News / Vancouver

A 'daunting journey': Land trust launches new Van City affordable housing

Century-long nonprofit-government deal first of several using model, city hopes

BRice, a newly built co-operative housing building at 1720 Kingsway Ave.

David P. Ball/Metro

BRice, a newly built co-operative housing building at 1720 Kingsway Ave.

Vancouver's first-completed housing built using a land trust opened Sunday — a long-term agreement that leases property for a century to lock in affordability for 48 households earning $50,000-70,000 a year, and reserving half of its units for lower incomes.

The BRice building is named in honour of Bonnie Rice, a recently retired staffer at the building's non-profit operator, Sanford Housing Society, who was closely involved in setting up the complicated land deal between many nonprofit and government players.

"It was a long and at times daunting journey," Rice told reporters. After retiring, she moved homes herself and experienced "personally how difficult it is to find decent housing" in a city marred by affordable housing woes.

Rice spoke alongside top elected officials from the city, province and feds inside ground-level space at 1720 Kingsway Ave., the site of the four story complex.

The deal came about through the Community Land Trust Foundation — which brought together Ottawa, the province, the city, as well as co-op and non-profit housing agencies.

Land trusts are a model gaining traction elsewhere facing housing shortages, but BRice is first of what Vancouver hopes will be a series of buildings that mix low- and moderate-income families. Another, larger 358-unit complex in South Fraser area broke ground in May last year.

Bonnie Rice, recently retired from the new BRice housing building's non-profit operator, Sanford Housing Society, was closely involved in setting up the complicated land deal between many nonprofit and government players. The project was named in her honour.

David P. Ball/Metro

Bonnie Rice, recently retired from the new BRice housing building's non-profit operator, Sanford Housing Society, was closely involved in setting up the complicated land deal between many nonprofit and government players. The project was named in her honour.

Co-operative Housing Federation of B.C. executive director Thom Armstrong said the 1980s co-op housing boom suffered as governments gradually withdrew funds and buildings fell into disrepair. Today's wave of land trusts, he said, gets around that problem by being self-sustaining and unsubsidized once set up.

"We wanted (this) to be bulletproof … from day one," he said. "The tenure on the land is absolutely secure; the lease is locked in for 99 years.

"A change in government at any level can't really affect the (project) … No one wants to go back to the model of 1980s capital grants and legacy subsidy streams; that just locks you into a relationship of dependence and vulnerability."

Land trusts, Armstrong said, are one model that make him "optimistic" for "the future of housing" across the country.

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