Langley looking at ways to promote affordable housing

The Village by the Sea is once again looking for ways to make affordable housing a reality.

In three meetings in the last two weeks, city leaders and residents discussed the issue from several angles, including accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, revising city code and new housing developments.

At a meeting last week, city council members discussed a memo resident Vicki Robin had written to the council about the steep participation fees of renting an ADU to community members.

“We are a community of very smart people with good hearts,” Robin wrote. “It saddens me that the solution I’ve offered for affordable rentals is dis-incentivized by the city. We could tuck in another dozen working class people within six months if we incentivized attached ADUs.”

Robin also spoke at the city council meeting, urging her fellow community members to consider converting a part of their houses to an apartment to provide housing.

“We want to be a place where people who work for us, can live with us,” she said. “We don’t want to force the working class out into the rural areas or off-island because they can’t find housing.”

As part of its agenda, the council briefly discussed water and sewage rates and their relation to affordable housing. Council member Christy Korrow suggested the low-income senior discounts could perhaps be expanded to encompass utility rates and low income citizens of all ages.

Mayor Tim Callison said the council should first focus on defining affordability.

“I think it’s going to require a pretty significant study, otherwise you’re going to end up with some unintended consequences,” Callison said.

Council member Thomas Gill suggested the new Public Works Advisory Committee, which will consist of citizens and business owners, may be able to better address the issue of affordability.

Callison announced that “permanently affordable homes and multi-family residences” language had been added to the agreement between the developer and the city for the Coles Valley Neighborhood project, a large proposed mixed-use housing development.

Then at a community workshop held this week, the public also had the chance to offer input on rules for future housing developments, including Coles Valley Neighborhood.

Planning consultants led the workshop with the city’s Planning Advisory Board and discussed the outcomes the next morning with city council members during a workshop session.

In the morning session, Susan Henderson, one of the planning consultants, referred to the city’s existing ADU ordinances as “super progressive.” For mixed-use housing developments, she recommended not regulating density in the city’s code but instead drafting rules focusing on building heights and setbacks from the roads.

Planning consultant Hazel Borys said Langley has 15 dwelling units per acre as its highest density zoning district.

City council members present stressed the importance of having affordability as one of the council’s priorities.

Council member Craig Cyr said the history of the Coles Valley Neighborhood project has been long, and people are worried that it won’t provide affordable housing in the end.

“If we as a council don’t ensure that that happens, and the community doesn’t ensure that that happens, then essentially Langley is lying to itself,” Cyr said.

Rhonda Salerno, a member of the Public Advisory Board, expressed concern over new developments being built at the cost of taking down old growth forests, citing the slowing of climate change’s effects as another priority of the council.

Salerno also discussed the possibility of having a cooperative farm on the Coles Valley property. Some recommendations from the planning board and citizens called for 50 percent open space as a requirement.

Henderson strongly advised against this idea.

“If you want to negatively impact affordability in your community, you require that 50 percent of the land is conserved,” she said, adding that the landowner and developer would look to make up these costs somewhere else, rendering the development no longer affordable.

Between balancing the promotion of affordability and the slowing of climate change’s effects, preserving the city’s character seemed to be another contender.

Henderson recommended including the mention of different types of housing in the city’s code, rather than defining what that means, pointing out that what may be on the market for housing today may be radically different in the next 10 years.

“It just guarantees the diversity without requiring what the diversity consists of,” she said.

Callison said there’s every type of housing available in the community. “For me, that kind of replication of that available diversity would go a long way towards preserving the character of Langley.”

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