Community Land Trust Model Taking Off in Vancouver

The local land trust announced it will develop over 1,000 units on city-owned land.

The city of Vancouver is boosting its stock of below-market-rate housing for low- to middle-income residents. 

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As housing prices continue to rocket upward, the city of Vancouver is leasing $130 million worth of land to a nonprofit that will build more than a thousand apartments for low-income Vancouverites, the Vancouver Sun reports.

The goal, said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, when announcing the project, is to allow working Vancouverites to “live without anxiety. We want to make sure people have a place to live in the city.”

It is the largest investment into non-market-rate housing of any city in Canada, Robertson said in a release.

The buildings will be designed, built, financed and maintained by the Community Land Trust, a nonprofit established by the Co-Operative Housing Federation of British Columbia. The 1,039 units will be a mix of affordable rental buildings and two new self-sustaining housing cooperatives, the Vancouver Star reported.

Spread out on seven sites across the city, the buildings will have below-market rents ranging from $750 for a one-bedroom up to $2,000 for a three-bedroom. Currently, the average rent in Vancouver is $2,010 for a one-bedroom, the Sun said. The new units are expected to house 2,000 residents and will be targeted to single people who make less than $30,000 a year and couples and families who make less than $80,000. Income caps apply to some of the units, the Star said.

Community land trusts buy and hold land, then offer homes on the land to renters or home buyers, as Next City has reported in the past. This model separates the cost of land from the cost of building or maintaining a home. Around 225 CLTs are active in the U.S., roughly evenly split between rental and ownership. CLTs are “less established in Canada,” according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a government-owned enterprise. The lease terms for the seven sites weren’t disclosed, but previous deals between the Vancouver Community Land Trust and the Vancouver Affordable Housing Agency have been 99-year leases for $10, according to the Globe and Mail.

The Vancouver CLT was formed in 2014 and has recently delivered two buildings in Vancouver; an additional 310 are under construction and will open later this year, a press release said. The CLT also took over a struggling co-op in nearby Abbotsford, which had a 25% vacancy rate due to disrepair — the co-op had $6 million in deferred maintenance. The CLT took over the co-op’s land and got a $7.5 million loan to renovate the buildings and pay off the last of its federal loan, the Globe and Mail reported.

“The possibility of doubling our portfolio in a year is high,” Thom Armstrong, chief executive of the Co-op Housing Federation and CEO of the land trust foundation, told the Globe and Mail.

The initiatives come at a time when Vancouver’s housing prices are skyrocketing, especially in the case of detached homes. The city is the most expensive in Canada, the Global News reported last year. Foreign investment is one element driving up prices; last year, one in five newly built condos in Vancouver was sold to people who lived outside Canada. That impacted the city “like a ton of bricks,” Mayor Robertson said last year. The province has responded by raising a 15 percent tax on foreign home buyers to 20percent and increasing the regions in which it applies, adding a 0.5 percent “speculation tax” that targets any buyer who does not pay taxes in British Columbia, and promising $6.6 billion, the largest investment in British Columbia history, for affordable housing development.

Vancouver is also investing in temporary modular housing, tiny apartments built of prefab modules meant to provide short-term (3-5 year) housing for people experiencing homelessness. The province has allotted $66 million for 600 units of these modular homes, the Sun reported.

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Rachel Kaufman is Next City's senior editor, responsible for our daily journalism. She was a longtime Next City freelance writer and editor before coming on staff full-time. She has covered transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and other outlets.

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