Providing a healthy supply of three-bedroom housing units is crucial to drawing families to the city – and keeping them there, says a planning expert who worked on New Westminster’s family friendly housing policy.
Brent Toderian believes cities can either attract or repel young families to their downtown and urban areas, depending on how they are designed.
“That starts with housing,” Toderian, the former chief planner for the City of Vancouver, told the New Westminster Record. “It starts with homes that can actually fit families. You’d be surprised – families don’t necessarily need that big a house if they have the other supports. That’s where the rest of the pieces of the puzzle come in.”
Along with housing, Toderian said a family-friendly community also requires amenities such as schools, daycares, parks, community facilities that are attractive to kids and teenagers and public places designed for kids.
“It’s a puzzle,” he said. “It’s very hard to even start that conversation if you don’t have the housing that actually fits families.”
Since early last year, the City of New Westminster has been working on the child and youth friendly strategy.
The city has heard from more than 900 people, with 50.7 per cent of parents reporting that their housing situation doesn’t meet their family’s needs.
Analysis compiled as part of the process showed New West ranked 20 out of 22 in Metro Vancouver with regard to three-bedroom units and 21 out of 22 regarding ground-oriented suites.
Providing three-bedroom units is a fundamental step to becoming a family-friendly city, Toderian said.
“It’s one step but it’s probably the base step,” he said. “Any city that wishes to have families in the downtown or in their urban areas needs to ensure there is housing that can actually fit families. It is kind of a dealbreaker.”
While New West could be a leader in the region if it mandates developers to include a percentage of three-bedroom units in new developments, Toderian said it’s not a new concept.
“Certainly, there are other cities in the world that require it. Oslo, Norway requires half the units be three bedroom or more. Cities such as Auckland, New Zealand and Helsinki, Finland also have higher requirements than we do,” he said. “I think this will make New Westminster the leader in our region, but I don’t expect that to stay in place for long because I think other cities are looking at it, too.”
The proposal being considered by city council would require developers to include a minimum of 30 per cent of two- and three-bedroom units – with at least 10 per cent of them being three bedroom units – in new multi-family developments.
“Once the city has established confidence that the market is there, the city would look to increase the three-bedroom requirement,” Toderian said. “What our actual study found is that there wasn’t an economic impact to the developer of requiring two- or three-bedroom units, but what there was an uncertain demand.”