projects in the north, a lot of mining,” Block said, referring to the need for more housing units whether or not LNG projects come to fruition. “Evidence like this – CMHC data saying zero per cent rental vacancy – means developers will be more confident that people are going to buy units. And the more affordable we can make them, the more they will sell.”

While the report doesn't include houses, secondary suites, or owner-occupied rentals, it still reflects the reality of what the city has been hearing anecdotally from local housing committees and advocates for some time, he said.

In response, the city's housing committee has been working on a number of fronts covering everything from standard developments to those aimed at seniors and people on low income.

An announcement is close on financing which will add five units of subsidized rental housing for seniors at the Tuck Ave. senior housing project which is owned and operated by the Terrace District Christian Council.

“That's a really great project,” Block said. “It's a small one, but it's going to happen locally and it's going to provide five units – well below market rental senior housing units.”

When it comes to condominiums or townhouses, the city's had interest in property it owns on the corner of Kenney St. and Park Ave.

Block says it's unlikely new housing specifically for renting will be built.

“Not too many people anywhere in this country are building rental housing,” he said. What's more likely are condo units, which would then be bought as an investment and rented out, or would offer an alternative affordable housing purchase and ownership option for some people, he said.

“People who can't afford a home for $300,000 to $400,000, maybe even a $280,000 home, might be able to buy a $200,000 condo and they might prefer that to continuing to try and rent,” Block continued.

As part of last year's council-endorsed housing action plan, council wants to see some contribution to affordable housing as part of future developments on the city-owned properties on Kenney St. and Haugland Ave. – whether that would be a percentage of the units being sold to a non-profit with loan financing support by the provincial BC Housing agency to provide affordable housing or a cash contribution offered to the city to establish an affordable housing fund remains to be determined.

“The municipality's focus is – if it's going to be taxpayers money involved, taxpayer staff time involved – is to focus energy on low-income subsidized housing because there's very few government programs and the market isn't going to meet that,” he said.

An update to the city's housing assessment, focussed on market housing demands and the needs of the lower end of the income spectrum will be coming out mid-March.

With specific reference to city-owned Haugland Ave. parcel on the southside, negotiations are underway which, if successful, would result in a long-term lease being signed with the Ksan House Society. It has plans to build 20 units of affordable housing and has hopes the development will be in place as early as next summer.

At the same time, long-time local contractor Kevin Goddard, who owns Deep Creek Masonry, is moving forward with a strata townhouse project for 4700 block of Park Ave. The 24-unit project would be completed in two phases of 12 units each – the first breaking ground in March 2014 to be ready for market by Aug. 1.

“The economy is screaming for more housing,” Goddard said. “That's what we do – we do houses and condos and commercial buildings, so this is right up our alley.”

Goddard, who built the successful adult-oriented Maple Estates located just behind the new senior citizens housing complex on Park, says this development will have two storeys and the units will have three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

A clause in the strata will allow for owners to rent out the units – which differs from Maple Estates which were built for people 50-plus. The Maple Estates strata has a clause stating renting out the units was not allowed.

“People are talking about just buying a unit and renting it out because the economy is so good,” said Goddard.

And because of the economic activity in the area, he is anticipating higher construction costs and can't say exactly what the units will cost – but says the units will still be priced reasonably.

“Reasonably market. They're not high end,” he said. “You can get a high-end house now for $350,000 - $400,000, I'm anticipating these things quite a bit lower.”

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